As the saying goes, “The KBL is a foreigner’s game,” and every coach who has ever done well or made an impact has had a foreigner who fit right in. Choi Myung-ryong (71‧184cm) surprised everyone by leading the Wonju Narae Bluebirds to the runners-up spot after being devalued as the favorite to win the Pro Year.
This was thanks in large part to the foreign duo of Kaleigh Harris (53‧183㎝) and Jason Williford (50‧194.4cm), who were so close outside of basketball that Williford described them as “like sons”. In the case of Harris, a dual guard who boasted explosive scoring power based on his outstanding athleticism, he was an outsider. Wilford, on the other hand, was an all-or-nothing recruit who was recommended on the field.
The results were spectacular. Just as Choi said before the draft, “He’s a smart player,” Williford played all-around, inside and out, and was named the KBL’s first foreign player MVP. He followed Choi like a father. Their trust was so deep that even his mother told him on the phone, “If he doesn’t listen to me, I’ll beat him up to make sure he gets the right education.도메인
So when he had to send Williford away against his will, Choi felt a great sense of loss. Williford, who had been a model student in his youth, turned into a rascal after starvation. He was sensitive to refereeing decisions and would often lash out in anger. The idea that he had been abandoned led him to sulk.
When we think of Shin (67‧188cm), we think of Johnny McDowell (52‧194cm) and Charles Minland (50‧195cm), two of the best players in the Hyundai (now KCC) dynasty in the early days of the professional game. Both of them played a key role in winning championships with their extraordinary performances. If we’re talking pure talent, Minland, who was unrivaled in free agency, might have the edge, but McDowell has the edge in terms of impact. This is because he is the one who created the beginning of the modern dynasty.
Like the aforementioned Choi and Williford, the meeting between Shin and McDowell was fateful(?). In the 1997 Foreign Player Draft, Shin selected Jay Webb in the first round and then Bernard Blount in the second round to serve as a scorer. The situation on the field was such that Blount’s move to Hyundai was virtually finalized.
However, Lee Chung-hee, the former LG coach at the time, quickly passed on Blunt, and Shin, who was in a hurry, chose McDowell, who looked strong, from the remaining players. As is well known, the results were spectacular. Blount was good, but McDowell was better. The undersized big man crashed the boards en route to two straight championships, three straight regular season titles, and three straight Most Valuable Foreign Player awards.
In the case of Eric Roberts (49‧198cm), who is often mentioned when talking about white foreign players, he worked well with coaches such as Hwang Yoo-ha, Lee Sang-yoon, and Kim Tae-hwan. Although he was not as athletic as his black counterparts, he always did more than the basics by playing with his BQ and sophisticated shooting ability. His personality was docile and easy-going, so there were no incidents on or off the court. However, due to his lack of post dominance, he was often not re-signed or traded for better foreign players. However, after a while, it was common to hear the phrase, “At least he was good.
When you think of Jin (62‧186cm), many people think of the late Marcus Hicks (who died in May, age 45). At a time when undersized big men in the McDowell mold were dominating, Hicks, an agile forward who ran and shot well, changed the league’s trend by giving the East its first championship. As a rookie, his combo play with Kim Seung-hyun made a lasting impression that is still talked about today. Ironically, Kim himself said in an interview with ‘Basketball Personality Interview’ that Chris Messi (45‧199.5cm) was the first player that came to mind.
In the case of Yoo Jae-hak (60‧180cm), it’s hard to narrow it down to one or two because he was a coach who was very fortunate to have foreign players, but in a sense, Chris Williams (who died in 2017, aged 36) would be the first to overlap. This is because he was the best technician to end the Mobis dynasty.
Although he was classified as a small forward, Williams was more of a long point guard. His wide range, flashy passing, and versatility allowed him to dominate other foreign players. His presence allowed Yang Dong-geun, who was more of a shooting guard in his early years, to adapt and grow into a point guard. His only weakness was his short shooting range, but if he had a shot, we might not have seen him play in the Korean League. He’s a star in the sky now, but his name comes up whenever we talk about the best foreign players of all time.
Aaron Haynes (42‧199cm) is now a legend, but in the early to mid-career, he was criticized as ‘good but not good enough to stick around’. His skinny frame, lack of power, swingman style, and weak 3-point shot were often criticized. Of course, like the aforementioned Roberts, his departure was often met with a sense of regret: “But Haynes was good…”.
The coach who used Haynes the best was Moon Sung-eun (52‧190cm). Prior to his arrival, SK’s performance fell short of expectations despite constant reinforcements, drawing the ire of fans. However, after Moon’s arrival, the team became an emerging powerhouse with strong performances in big games. A lot of that is due to Haynes’ strength.
The combination of Kim Sun-hyung, an attacking guard with good size, and a number of long forwards was a perfect fit. The defensive challenges of not having a true big man, let alone a fast and dynamic offense, were covered by a 3-2 drop zone defense. Haines, with his height and mobility, was the centerpiece. He was so effective at the time that some fans referred to him as “Moon Aaron” in reference to former coach Moon.
Being part of the SK family means that just as Haines’ heyday was slowly fading away, a new superstar foreign player emerged. None other than Jamil Warney (29‧199cm). He was discovered by Moon. In his first season in Korea, he won the best foreign player award, but the following season, he completely ruined the club’s season.
Not only did he fail to control his weight, resulting in an enlarged body that showed none of the power of the previous season, but he was also branded as a rascal for his unruly behavior on and off the court. Moon’s decision to relinquish the reins after a decade in charge was not without its share of controversy, so attention was focused on the new head coach, Jeon Hee-chul, and his choice was to go with Warney.
Although there were some mental issues with Warne, he believed that there was no other foreign player who could do the job as long as he was motivated. In the end, the former coach’s patience paid off. After rebuilding his body and mind, Warney returned to his best form and proved his worth by leading the team to the title last season.
The team finished as runners-up last season, but it was amazing to reach the championship final without two of their main players, Ahn Young-joon and Choi Jun-yong, in the first place. Warney’s performance as a duo with the rejuvenated Kim Sun-hyung was essential. This season, Warney is still one of the strongest foreign players in the league. Through two games, he’s averaging 36 points, three assists, 12 rebounds, and two steals. We can’t wait to see if the unstoppable Warney will continue to lead SK to the championship this season.