If you were to pick one person who showed the most rapid growth in KBL last season, it was definitely Ha Yoon-ki (24, 204 cm). Ha Yoon-ki played an average of 29 minutes and 45 seconds in 51 regular league games, averaging 15.3 points and 6.4 rebounds. He has clearly established himself as a key member of Suwon KT, not just a promising big man. Even as a national representative, Ha Yoon-ki stood out. In two warm-up games against Japan held in July, he captured the heart of coach Chu Il-seung by showing exciting dunks and blocked shots. As a result, he was proudly named to the 12-member roster of the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games men’s basketball team. Now, ‘Baby Hulk’ Ha Yoon-gi will wear the Taegeuk symbol at the Asian Games and will reliably protect Korea’s goal. (The interview was conducted on August 11th.) ※ Please note that this article was published in the September issue of Jumpball, a basketball magazine

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The men’s basketball team announced that it would not participate in the 2023 FIBA ​​Olympic pre-qualification round held in Syria. How are you currently doing?
Until the afternoon of the 8th, a decision on whether to participate or not was not made. After finishing the afternoon training, coach (Chu Il-seung) told me that he had decided not to participate in the competition. We decided to return on the evening of the 13th, and the national team disbanded that day. Since I have a body that I have built over the years, I am currently doing weight training on my own in Suwon, where KT’s accommodation is located.

You prepared hard, but aren’t you disappointed?
I’m so sorry. But people around me say that Syria is very dangerous. It was a situation where I wanted to go but I couldn’t. I could have had a good experience, but I’m disappointed that I couldn’t.

He performed well in two friendly matches against Japan in July.
In fact, he was very nervous. I couldn’t sleep well because I felt like I had to prove myself. And the Korea-Japan match has a special meaning. I was very nervous, but my brothers were there to help me. I was able to play well because they gave me a lot of chances.

Was the ceremony staring at the camera after the in-your-face dunk in Game 1 impressive?
While trying the pattern, the ball went to (Song) Gyochang (Managing Director). I thought Gyochangi would solve it, but he brought the defense together and gave me a pass. Actually, it was a bit far to shoot a dunk shot at that time. There was a tall player in front of me, so I vaguely put up a layup, and when I was about to get blocked, I was thinking of going for a dunk, but it was narrowly successful. I also felt really good. I think I screamed without realizing it because I saw a camera in front of me after the dunk shot.

He has a good ability to block shots. Does Ha Yoon-gi have any special secrets?
When the opponent’s guard breaks through, if you play help defense too quickly, you can pass to my matchup center, and if you’re not careful, you’ll get a foul. So, I intentionally stick to my matchup center and make him attempt a layup. To put it simply, it’s setting a trap. I wait and when the opposing guard makes a layup, I try to block the shot at the right time.

Do you think missing out on the FIBA ​​Asia Cup last year motivated you?
Not being selected for the Asia Cup was the biggest disappointment of my life. For a while, I was so depressed that I couldn’t do anything. I often thought, ‘Is my ability only limited to this level?’ At that time, (Choi) Junyong (KCC) was next to me and told me a lot of stories. He gave me advice and bought me books to read on my own. I tried to change my mindset myself. I think that last year’s offseason with gritted teeth yielded good results.

What is the biggest improvement compared to this time last year?
I think the big change was trying to increase the number of mid-distance shots. Since it is a mid-range shot, it is more comfortable when attacking one-on-one. I definitely think there’s a lot more you can do if you have a shot.

He is tall, has excellent athletic ability, and has great speed. Is this something he was born with?
I think athletic ability is innate. Because I liked it since I was young. My speed wasn’t that fast until I was in college. But in modern basketball, I thought that centers should know how to run and participate in fast breaks, so I trained my agility. I think I got faster because I tried to run harder.

Are there any special orders from Director Chu Il-seung?
I think that international competitions require good physical strength. Because there are many strong players. Please ask the director to be more athletic. You also emphasize this during training. I think we need to be more thorough with rebounding and boxing out.

Named among the finalists for the Hangzhou Asian Games.
I feel really good. I was included in the national team of my dreams, and I was able to participate in a big competition called the Asian Games. I’m looking forward to seeing who I’ll meet.

Do you think your determination to compete in the Asian Games will be special?
I think you need to have a strong mindset. I plan to approach it with the mindset of going to war. Because my position involves a lot of physical fighting. In attack, there are many guys who can solve problems, so I will focus on physical fights and bad things.

“Baby Hulk nickname? I like it so much.”
Ha Yoon-gi’s nickname is ‘Baby Hulk.’ Despite his young age, La Gun-ah (KCC) named him after seeing Ha Yoon-gi running under the goal with his powerful strength and outstanding athletic ability. Ha Yoon-ki is gradually evolving to shed his baby image and become the Hulk. However, he is still a young man, only 24 years old. When he started talking about things other than basketball, a smile appeared on his face and he continued talking.

Now let me ask you a personal question. What are your hobbies outside of basketball?
I play a lot of computer games. Since I was young, I often played it with my friends on my days off. I also like watching movies. When I’m really bored on my days off, I often go see it by myself. I think it’s better to watch movies alone. Because you can concentrate more. I recently watched Elemental, Smuggler, and Concrete Utopia.

What are your interests these days?
Surfing. While watching YouTube, I happened to see a surfing video and it looked really cool. I think it might be fun. If I had known about it during last season, I would have tried it during my vacation, but I haven’t been able to figure it out recently. If I get the chance, I definitely want to try surfing.

