KCC Egis guard Jun Tae-poong dribbles up the court in an exhibition game against the Samsung Thunders. The six-month long KBL season starts Thursday with the defending champion Egis taking on the Dongbu Promy in Jeonju. / Korea Times File
By Yoon Chul
The wait for Korean hoops fans is almost over.
The Korean Basketball League (KBL) kicks off the 2009-2010 campaign Thursday night as defending champion the KCC Egis and the Dongbu Promy will get the season underway with a clash Jeonju.
There have been a few reasons for fans to eagerly anticipate the start of this season, especially the debuts of a pair of much-hyped ethnic Koreans.
Guard Jun Tae-poong of the Egis and Samsung Thunders forward Lee Seung-joon were impressive in the pre-season and had already become star players before even having stepped foot on a Korean court.
Yang Dong-geun provides another storyline as the season begins, as the former Most Valuable Player (MVP) makes his return to the Ulsan Mobis after completing his military service over the past two years.
Yang gave every indication that he hadn't lost a step while playing for Korea earlier this summer in the Asian Championship. While the Korean team had a disappointing tournament, the 28-year-old looked strong up against some powerful big men.
Star point guard and reigning MVP Joo Hee-jung will be in a new uniform this season. Joo will make his debut with the SK Knights after being traded from the KT&G Kites.
The consensus among league prognosticators is that there are three strong teams and two especially weak ones among the 10 franchises.
The Egis, Thunders and Mobis are the early favorites to vie for the league championship. The Jeonju-based Egis have huge center Ha Seung-jin as their cornerstone again but in the offseason they addressed their need for a stead point guard by acquiring Jun in the ethnic Korean draft.
Guards Kang Byung-hyun and Lim Jae-hyun were unable to be the floor general that Hur Jae's side needed.
Lee Seung-joon will form a formidable tandem with 2008-2009 top scorer Terrence Leather with the Thunders. The pair, along with significant depth, is expected to keep the team near the top of the standings all season.
The Mobis, last year's best regular season team, are thrilled about the return of Yang, a two-time MVP.
The Mobis have been knocked for their lack of size and their inside presence, however, import Bryant Dunston and Ham Ji-hoon are continuing to prove these concerns are unfounded.
The SK Knights definitely added some star power to their lineup with the additions of Joo and former NBA player Samaki Walker. They are also hoping for full season from star Bang Sung-yoon. The oft-injured small forward has been preparing for the season with a focus on remaining healthy.
On paper, the Knights look like they belong among the top 3 but the Seoul-based team has underachieved greatly over the past few seasons, despite a solid lineup of big name players.
Traditionally among the best in the league, Promy are not expected to challenge the top squads this season. Kim Joo-sung will ensure the team remains competitive but a change at head coach and a revamped roster is expected to make this a transition year for the Wonju-based club.
There are plenty of question marks surrounding the team and it's difficult to anticipate how all the new players will perform together. However, Kim's presence is enough to believe that the Promy will be among the six teams for the postseason.
The ET Land Elephants, LG Sakers and KT SonicBoom all have glaring weaknesses which put them in a second-tier of teams not expected to challenge for the league title.
Finally, many are predicting the KT&G Kites and Daegu Orions will fight for second-last.
The Kits performed beyond expectations, finishing seventh just out of the playoffs.
Few prognosticators are giving the Orions any chance of escaping the cellar. Former NBA player Herbert Hill, the Orions' top selection in the import draft, did not play well in the preseason, and Kim Seung-hyun won't be back until the second round of the regular season.
Teams play six rounds during the regular season, with each team facing each of the other nine clubs in each round.
A few records could also fall this season. Choo Seung-gyun, last season's championship series MVP, could reach 600 games and 10,000 points this year, needed 16 more games and 1,374 points to reach that mark.
Veteran guard Lee Sang-min of the Thunders needs just 100 more rebounds to become four Korean and second guard to notch 2,000 boards.
Promy franchise player Kim Joo-sung needs just 24 more blocks to become the first player in KBL history to reach 700.