Archive for the ‘Basketball’ Category

Doosan Bears v SK Wyverns, Wednesday 3rd April 2013, 6.30pm

April 10, 2013

0 - opening shot doosan bears

The baseball started up again a few days ago and so on Wednesday night I got myself along to Jamsil for my first game of the season. Or rather, my first Korean baseball game of the season.

I’ve been out of the country for the past couple of weeks, although this time it was for a holiday to America rather than the usual business trip to Oman. As you might have expected Jen and I went to a few sporting events including baseball games at LSU and New Orleans Zephyrs plus an NBA basketball game at New Orleans Hornets. We even managed a trip to the races.

As well as watching stuff we also had a couple of days hiking around the Grand Canyon and another at Red Rocks. We called into Las Vegas too where we got married at a drive-thru chapel. We didn’t even have to get out of the car, just wind the window down, exchange vows and then drive off. Whilst it’s probably not everyone’s dream to be married in a Toyota Corolla hire car, it suited us fine.

So, since it’s my blog I’ll do the now familiar ‘What I did on my holidays’ digression from the subject of the post and then eventually get back to the Bears v Wyverns. I’ll start with the hiking first, partly because it was so good, but mainly because it’s what we did first.

It’s not far from Vegas to Red Rocks and so we spent half a day just wandering around inside whatever National Park it is. The place was virtually empty and we were able to just saunter around, clambering on rocks that I felt guilty about standing on and then follow a trail through areas where I couldn’t stop grinning at the beauty of it all.

Not sure what it is, probably a big wasp's nest or something.

Not sure what it is, probably a big wasp’s nest or something.

Good as Red Rocks was though, it wasn’t a match for the Grand Canyon. We got there late in the evening and walked eastwards along the South Rim for an hour or so, before getting up before dawn the next day to see the sunrise and then hike ten miles in the other direction.

Upon arriving at a suitable vantage point for the sunrise we found we’d been beaten to it by a busload of Korean tourists. There’s a surprise. It was quiet enough fifty yards further along though. We didn’t manage to hike down into the canyon but it’s on the list and we’ll be back.

It's just as well that my Mam doesn't read this blog.

It’s just as well that my Mam doesn’t read this blog.

It was no surprise that the NBA fixture between New Orleans Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies was a step up in quality from the games I’ve been watching at Jamsil. The home side fell behind early on but rallied in the second quarter to take a lead which they managed to hang on to until the end.

We had VIP seats courtesy of Jen’s brother Jeff who is a bigwig with the New Orleans baseball team and we had a very good time with him and his missus. The evening was rounded off by free peanut butter sandwiches, a nightly tradition at the hotel we were staying at. As ever, I’ve made a mental note for the day when I end up as a tramp.

Hornets v Grizzlies.

Hornets v Grizzlies.

The horse racing at the New Orleans Fairgrounds track was good fun too. With a mixture of dirt and turf races we just about broke even due to Jen picking a few winners. I’d been to Santa Anita in Los Angeles a few years ago but this was a much smaller set up. The crowd was pretty small too despite it being free admission. Perhaps most people were waiting until the Louisiana Derby the following weekend.

And they're off!!

And they’re off!!

So, the baseball. We saw two games, the first a University game between LSU and Auburn at the Alex Box Stadium, Baton Rouge. I couldn’t get over how popular college sport is in America, with most people supporting a University team rather than one in the professional ranks.

LSU are having an excellent season and they extended their winning run with an 8-2 victory in sunny but windy conditions.

Bloody students.

Bloody students.

The second baseball game was back in New Orleans where the Triple –A Zephyrs were taking on Miami Marlins of the Major League. This was the event of the season for Jen’s brother Jeff and he was pleased to be able to report a sell-out.

We had tickets for behind the plate but soon moved close to first base to avoid having to look through a net. The protective nets are much smaller than the ones at the Korean baseball stadiums which tend to stretch the full length of the field. A lot of fans in Korea tend not to follow the game too closely, preferring to focus on the eating and drinking with their friends. I can empathise with that. However, the number of people getting sparked out cold whilst pouring soju must have been sufficient to make the full netting a must.

