The 2022-2023 SKT Adot Pro Basketball regular league awards ceremony held on March 30th. KGC Park Ji-hoon had a busy time winning two crowns, including the ‘Six Man Award’, which symbolizes the best sixth man, and the ‘Play of the Season’, which is given to the player who created the most wonderful scene this season. met Park Ji-hoon, an indispensable player in KGC’s regular season wire-to-wire victory.
*This article was published in the May issue of Rookie, and the date of the interview is April 5, 2023.
The first season after being discharged on a roller coaster, and…
Park Ji-hoon, who enlisted in Sangmu after completing the 2019-2020 season, was discharged midway through last season. Park Ji-hoon, who had a difficult time in the early days of his comeback, as his promise to do well acted as a burden. It was a time of hardship for him, but looking back, it became nourishment for him to grow further. Park Ji-hoon, who succeeded in rebounding, improved his performance from the end of the season and contributed to KGC advancing to the championship match.
“At first, I had the thought that I should come back and do well. That mindset acted as a poison, but it started to work out by emptying my mind from around the 6th round before entering the playoffs. I think that was more fun. I felt once again that Anyang fans care so much about the team.”
After returning from last season, he went through trial and error, so Park Jihoon’s resolution for this season was different. His team, KGC, also had a change with the departure of coach Kim Seung-gi and the appointment of coach Kim Sang-sik. Park Ji-hoon, who had a strong desire to prove himself, solidified his foundation from the off-season.
“Last season, I thought I didn’t live up to my expectations, so I felt regretful even though I went to the championship match. I think I had a strong desire to help the team and show that I could do well.”
Anyang’s Super Sixth Man
Park Ji-hoon, who welcomed this season after thorough preparation. He played the role of an energizer for the team on both sides of the offense and defense, contributing greatly to KGC’s regular season wire-to-wire victory. After the regular season ended, he won two personal titles at the awards ceremony, but Park Ji-hoon did not give high marks to his performance. He had a great desire to leap to a higher place.
“I think it’s about 5.5 points out of 10. I think you need to be tougher on yourself. There is still a perception that (Byun) Jun-hyung, (Heo) Hoon-i, and (Kim) Sun-hyung are the main guards of a team, just like the hyungs. It’s not, but I think I can give it a high score if I grow to that extent. I’m still in the stage of growing up and I’m grateful that people around me praised me for doing well, but there are too many deficiencies.”
Park Ji-hoon played in all regular league games without any major injuries. What is noteworthy is that he started all games from the bench, except for the final match of the regular season, in which Byun Jun-hyeong was absent. Park Ji-hoon, who adapted well to the role, won the sixth man award and became the best sixth man in the league.
“I’m a sixth man because I didn’t start as a starter, but I don’t think of myself as a sixth man. If I went in late, I could figure out what the team needed by watching the game, so I was able to prepare well and go in. What I did was a big help.”
Could it be because he saved up energy by entering late? Park Ji-hoon, who showed a tremendous presence only in the 4th quarter. The most impressive moment was the third round match against Carrot on December 27 last year. At that time, Park Ji-hoon created ‘Ji-Hoon Time’ by demonstrating his superpowers, scoring 7 points in the last 18 seconds of the 4th quarter. Park Ji-hoon, who left unforgettable memories, said that he became more confident after the carrot fight.
“Before Carrot, I was always sluggish, but playing such a game gave me an opportunity to gain confidence. I think I was able to concentrate better in the second half. Anyway, it’s a match, and not only me, but all the other players concentrate more in the fourth quarter.”
KGC, where Park Ji-hoon and other main players and backup players performed evenly, won the regular league championship without losing first place even once. Before the opening, KGC was evaluated as being somewhat far from winning the regular league. Even within the team, it is said that the victory was not expected.
“Before the season, we didn’t feel like we were going to win either. We didn’t play a lot of practice games, and we lost a lot to LG in the cup competition. I think it was great to catch it. If we lost a game like that, it would be difficult to win, but the players overcame it well. The enthusiastic support of the fans was also a great driving force.”
“From the second half of the 5th round, I thought I could win. Even in the middle of the season, I kept thinking that I could just do it like now, but I wasn’t sure. It could have been very dangerous if I lost once in a row. By winning the game, I was able to leave in a good situation before going to Japan.”
The reason why KGC is strong
Coach Sang-sik Kim, who returned to the KBL as KGC manager this season, received favorable reviews for his soft leadership. Coach Kim gave credit to the players, saying, “Good results came because the players worked hard on their own without being distracted.” Director Kim’s unique motion offense has also been flexibly incorporated into the KGC squad as time goes by.
“The coach gave me a lot of autonomy within the frame. I’ve played a lot of basketball since I was young, and it made me feel comfortable. If you do, you can end up as a mediocre player, but if you feel lacking and work hard, you can go up. So when I saw the team system, I felt like a professional.”
“Because it was my first time meeting the director’s motion offense, there were parts that didn’t match in the beginning, but now I’m used to it because it’s come together so well. So now, I think I can play with more options than the existing motion offense.”
The presence of veteran Yang Hee-jong is indispensable for KGC to build a good team culture. According to coach Kim Sang-shik, Yang Hee-jong is not a coach, but he is playing a role like a coach. Park Ji-hoon was also influenced by Yang Hee-jong to a considerable extent, and it is said that he received a deep resonance at his retirement ceremony, which was evaluated as a ‘top-notch finish’.
“(Yang) Hee-jong hyung’s presence is amazing. I’m already worried about next year. (Laughs) At the retirement ceremony, I got goosebumps and was moved by the enthusiasm of the fans. I came to the pros and watched the retirement ceremony several times, and Hee-jong I think my older brother’s retirement ceremony is definitely memorable. I thought that if he retired like that, it would be cool and there would be no regrets. So, I made up my mind that Hee-jong must win the combined championship this season for my brother.”
On November 26, 2018, after selecting Byun Jun-hyung in the rookie draft, KGC recruited Park Ji-hoon through a trade with KT on the same day. Park Ji-hoon and Byun Jun-hyung, who joined the team on the same day, are one year older. The two players may be conscious of competing for position, but they are growing side by side with each other creating positive synergies. Byun Jun-hyeong and Park Ji-hoon are also mentioned as players who inherit the genealogy of ‘Ginseng Shinki’.
“(Byeon) Junhyung and I are probably competing with each other, but I thought that we could coexist while playing with No. 1 and No. 2, so I thought it would be fun at first. I thought there would be. I think the fans will enjoy watching basketball more.”
“When I hear the word ‘Ginseng Singi’, I really like it and am grateful. From the first member to the hyungs, they are not only very good-looking but also talented. I think the fact that I can join such a member is an honor in itself. So I must keep going to Anyang. I think I have a big desire to be there.”
The fact that Park Ji-hoon emphasized throughout the interview was that KGC fans’ support is a great motivation for the players.
“I feel that the enthusiasm of Anyang fans is always different from that of other teams. The regular season has finished well and now there are playoffs left, so we are preparing hard. I’m really getting a lot of strength from it. Thank you always and please keep an eye on the unified victory 안전놀이터!”