SEOUL, Jan. 13 (Yonhap) — Shaking off a devastating foot injury that likely cost him an opportunity to reach the world’s top basketball league, South Korean prospect Lee Hyun-jung said Friday he will continue to chase his dream.
Lee was not selected in the annual draft for the National Basketball Association (NBA) on June 23 last year, held a week after Lee had hurt his left foot during a workout with an NBA team. The sharp-shooting wing from Davidson College Wildcats entered the draft after his junior season and had been considered a fringe second round candidate.
Instead of reporting to NBA training camp, the 22-year-old went under the knife to repair damage to the top of his left foot and ligaments. He has been rehabbing for some six months.
At a press conference in Seoul, Lee said he will travel back to the United States on Sunday to undergo further tests on his foot and then chart his next path, which he hopes will include a deal with a team in the second-tier NBA G League.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed with not getting drafted. I was pretty down on myself,” Lee said. “But if I dwell on the past, it doesn’t help me in the present or the future. I have to figure out how I can use that experience to turn myself into a better player.”
Lee was trying to become just the second South Korean to be drafted in the NBA, after the retired center Ha Seung-jin, the 46th pick by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2004.
Lee averaged a career-high 15.8 points and six rebounds per game in the 2021-22 season, en route to making the Atlantic 10 All-Conference First Team.
As a sophomore in the 2020-2021 season, Lee became the first Wildcat to put up the coveted 50-40-90 shooting numbers: 50.8 percent from the field, 44.2 percent from the three-point range and 90 percent from the free throw line.
“I thought I was the better in the draft class,” Lee said. “It wasn’t just that I thought I could hang with the other guys. I felt I could beat them.”
At a lanky 201 centimeters, Lee said he wanted to add more muscle to his upper body without compromising his speed.
“I also tried to diversify my offensive game,” Lee said. “I played at around 90 to 91 kilograms in my third year at Davidson. I am at 98 or 99 kilograms now, but I don’t feel that heavy, and I feel like I am even faster.”
Lee said he knew immediately something had gone wrong when he rolled his left foot during the fateful workout, but the following rehab has been a valuable learning experience for him.
“In the early days, I was not in a good place,” Lee recalled. “But I was able to use this opportunity to learn how to take better care of my body. I don’t think I even knew how to use my feet properly before. I am grateful for this experience.”
Lee said he will be ready to do whatever team that signs him wants him to do, be it playing tough defense, rebounding and handling the rock.
“Failing isn’t necessarily bad. I learned so much from mine,” Lee said. “Even if I keep getting knocked down, I will keep getting up again. I am not afraid of failure.”
Lee said he couldn’t care less about detractors who argue Koreans aren’t likely to make it to the NBA.
“This is what I love to do, and opinions like that only fuel me,” Lee said. “I think those people are envious of the fact that I am chasing my dream. I feel sorry for those people.”
Lee has basketball running through his veins. His mother, Seong Jeong-a, helped South Korea win the silver medal in basketball at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. His father, Lee Yun-hwan, played semi-pro hoops in the 1980s and has been a prominent high school coach since retiring as a player in 1991.
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