Zephyrs v Marlins.

Zephyrs v Marlins.

The Zephyrs didn’t do particularly well against their MLB opponents and the Marlins soon built up a big lead. It looked as if the visitors weren’t keen on hanging around either as they rattled through their innings in quick time. One of the pleasures of a day at the baseball is drinking in the sunshine and so I rattled through a few pints in just as quick a time. It was fortunate that I did really, as in a little under two hours it was all over. I can’t remember the final score but it wasn’t close.

We joined Jeff afterwards at a bar across the road from the stadium to drink daiquiris, another first for me. I’m not sure what was in them but they went down every bit as well as the beer had.

I think their gallons are slightly smaller than ours.

I think their gallons are slightly smaller than ours.

That’s it for the American sporting stuff, back to the Korean baseball. Doosan Bears against SK Wyverns. The Wyverns are usually there or thereabouts at the end of the season and in the three years that I’ve been watching baseball they’ve won the Korean Series once and finished runners-up on the other two occasions. Doosan aren’t anything like as good and if they can make the four-team play-off at the end of the season then they will have done well.

SK starting pitcher Yeo Gun Wook

SK starting pitcher Yeo Gun Wook

The early table didn’t reflect the historical success of each team though with Doosan at the top with three wins from three games and SK at the bottom having lost every time they’d played. I was hoping for a decent crowd in response to Doosan’s good start but it didn’t work out that way. The outfield was virtually empty and the Wyverns fans, perhaps less than impressed by their team’s early showing, hadn’t really bothered turning up either.

Oddly, you don't get these at American baseball.

Oddly, you don’t get these at American baseball.

It was nil-nil when I arrived early in the first and still that way an hour later in the fourth when I called it a day. The combination of cold weather and jet-lag made me decide that I needed to be in bed despite it only being eight in the evening.

I had a look at the results the next day and SK had won to kick-start their season. I’ll be back at Jamsil once I’m capable of staying up later than a six year old.

Seoul Thunders v Goyang Orions, Thursday 21st February 2013, 7pm

February 22, 2013

0 - Goyang bench

It had been getting on for three weeks since I had seen any sport with the ten days that I’d spent in the desert having caused all sorts of disruption to my plans. The annoying thing about it all was that there was very little work for me to do and whilst I was idling my days away in the middle of nowhere I could have been watching the back end of the Omani football fixtures, any number of camel racing meetings and Bradley Wiggins and his mates teararsing up and down the mountain passes in the Tour of Oman. Still, I’m  back in Korea now and it’s only a few days until the football starts again.

In the meantime though it’s basketball and this week’s little treat was the mid-table clash between Seoul Samsung Thunders and Goyang Orions. Seoul are pretty crap and strike me as being flattered by their seventh position. Although I’m not sure if you can be flattered by being fourth bottom. Goyang are doing a bit better in fifth place, but if they do manage to reach the play-offs it’s hard to imagine them prolonging their season by very long.

Jen and I took the subway to Sports Complex, picked up some chestnuts from an old biddy outside of the station and then made our way across to the Jamsil Gymnasium.

That's where you buy your chestnuts.

That’s where you buy your chestnuts.

We bought a couple of eight thousand won tickets for seats that were quite low down and between the baskets on the bench side of the court. There were probably only around five or six hundred people in the thirteen thousand capacity arena but unfortunately almost all of them seemed to be sat where we were.

There were a couple of women behind us who screamed non-stop in the way that you might expect them to do at a Justin Bieber or Gaslight Anthem gig. At one point I was worried that someone must have been trying to steal their handbags. We stuck it out for the first quarter and then switched to the quieter and near empty seating on the opposite side. By this time Goyang had opened up a bit of a lead and were comfortably in control.

Darian Townes and Leon Williams battle it out.

Darian Townes and Leon Williams battle it out.

