Professional basketball coach Eun Hee-seok (46) of the Seoul Samsung Thunders appeared in a suit on February 16 at the Jamsil Indoor Gymnasium where the S-Derby was held against Seoul SK. Until then, he had worn tracksuits throughout the season. Unfortunately, on this day, Samsung scored the most points (113 points) this season, driving rival SK to the brink of defeat.
The miracle didn’t happen. Samsung eventually lost to SK after an extended game. Coach Eun continued to wear the suit after that, and the team added only two wins in a total of 14 games until the end of the season. It has been at the bottom of the league for two consecutive years since his previous manager. He has not made it to the playoffs in six seasons. The disgrace of Samsung soon became the disgrace of director Eun. It was professional basketball that he returned to after successfully ending his college leadership career, but his debut season as a rookie coach was disastrous. From the Asian quarter to foreign players and the physical condition of the existing players, none of them went as expected.
Coach Eun, who we met at the Samsung Training Center in Yongin, Gyeonggi-do on the 19th, put self-blame ahead of excuses. He recalled that he had to prepare for more variables and move more quickly.
confidence and reality
Coach Eun, who finished his active career in 2013, took the helm of the basketball team at his alma mater Yonsei University the following year. He was a successful leader transformation. In the college basketball league launched in 2010, he took on a team that had never been at the top, made it runner-up for two consecutive years, and held its first championship in 2016, opening its heyday. He was praised for making the team stronger by using players evenly rather than relying too much on a specific player.
This same strategy also played a role in choosing the objective ‘underdog’ Samsung as the next destination. He, who was the youngest coach among 10 club managers this season, recalled, “I think it was possible because he was young,” and “I was confident in rebuilding the team and improving the team color within the (incomplete) player composition.” Actual performance at the beginning of the season exceeded expectations. In the first round, he finished in 4th place with a record of 6 wins and 4 losses. Naturally, public opinion was favorable.
It didn’t take long for the situation to turn 180 degrees. Kim Shi-rae, Lee Ho-hyun, and Lee Dong-yeop were injured, and foreign player Emmanuel Terry was sluggish. Marcus Derrickson, who served as the de facto first option, was also knocked out of the lineup due to a knee fracture.
The Asian quota system was a piece of cake. Philippine national team member William Navarro failed to receive a transfer agreement from the Philippine Basketball Association, and Christian David and Justin Baltazar also did not play a game due to injury and ‘no show’, respectively. Samsung, which started to fall from the second round, suffered 13 consecutive losses and fell to the bottom, ending the season as it was.
Coach Eun also cited the failure to recruit the Asian Quarter as the most regrettable point. Power forward Navarro, who can add strength to the waist, was suddenly left out of the team’s plan, and the guards suffered a line injury while trying to fill the void. He said, “It was the Asia Quarter that was hurt to the bone when I fell into a losing streak during the season and was mentally exhausted.” Even Lee Jung-hyun did not notice, but it was later revealed that he had suffered a microfracture.
The problem of foreign players was also a headache. Terry, who was recruited with expectations, did not match the first option, and Marcus Derrickson and Darral Willis, who were later recruited as substitutes, could not play properly due to injuries.
Director Eun blamed himself. He regretted, “There was a clear difference between the foreign players I saw during scouting and the actual playing style in Korea.”
Looking back, he said there were trial and error in the recruiting process. Although he signed a contract with Derrickson first, Terry decided to recruit him only after watching the summer league last year. Director Eun explained, “It was an urgent priority to move quickly and secure the first option, but he missed the timing while he was confused.”
Coach Eun described this season’s performance as ‘disastrous’. However, he also said that it was not that there was no harvest. That change has already begun. During the final home game on the 27th of last month, he said something similar. He accurately evaluated that he had crossed the ‘5th division ridge’.
What specifically has changed? Director Eun cited voluntary training as an example. “When I first came, all went as soon as I said, ‘I’m running out of time. When I was sitting here (in the supervisor’s office), no one came. I was the first to come and the last to go. Time passed just like that. Changes began to occur in February. The first training time is between 7 and 8 am, but before, everyone came out at 7:30 and finished before 8:30 and went in. But from one day, even at 9:00, he held a barbell and shot a moving shot. I thought this was a change.” 안전놀이터
I clearly drew a line against the voices of some who say that I exercise too much or that it is coercive. In order to stand on the court as a pro, it is natural to have the skills, effort, and physical condition suitable for it. He lumped them together and expressed them as ‘posture’. “Voluntary training is best. Coach Eun emphasized that if the training ground is quiet, the team is doomed.
As attitudes changed, growth followed. Shin Dong-hyuk stood out the most among domestic rookie players throughout the league with a 3-point shot success rate of 44.92%, and Lee Won-seok also matured mentally and was ready to take a leap forward. Middle-aged players such as Lee Ho-hyun and Lee Dong-yeop, who will hold the center between these rookies and the senior line of Lee Jung-hyun and Kim Si-rae, have also begun to melt into ‘Eun Hee-seok Basketball’. Coach Eun said, “When (Lee) Ho-hyeon was a student, I saw him for the first time in the pro-professional strongest game, and it was a waste to want to play basketball a little ‘softly’.” He followed me,” he praised.
Cha Min-seok was chosen without hesitation as the most anticipated player for the next season. Compared to the name value of being the first high school graduate, he has not been able to show off his skills due to repeated injuries, but after direct guidance, he says that his ability to learn is extraordinary. “We are still behind our competitors, but the growth rate is so fast,” he praised, saying, “I wonder when we will catch up and how far we can go.”
It wasn’t because of a ‘jinx’ that coach Eun started wearing a suit during the season instead of a sportswear with a sponsor contract. Rather, it was more of a commitment to himself and to the players who were in a bad mood. He explained, “I thought I had to keep my balance while falling into a losing streak.”
At the same time, it was also a greeting to the fans who came to the gym despite the endless slump. Coach Eun said, “I emphasized to the players, ‘Let’s do our best and persevere regardless of win or loss for the sake of the fans.’
“The players and team colors are developing a lot. I promise to give you joy with better performance and results next season.”