You have often showcased your singing skills. How would you rate it?
I don’t sing very well, but I like to sing. I tend to sing a lot of rock songs. Actually, I have a very shy personality, but I broke down once. So I don’t think I care about image these days. My favorite song is ‘Lazenca, Save Us’ by Next.

What is your favorite food?
Personally, I really like ramen. I liked it since I was young, and I still eat it often as a late-night snack. But these days, I need to get in shape, so I’m trying to cut back a little. And sundae soup is also my favorite food. I usually buy it and eat it often.

Since joining KT, you have been wearing jersey number 0. Is there a special reason?
I wore number 22 during college. When I came to the pros, I wanted to change my uniform number to feel like I was born again. But there was no suitable number, and after much deliberation, I chose number 0. It’s neat because it looks similar to a circle, right? I plan to keep taking it since people around me say it looks good on me.

What is your ideal type?
Well, an intelligent woman. I wish I was smart because I don’t know much (laughs). I don’t think height and appearance matter much. When it comes to celebrities, I like Le Seraphim Kazuha. I like her because she’s pretty rather than because she’s my ideal type. haha.

Do you like the nickname ‘Baby Hulk’?
(La)Geon-ah (KCC) This is the nickname my brother first gave me. When he heard it, he thought it was fresh and he liked it. I mentioned this nickname in an interview, and from then on, fans started calling me Baby Hulk. Hulk is a strong image, right? So I like it.

During a KT home game, when the opposing team was shooting a free throw, they used a Baby Hulk doll to interfere with it?
Honestly, I don’t like it. I saw it for the first time last season before the opening game, and I was really embarrassed. It’s a weapon that can confuse the opposing team, but I thought I would stop it too (laughter). After about 5 games, I got used to it. I heard that it actually worked and I was really surprised.

“The goal for the new season is the playoffs and the best 5.”
KT, which failed to advance to the playoffs last season, made changes to its squad. They invested a large sum of 780 million won in the free agent (FA) market to recruit KBL’s best defender Moon Seong-gon. If Heo Hoon, who is currently serving as managing director, returns, a lineup consisting of Heo Hoon, Moon Seong-gon, and Ha Yoon-gi could be established. Ha Yoon-gi is also aiming to regain his pride. We are working hard to achieve two birds with one stone: advancement to the playoffs and winning the Best 5 award.

In the offseason, coach Song Young-jin took the helm of KT.안전놀이터
He’s a really manly and hot guy. During training, he teaches with passion. Outside of training times, please approach first in a friendly way and joke around a lot. He’s a really good director.

I heard that coach Song Young-jin had a big share in Ha Yoon-ki’s growth last season?
As a center, you provided detailed information on your know-how. He also gave me a lot of advice, telling me to ‘strengthen my body more and approach the game with a combative attitude.’ He corrected my shooting form and gave me a lot of one-on-one personal training, which was really helpful. Thanks to the coach, I feel like my mid-range shots are going well, so I’m thankful.

Moon Seong-gon is a new member of the team?
(Moon) Seong-gon plays almost two or three roles in defense. If you play with him, you don’t have to worry about defense. I think he’s a good player. He usually gives a lot of advice and talks about teamwork, so I believe he will help the team focus well.

You played with Heo Hoon (Managing Director) and Moon Seong-gon on the national team. How was your chemistry together?
(Heo) Hoon is a luxury guard that needs no words. When it comes to passing, he passes, and when it comes to shooting, he seems to be good at shooting. We played together as rookies, so we know each other well. It was my first time playing with Seonggon, and if there were any gaps in defense, he would cover them. So he was so comfortable with it personally.

Do you think KT’s team defense will improve a lot in the new season?
There are many guys on our team who are good at defense, not just Seonggon. I think I just have to do well. Even in the evaluation match against Japan, I felt that there was a lack of understanding of the team’s defense. I think we will be a really solid team as long as there are no holes in my position.

I guess they’re looking to bounce back from missing the playoffs last season?
After the playoffs, I took a vacation and rested at home, but other teams continued to play. When I saw that, I really wanted to run and I was jealous. I felt miserable watching the game at home. I plan to do my best to make it to the playoffs this season.

Do you have any personal goals for the new season?
First of all, I definitely want to advance to the playoffs. And I want to be good at defending foreign players on the opposing team. Last season, I gave (Omari) Spellman (KGC) 40 points. The shock at the time was so great. If I have a match-up with a foreign player this season, I want to show improvement so that I can give fewer points.

Aside from your mid-distance shooting, what would you personally like to improve on?
I think my mid-distance shooting is still unstable. More than anything else, I want to make mid-distance shooting completely my own. The goal is to increase the success rate. These days, I’m still practicing a lot. I think the only answer is a lot of practice.

Last season, I received the Skill Development Award and 5-Gall Defense Award. Is there an award you would like to receive this coming season?
I plan to work hard with the goal of becoming the top 5. Because only the best players in each position can receive the Best 5. Personally, I think I am in really good physical condition, so I don’t want to be seen being pushed aside by big men from other teams. I will make sure to win and get the top 5.

Lastly, please say a word to the fans who support you.
We didn’t make the playoffs last season, and I don’t want to go through that pain again. This time, Seonggon joined us, and with Hoon coming back, I want to advance to the playoffs with a stronger team. We will show you a fun and good game with even stronger power, so please support us. Thank you for your continued support.

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