Leon Williams was the star man for the visitors. He only missed about thirty seconds of the game and scored thirty points. It’s difficult to say much about his team mate Scott Merritt as he was only on court for around half a minute towards the end of the second quarter. I can report that he was tall, if that’s any help.

As for the home side, Darian Townes went a step further and played the entire forty minutes, notching twenty six points. I’m not sure what happened to the other American fella, Odartey Blanksan, although with a name like that perhaps he’d been kidnapped by the Vogons.

Gratuitous, I know.

Gratuitous, I know.

Instead of the usual half-time nonsense involving children from the crowd, we had a wheelchair basketball game. I was quite impressed. The players put enough effort in to result in a couple of them being tipped out of their chairs head first whilst some of the lay-ups had an element of showboating that deserved a bigger crowd.

I’d watched the wheelchair rugby in the Paralympics last summer but felt that it didn’t live up to its hype. For a start, they can pass the ball forward and there’s no offside. That’s not rugby. Also, each team seemed to have a goalscrounger whose job was just to wait for a long pass and then wheel themselves over the line with it. Wheelchair basketball seems a lot more skillful, not least because you’ve got to get the ball through the hoop.

Not many slam dunks though.

Not many slam dunks though.

Maybe all the screaming from the home fans did some good as Seoul got back into the game in the second half. With a couple of minutes left they had established a six point lead and Goyang felt the need to try for three pointers each attack. They invariably missed the shot and with five team fouls to Goyang’s name, all Seoul had to do was keep drawing the foul and nip up the other end for the free-throws.

Darian Townes and Leon Williams still battling it out.

Darian Townes and Leon Williams still battling it out.

A couple of late baskets made it look closer than it really was, but Seoul fully deserved their 73-69 victory. The win moved the Thunders up into sixth place and the play-offs with Goyang remaining one place ahead in fifth.

LG Sakers v KT Sonic Boom, Saturday 2nd February 2013, 4pm

February 15, 2013

0 - lg sakers arena

I had thought that I’d be away in Oman this weekend but a late change of plan meant that I could take the KTX down to Changwon for a couple of days that began with the derby between basketball teams KT Sonic Boom and LG Sakers and then finished off with a trip to Busan races.

The KTX stops at two different stations in Changwon. I got off at the second one, but I don’t think it makes much difference in terms of distance if you are going to the basketball. Once I was out of the station I was able to convey my destination to the taxi driver with a pretty nifty mime of a set-shot. I’m sure it would have dropped in without touching the rim. It did cross my mind that if I had to do a similar thing the next day then pretending to ride an imaginary horse would be more likely to result in a chorus of  “Oooh sexy lady“ than a journey to the racecourse.

As we approached the Changwon Arena we passed a football ground. I’m always keen to have a nose around even if there isn’t a game on and so I had a wander across. Changwon Stadium doesn’t have a team at the moment with Changwon City currently sharing the Changwon Soccer Centre with their top-flight neighbours Gyeongnam. It’s a fairly typical bowl, with a 37,000 capacity that’s far too big for Gyeongnam never mind Changwon and the newer Soccer Centre is much more appropriately sized. The pitch was covered and it didn’t look as if there was much prospect of it staging a game anytime soon.

Changwon Stadium

Changwon Stadium

A little further along from Changwon Stadium I caught a glimpse of some footballers playing on a nearby pitch. Again, I couldn’t let it go just in case it was a ridiculously early pre-season friendly or maybe a local tournament for the under tens or over fifties. I know.

It turned out to be a bunch of mates having a kickabout on a school field. As it’s the best I’m going to get football-wise for a while I hung around and watched for ten minutes. No doubt they’ll have assumed that I was a scout from a top European side. Or more likely a weird old bloke who might steal all their shoes.

I could probably have joined in if I'd asked nicely.

I could probably have joined in if I’d asked nicely.

I got back to the basketball arena just as the Sonic Boom bus was arriving. It drove across a busy square, scattering small kids who were riding bikes or flying kites and dropped the players off into a crowd of well-wishers.

