Currently, the KBL and WKBL have a total of 39 coaches assisting the head coach of each team. Some of these coaches are former star players, while others were somewhat under the radar during their playing days. In this column, we’ll introduce you to some of these coaches who weren’t the most glamorous players, but have made it to the top. In the June issue, we turn our attention to the university level. Kim Tae-hyung of Korea University is the main character. Kim turned pro in 2011 and spent most of his career in the D-League. After retiring in 2019, he was recruited by head coach Joo Hee-jung to join KU as a power analyst and was promoted to coach in 2020, where he has been working on player development ever since. We talked to Coach Kim Tae-hyung about his passion for coaching.
This article was originally published in the June issue of Jump Ball, a specialized basketball magazine.
When did you start playing basketball?
I was in the fourth grade of elementary school, and my older sister was playing basketball at Sunil Girls’ High School. I often went to the gym with her, and I was the fastest runner in the whole school. The coach at Sunil Girls’ High School saw me and introduced me to Yeonga Elementary School, so I took a test and joined the basketball team.
You were considered a promising player at Myungji, what kind of player were you?
I was a scorer. If I was a little cocky, I could hold the ball and score without thinking about it. I was so confident in my scoring ability that I would purposely practice assists when I went to competitions to improve myself. I would always look out for my teammates’ chances rather than my own. I think I improved a lot in high school.
After I went to Sungkyunkwan University, I went through a slump.
I was confused about my identity and didn’t know what to do on the court. At that time, Sungkyunkwan University was very good at recruiting 스포츠토토 players. Kim Il-jung, Kim Min-seop, and other promising players rejected offers from Korea University and Yonsei University to go to Sungkyunkwan University. But everyone had strong personalities and we couldn’t get along, and coach Cho Sung-tae didn’t like me very much. So I focused more on defense to survive. I think I was confident in my physical strength, so I played both offense and defense.
You were selected by Incheon Electroland (now Daegu Korea Gas) with the 7th pick in the second round of the 2011 KBL rookie draft, but then traded to Seoul Samsung.
I was disappointed with my draft position, but looking back, I don’t think it was that bad because I had a lot of friends who were doing well, like Oh Se-geun and Kim Sun-hyung, and there were some good players in the third round. I never started in college, but I still got 35 minutes of playing time because I stepped in when others couldn’t. I think I was drafted for exactly what I showed.
You started 29 games in your rookie season, the most of your career.
At the beginning of the season, I didn’t play at all, but then Samsung lost 13 games in a row. Afterward, I had a one-on-one meeting with Kim Sang-jun and the coach, and I told him that I was more worried about not playing than the team, and he said, “If I play you in the next game, are you confident that you can do well?” I said yes, and he let me play. I remember playing against (Seoul) SK, and I blocked (Kim) Sun-hyung well, and then I scored an important goal in overtime, and the team won. Since then, I’ve been playing little by little.
In the 2016-2017 season, you won the D-League MVP award.
At that time, the Samsung team was so good. (Kim) Tae-sul, coach Joo Hee-jung, (Im) Dong-seob, (Kim) Jun-il, and even Ra-gan-ah. (Lee) Shi-joon couldn’t play. The D-League was so competitive at that time, and it felt like Hyundai Mobis was down to just (Ham) Ji-hoon and (Yang) Dong-geun. If I had a D-League game on Monday, I didn’t even go out to train, I just trained, and later on, I became obsessive, and I think it paid off.
In the 2018-2019 season, I won the championship with Hyundai Mobis, but I didn’t play a single game due to an ankle injury.
I had a bad ankle from the offseason, so I had to have surgery, but I kept working out nonstop. I injured my ankle during team training, and the swelling was really bad, but I kept working out. Eventually, I had an MRI, and they told me that I had no ligaments at all, so I had to have surgery right away. I think it means a lot to have a championship ring, and even though I didn’t get to play, it’s still a good memory, because Hyundai Mobis gives you discounts on cars if you win (laughs).
After the 2018-2019 season, you announced your retirement from active duty. Was it a big disappointment?
Not only me, but any athlete has a lot of regrets when they quit. It was indescribable, but Coach Joo Hee-jung called me right away, and as I was coaching the players, my regrets disappeared a little bit. I’m trying to put my regrets and passion into coaching.
“Coach Joo Hee-jung is a blessing once in my life”
Coach Kim Tae-hyung came out of retirement to join Korea University because of a strong request from Coach Joo Hee-jung. Joo and Tae-hyung became close friends during their time at Samsung, where they trained together every day. Joo recognized his potential as a coach and brought him on board. Kim Tae-hyung assisted Joo Hee-jung last year and helped KU win all of its competitions.
After retiring, he joined KU as a power analyst.
At first, I said no, but then I came to Korea University after the season and taught the players once, and I really enjoyed it, so I came to power analysis.
In 2020, you were promoted to coach.
I was very grateful, but at the same time, I was scared, because there was a lot of talk around me because I wasn’t from KU. I still have the idea that I have to do better because everybody is the enemy, so I’m teaching the players with the mindset that I have to work harder.
Was there any opposition to you not being from Korea University?
At first, they didn’t like it, but now I’m grateful that they think it’s good. I think I need to work harder.
When did you first dream of becoming a coach?
I’ve been thinking about it since I was in high school, and I realized that teaching was a good fit when I was teaching the juniors as a senior. Even as a pro, I sometimes gave advice to the juniors, and thankfully they listened to me. (Lee) Dong-yup told me to be a leader by all means, and I think the director looked at me well at that time and called me.