Jonghyun Lee’s comeback story

However, he was hampered by major and minor injuries including Achilles tendon, knee tendon, and shoulder. He moved to Goyang Orion (currently Goyang Sono) and Jeonju KCC (currently Busan KCC), but showed little presence. Nevertheless, he never gave up on Jonghyun Lee, and displayed his wings for revival at Anyang Chunggwanjang, where he newly built his nest this season. He played both sides of offense and defense and took the main spot. After overcoming the injury, he is trying to write a comeback story in Anyang. (The interview took place on Dec. 5)

※This article was published in the January issue of Jumpball, a basketball magazine.

What if you think about it now that you had a brilliant time?
It’s a happy memory. I was young and didn’t have as many thoughts as I do now. I think it’s a happy and memorable experience that I had at that age. Basketball was so easy to play. The college league doesn’t have any foreign players like a professional, and I was the tallest. And Korea University has a good track record, so I played basketball easily and fun.

After entering the professional league, he was hampered by a series of injuries.
It was very difficult. My injured Achilles tendon, knee and shoulder were all painful since I was young. Consequently, I came to the professional world and underwent surgery, but now that I think about it, I feel healthy and not sick. Of course, it was very difficult back then. Still, it was a time when I matured mentally through hard times and helped me personally a lot.

I think you would have thought, “What if the Jonghyun Lee wasn’t injured?”
To be honest, I still do it sometimes these days. I watched a lot of old videos when I was having a hard time because of my injury. But that makes it even harder. So I don’t watch past videos and don’t think about “what if there were no injuries?” I’m trying my best in the present.

I think you’ve experienced all kinds of setbacks as a basketball player?
Is there a player in the KBL who has experienced as much hardship and adversity as I did (laughs)? He received a lot of attention since he was young. He also received a lot of criticism. He says good things when he is good, but he has been criticized a lot over the years for his poor performance. That’s why it was even more difficult.

When was the hardest time?
I still talk to my wife occasionally these days. The hardest time I had was in 2019 when I had a knee tendon injury. I was shocked because I had just returned from an Achilles tendon injury. And knee rehabilitation was very difficult. It was the hardest time of my life.

Have you ever wanted to quit basketball?
I did. I had a lot of bad thoughts. Of course. But since I’ve been playing basketball since I was young, I thought there would be nothing to do if I quit. So I endured it. My parents also had a hard time because of me.

I was about to play an offseason free agent, but I didn’t play properly.
Seeing you guys negotiate with the FA, there were so many things that a player could enjoy. But it wasn’t me. I didn’t play much last season, so I seriously thought, “What should I do when I retire?” When the FA market opened, I thought they would call me, but not a single team had an offer.

“I decided to call Director Kim Sangsik”
Having secured his first free agent qualification in the offseason, Jonghyun Lee experienced another setback. He is on the verge of retirement due to lack of a team to invite him. He had reputation as a “big man” in Korea probably back then, but he has not shown much so far. Jonghyun Lee contacted manager Kim Sang-sik first with desperation, and Chung was able to continue his career as a pro. He had a one-year contract and 150 million won (137,000 U.S. dollars) in compensation.

I contacted director Kim Sang-sik directly to come to Jeonggwanjang?
(Oh)Se-geun (SK) thought there would be a vacancy after moving to the team. But it wasn’t easy to call him. I made a big decision and called the manager. He was a coach for the men’s national basketball team, so we were close. I called him and politely said, “I want to learn from the manager.” Fortunately, the manager sympathized with me and understood the situation. I think the manager was good at telling the club.

How was the negotiation process with Jeong Kwan-jang?
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Jeong Kwan-jang, the director, the director, and the coaches. They understood me and sympathized with me. I don’t doubt my skills, but they asked me to show them because I didn’t play well for several seasons. Salary was not important. For this reason, I only signed a one-year contract. I was able to exercise harder because I completed the contract well.

How do you feel when you sign a contract with the director?
The first thing I thought was, “I have put out the fire in a hurry.” My family struggled a lot because of me. In fact, I was more worried than fortunate. I signed only a one-year contract. It was an adventure. So I didn’t feel relieved after signing the contract.

At that time, the situation of the director of the government was not a welcome atmosphere?
That’s right. I didn’t feel welcome until the season. Some fans were picketing for the opening game. In the beginning of the season, my name was quiet when I introduced players. I was a little sad, but I’m just thankful that they call my name and cheer me on a lot these days.

I think you must have worked really hard this offseason?
I wanted to say this someday, but I can confidently say that I worked hard every year. After my shoulder surgery, I did squats in the hospital room without taking the elevator and walked around on purpose. Fans don’t know this part well. It was a disappointing and upsetting job because it was judged by what was seen. I worked hard, but the result didn’t come out.

I think I’m seeing the effect of losing weight.
I tend to gain weight and lose weight easily. When I take a two-month break after the season, I take three weeks off and adjust the rest by exercising individually.

“I’m thankful and happy playing basketball every day”
In the new season, Jonghyun Lee surprised everyone with his different look. As he gained confidence, he relaxed and displayed plays reminiscent of his heyday. He is also contributing to the team in defense by utilizing the long wingspan of 223 centimeters. He is happily playing basketball again, but Jonghyun Lee is not satisfied. More than half of the season is left. In order for him to be evaluated as a perfect revival, he should show consistency to the end without injury.

He played well from the beginning of this season.
I was really worried. But it worked out so well that I was surprised myself. I have a lot of miscellaneous thoughts, but I think it helped me a lot that I tried to play this season without thinking.

I think you’re more confident in your play?
The coaches instill a lot of confidence in the comfortable atmosphere. That’s why I play comfortably, so I think I get good plays. As much as the coach believes, I’m trying to play with responsibility so as not to disappoint you.

On November 3, he made a double-double (13 points and 10 rebounds) in 1,772 days against Samsung in Seoul.
It took a long time. It wasn’t a year or two. I didn’t know it was this difficult before. Now, it’s amazing to see players who consistently double-double. But I felt better because the team won than the individual record. So I didn’t put much emphasis on double-double.

I don’t think it’s been a long time since we received this kind of attention?
I’ve always received a lot of attention. In recent years, they’ve given me a lot of bad attention. These days, I’m grateful for your good interest and support, and I’m happy to play basketball every day.

What about director Kim Sang-sik’s coaching style?
They are very soft. They give players a lot of freedom. As much as they give us freedom, I think the players work harder not to disappoint. Usually, teams come out 30 to 40 minutes before training to warm up, but Chung came out an hour before training and did individual exercises. I was surprised to see the self-contained culture.

Jeong Kwan-jang cruised at the beginning of the season, did you expect him to do well?
The existing members and the new players united well. The new players played with the mindset of filling the vacancies of the players who moved to the team as much as possible. The existing members were confident because they won the championship last season. The team members have changed a lot, but I think it has a good synergy effect.

Lastly, what’s your personal wish for this season?
It’s the same every season. My goal is to play in every game without getting hurt. Every season has been important, but I think this season is more important. It’s a good start. I’m on a losing streak now, but I hope I can finish the season in a good mood. I think the uphill and downhill repeat as the season goes on, so once I break it, I can move back to the top.


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