The Sonic Boom bus arrives.

The Sonic Boom bus arrives.

I picked up some cans before meeting up with a few friends. We had seats on the second tier, down the side. They were pretty good for 8,000 won although with a capacity of only six thousand it didn’t look as if there were many seats where you’d have a poor view.

We kicked off, as always, with the Korean national anthem. Usually I make a point of trying to spot the fella with the most anguished look on his face. An expression so contorted with emotion that nobody could be in any doubt as to how much the anthem affects him and how much he loves his country. The basketball is generally the best for this, perhaps because the venues are smaller than the football or baseball stadiums and peer pressure prevents people from remaining seated and yapping on to their friends or shovelling gimbap down their throats.

At this game though we had something different for a change. Instead of a recording of the national anthem we got a bunch of kids playing it on a variety of brass instruments. They did pretty well although I’m still not familiar enough with the tune to be able to spot any bum notes.

The National Anthem.

The National Anthem. And a couple of cheerleaders.

Neither of the teams is having a particularly good season, although both are on the fringes of a play-off spot. That’s not overly difficult though when six of the ten teams qualify. Mind you, I’d watched Sonic Boom beat league leaders SK Knights with ease a couple of weeks earlier so who knows what might happen if they can sneak into the post-season games.

Not bad seats at all.

Not bad seats at all.

Both the Americans on the home side did pretty well, Ira Clark contributing twenty-one points with Curtis Withers clocking up thirteen points from his fifteen minutes of fame.

jjjjj collects a rebound for the Sakers.

Ira Clark collects a rebound for the Sakers.

For the visitors we saw a lot less of Jasper Johnson than I’d expected. He went off early in the first quarter and I thought that he’d called it a day. He came back out though in the third and KT were a much better team with him on court. He scored twenty-six points in only nineteen minutes, missing only two shots out of the eighteen he took. His teammate Ryan Wright wasn’t quite the same scoring machine, notching just the eight points in what was a lot more game time than he’d usually get.

Jasper Johnson gets his shot away.

Jasper Johnson gets another two points.

And so, who won? Well, with thirty-odd seconds left Sonic Boom were trailing by seven. They scored a three pointer and then when the Sakers put the ball back in to play they nicked it and stole another two. That made it just the two points difference with still thirty-odd seconds left. If the Sakers didn’t score on their next possession Sonic Boom would probably get a single chance to level or win it. LG didn’t get the basket and at the other end Jasper Johnson claimed the two points that tied the score and took us into five minutes of extra time.

This kid seemed less than impressed with the tight finish.

This kid seemed less than impressed with the tight finish.

The additional period was more than I’d planned for but there was a 7-Eleven in the concourse and so I was able to pick up another can of Hite. The momentum stayed with the visitors and they managed to take and keep the lead, eventually finishing up ahead by ninety five points to ninety two. The win kept Sonic Boom in sixth place with Sakers just outside the play-offs in seventh.

On a groundhopping note, that’s the tenth and final one of the KBL venues ticked off. It’s not quite a 92 Club achievement but it has helped to get me around the country and provided a few good days out.

SK Knights v Wonju Dongbu Promy, Wednesday 31st January 2013, 7pm

February 12, 2013

0 - sk sknights cheerleaders

It had been a while since I’d gone along to the Jamsil Students Gymnasium so I thought I’d take in the mid-week game between SK Knights and Wongju Dongbu Promy. If this game had taken place last season then you’d have had the visitors nailed on for a win. They finished top of the standings whilst SK slugged it out at the bottom with local rivals Seoul Thunders to determine the top dog in Seoul as well as the accolade of being the second crappiest team in the country.

This year though, it’s all different. SK Knights are miles clear at the top whilst Wonju started the season with a dismal run. They’d picked up a bit recently though and a decent winning streak had moved them up to mid-table.

I jumped the queue at the ticket office, or at least I think I did. There wasn’t anyone waiting at a window that I think was designated for those people collecting pre-booked tickets. As a foreigner you usually get cut some slack and I was able to purchase a ticket for cash whilst giving the people behind the counter an additional opportunity to practice their English. It seems a fair trade-off to me.

I got a seat in the corner, second tier.

I got a seat in the corner, second tier.

Despite Wonju’s current form they soon fell behind and were trailing 26-12 at the end of the first quarter. I thought that they were a little unlucky to be so far adrift as everything seemed to be dropping in for the hosts whilst a lot of the Wonju shots rolled around the rim before bouncing out. Even the dunks.

Wonju on the attack.

Wonju on the attack.

It got a bit better for the visitors as the game went on and they held their own in the second and third quarters, bringing the deficit down to three points at one stage. Julian Sensley was their star fella, rattling in twenty four points, whilst Richard Roby contributed five points during his brief time on court.

Julian Sensley and Courtney Sims.

Julian Sensley and Courtney Sims.

Aaron Haynes was top scorer for SK with eighteen points whilst their second string foreigner Courtney Sims got a bit more game time than usual toward the end. He picked up eleven points in his twelve minutes of top-class goal-scrounging beneath the basket.

Aaron Haynes scores another one.

Aaron Haynes scores another one.

In the battle of the ‘Half-Koreans’ former Globetrotter Shanghai was his usual busy self, playing the entire game for Wonju whilst Kim Min Soo, who in a former life was an Argentinian known as Julian Fernadez, took home the Man of The Match award for his seventeen points.

The win kept SK clear at the top and halted Wonju’s rise up the table.

KT Sonic Boom v SK Knights, Sunday 20th January 2013, 2pm

January 24, 2013

0 - kt sonic boom

Ground hopping isn’t really as interesting with the basketball teams as it is with football or baseball. I mean, let’s face it, an indoor basketball court is an indoor basketball court. There are usually benefits to my hobby though and in the case of ticking KT Sonic Boom off my list, it was a trip to Busan.

Jen had work stuff to do on the Saturday and so we didn’t leave Seoul until four in the afternoon. The great thing about the KTX  however, is its speed. It covered the 255 miles in two and three-quarter hours meaning that we had more than enough time to find a hotel and then have a night out.

We tried the Tokyo Inn to the left of the station but couldn’t get in there and so settled instead for the Hill Motel down a nearby side street. The surroundings were fairly ropey but the room itself was fine and half the price of the Tokyo Inn.

The Hill Motel, Busan. It's the one on the right.

The Hill Motel, Busan. It’s the one on the right.

We then headed for a Uzbekistan restaurant across the road. There are a lot of Russians in Busan and the  area around Texas Street tends to cater for them. They get familiar food and the opportunity to watch Moscow cops and robbers shows on the telly. We had some lamb dumplings, lamb with potatoes and lamb on skewers. Presumably lamb is a popular dish in Uzbekistan.

I should really have had Russian beer with it but took a chance on a bottle of red wine. I’ve no idea how good the conditions are for growing grapes in Eastern Europe but as the wine was made from pomegranates, I’d guess there aren’t too many vineyards. It was sweet, with less colour than you’d expect, presumably due to the amount of sediment that coated one side of the bottle.

I quite fancied a post-dinner beer or two in a Russian bar afterwards but there weren’t any where it didn’t look like we would be relieved of our wallets or front teeth within the first five minutes. A few of them had hookers hanging around the doors, often Filipino rather than Russian. We settled for a couple of hours in a Beer Mart which is one of those bars where you get your own drinks out of a fridge and then just settle up at the end after handing over your pile of empties. With it having a varied stock it was a good way of trying a few different beers.

Texas Street.

Texas Street.

The next morning we headed off to Jagalchi Fish market to meet fellow Boro fan Alan and his family for lunch. It’s one of those places where you select your live fish from one of the stalls downstairs, they then send it to one of the restaurants on the next floor up where it’s served.

I went for the still wriggling octopus arms, Sannakji. Is it arms or is it legs? Don’t suppose it matters really. They just snip the arms off a live octopus with scissors and serve them raw with a little sesame oil. We’d barely sat down when the plate appeared. I suppose that is how it should be as there’s probably more preparation required when peeling a banana. It was disappointing though. I’d eaten it before but with a larger octopus and on that occasion the cut-up sections seemed to be making a run for it and then whilst being eaten attached themselves to my tongue and the roof of my mouth.

Despite the prompt service, these much smaller arms didn’t wriggle as much and only briefly did the suction pads on them cling to my gums. The taste is nothing special so it’s all about the sensation. Actually I’d have been happier just putting each leg in my mouth, letting it do its stuff and then spitting it out. That strikes me as a bit disrespectful though. If you are going to have the limbs snipped off a live octopus then I’d concede that the least you can do is eat them.

This was a stall outside selling dried fish carefully sorted by size.

This was a stall outside selling dried fish carefully sorted by size.

After lunch we took a taxi to the Sajik Arena. It’s about half an hour away from Jagachi Fish Market and part of the same complex that houses Busan I’Park’s Asiad Stadium and Lotte Giant’s Sajik Baseball Stadium.

There were plenty of people milling around outside, but within a few minutes we’d got our 8,000 won General Admission (free-seating) tickets.

Sajik Arena.

Sajik Arena.

The game was already underway when we got inside with Sonic Boom six points up. It’s an impressive venue that potentially seats fourteen thousand people. The top tiers were closed off but there were enough people in the open sections to create a decent atmosphere.

View from the cheap seats.

View from the cheap seats.

I’d been expecting an SK win, probably by a good deal more than the five point handicap that I’d backed them to overcome. It didn’t pan out that way though and Sonic Boom continued to build on their lead throughout the first two quarters. By half-time the home side led by forty-five points to thirty and it was pretty much game over. At that point I met up with Charlie, a fella I know from the football, and I spent the second half drinking and chatting whilst giving the game little more than the odd cursory glance.

Jasper Johnson was the star man for KT and by the end had accrued thirty-one points. He’s a hefty fella, not quite Big Jelly size, but large enough for the opposition to keep out of his way.

Jasper Johnson causing more problems for SK.

Jasper Johnson causing more problems for SK.

SK usually rely upon Aaron Haynes but this wasn’t one of his better days. With the game effectively having been decided early on he didn’t play as much as he normally would, contributing eleven points in his twenty-one minutes on court. His team-mate Courtney Sims benefited from the additional game time and top scored for the visitors with sixteen points in eighteen minutes.

By the end of the fourth quarter Sonic Boom had increased their margin to twenty–five points, winning 88-63. SK stayed top of the league with KT moving up from seventh place to fifth.

Wonju Dongbu Promy v Ulsan Mobis Phoebus, Saturday 12th January 2013, 4pm

January 17, 2013

wonju fans

My first post of a new year traditionally tends to be padded out with all that ‘what I did on my holidays’ stuff. It’s mercifully brief this time though as whilst Jen and I spent a couple of weeks in the UK, nothing much went on. I saw the Boro win a couple of home games and spent some time with my parents, kids and grandkids, but my over-riding memory of the fortnight is pretty much the almost non-stop rain.

We had one day where it didn’t rain quite as much as the others and fortunately it was during the New Year trip to Fort William. The brief respite enabled us to walk fifteen miles along the West Highland Way and from what I saw of that most northerly section between Fort William and Kinlochleven, I’d certainly like to go back and do the rest of the route.

West Highland Way.

West Highland Way.

So, back to Korea and as it’s winter that means that it’s pretty much just the basketball going on. I’ve been applying the same groundhopper mentality to the KBL as I have to everything else and the trip to Wonju enabled me to tick off a home fixture for the eighth of the ten teams.

Jen and I caught a bus from the Express Bus Terminal. It was one of the ‘luxury’ ones with the big seats and cost ten thousand won for the one hour, forty minute journey. It looked as if they ran every half hour or so. We checked into a hotel straight across from Wonju Bus Terminal with rooms at fifty, sixty and seventy thousand won. We took one of the higher priced ones and were rewarded with the sort of ornate furniture that a seven year old girl might dream of having if she gets to marry a prince. We also had a vending machine full of ‘marital aids’ on our corridor floor.

It's fancier inside.

It’s fancier inside.

I had no idea where the 3,100 capacity Chiak Gymnasium was so we hopped in a taxi. The driver seemed happy enough despite needing to make an immediate U-turn and then only having to drive three or four hundred yards to get us there. I’ve got my doubts that we would get such a similar attitude from a Seoul cabbie.

There was a small queue for tickets. It took a while though due to everyone in front of us arseing on by not deciding where they wanted to sit until they reached the counter, or by changing their order after being given their tickets. I really do need to start getting my tickets from the cash machines if I want to keep my blood pressure down.

It was as if they didn't know what they were queueing for.

It was as if they didn’t know what they were queueing for.

Apparently they had three types of tickets, Royal, Special and Regular. I should have realised that in such a small arena then you would get a decent view from the back row, but being a bit of a Billy big bollocks I asked for two Royal seats. What I got back were two Special ones. Fair enough, perhaps the Royal ones were sold out.

Our Special seats turned out to be anything but. For a start they weren’t even next to each other, instead they were one behind the other. They were also right behind the basket. I could bleat on more but it’s probably easier to just show you the photo.

Crap view.

Crap view.

It brought back memories of a football match I went to in Portugal where I had managed to pick up a ticket to a sold-out game from a tout. It had a face value of nil, which I’d assumed meant that it was a complimentary ticket, perhaps issued to a player or sponsor. When I took my seat in the front row I concluded that the reason for it being free was that I had to look through three separate fences to try to see the goal that was only a few yards away from me.

Again, I’ll let the photo tell the story.

Another crap view.

Another crap view.

Back to the basketball. Visitors Ulsan went into the game in second place, whilst Wonju were second bottom of the ten team table. I was surprised to see that the handicap betting only gave Wonju a 3.5 point start and so I backed the visitors. They quickly went into a six point lead and I don’t think it ever fell below that all game.

As far as the foreign players got on, Ricardo Ratliffe top scored for Ulsan with eighteen points, whilst his team-mate and fellow American Curtis Withers got ten minutes on the court and accumulated eight points mainly through some nifty little tip-ins from rebounds.

Richard Roby and Julian Sensley pretty much shared the game time equally for Wonju with Roby being the more successful in terms of his contribution.

Julian Sensley and Ricardo Ratliffe.

Julian Sensley and Ricardo Ratliffe.

Former Harlem Globetrotter ‘Shanghai’ was probably Wonju’s best player and never far from the ball when his team had it. It’s his first season with Wonju and he must be wondering what has gone wrong with the team that finished top of last year’s standings. He was on court for almost the entire game but couldn’t bridge the gap in class between the teams by himself.

Shanghai takes a rebound.

Shanghai takes a rebound.

By the time we reached the end Ulsan had extended their lead to fifteen points, running out 78-63 winners. The away win kept the pressure on leaders SK Knights at the top end of the table whilst Wonju remained in ninth position.

SK Knights v KT Sonic Boom, Friday 23rd November 2012, 7pm

November 30, 2012

0 - mascots

Last Friday I thought I’d go to the basketball. SK Knights were at home to KT Sonic Boom and as they play right next to the Sports Complex subway stop, it’s only about ten minutes away from me. I got there at a quarter to seven and it was quite busy outside. I queued for a while longer than necessary at the ticket office due to the people in front of me all seeming to wait until they reached the counter before wondering where they might like to sit.

Outside beforehand.

Outside beforehand.

My choice for this game was a seat behind one of the baskets, in the upper tier. It’s not one of the better views but I thought that it would be fairly empty and I’d be able to get some decent photos of the action when it was at the other end.

What I hadn’t considered was the noise from the speakers. The MC was spewing out his inanities at top volume long before tip-off and I could actually feel the sound waves. I moved to the back row so that the speakers were pointing away from me and covered my ears with my hands. Meanwhile, small children nearby were having paper tissues poked into their lugs by their parents. I kept wishing that I’d brought some of the left-over earplugs from when Mogwai were in town. I’ll certainly take some next time.

It was louder than it looked.

It was louder than it looked.

SK Knights went into the game in second place in the table and with a 12-4 record. KT Sonic Boom were mid-table having won eight and lost nine of their games so far. With those stats in mind I backed SK to win by at least five points.

As for the players, Sonic Boom had an American centre, Jasper Johnson, who had previously turned out for SK. He had a decent game, notching eleven points. Despite him being on court for over half the game I didn’t manage to get a single useable photo of him. Perhaps that’s what happens when you sit behind the basket in the back row.

So here's one of the cheerleaders instead. Sorry Jasper.

So here’s one of the cheerleaders instead. Sorry Jasper.

The other American for Sonic Boom was a 6’9“ forward, Bryan Davis. I’m not sure what happened with him. He looked to have picked up a technical foul in the third quarter, but then went straight to the bench as if sent off. There’s nothing I can see in the stats though so maybe he just sat the rest of the game out in a huff.

Bryan Davis

Bryan Davis – KT Sonic Boom

The difference between the teams was Aaron Haynes of the SK Knights. He had another excellent game contributing thirty-three points and ten rebounds.

Slam dunk from Aaron Haynes.

Slam dunk from Aaron Haynes.

Haynes was so influential that his team-mate Chris Alexander only got two minutes on court. He didn’t make much of a mark in that time, conceding a foul without scoring a point.

The other fella.

The other fella.

At half-time SK were three points up and going into the final couple of minutes they held a ten point lead. KT put my bet in danger though with a late rally and with a few seconds left they had a final attack whilst five points down. Fortunately they ballsed it up and I was able to collect my winnings.

Well done, lads.

Well done, lads.

The 69-64 win for the home side moved them up to joint top whilst the visitors slipped to eighth place.

Ulsan Mobis Phoebus v Wonju Dongbu Promy, Sunday 11th November 2012, 2pm

November 26, 2012

After the two football games the previous day it was time for something indoors, a basketball game between Ulsan Mobis Phoebus and Wonju Dongbu Promy. Who thinks of these names? Ulsan play at the same sports complex as the National League football team Ulsan Hyundai Mipo Dockyard Dolphins (again, who came up with that one?) and as I’d been there the day before it wasn’t too difficult to find.

The home of Ulsan Mobis Phoebus

Ulsan are having a decent season so far and went into this game in third place in the rankings. It isn’t going so well for Wonju this year and they were down in ninth place. I’m surprised really, as they finished top of the standings last season, losing only ten games out of fifty-four. They’ve also benefitted from the rule that makes the ‘half-Korean’ players move between teams every few years. In the summer they managed to pick up Lee Seung Jun, formerly known as Eric Sandrin and also briefly known during his stint with the Harlem Globetrotters as ‘Shanghai’.

Oh, and the cheerleader wear bunny ears.

Wonju’s first choice foreign player, Richard Roby, wasn’t playing. I presume he must have been injured. This meant that American forward Victor Thomas got a lot more time on the court than he usually would. He didn’t really make much of an impact though with only four points to show for his extended run-out.

Victor Thomas (in white) attempts to block a Curtis Withers shot.

Ulsan were a bit more fortunate in that their main fella was not only available but he made a decent contribution. In a league where most of the Americans imports have previously played all over the world, twenty-three year old Ricardo Ratliffe is having his first season outside of the US. He played all but four minutes, scoring twenty-six points.

Ricardo Ratliffe – Ulsan Mobis Phoebus

With Ratliffe spending so much time on court it was a quiet afternoon for the second choice American Curtis Withers. He only got three minutes of playing time, notching a couple of baskets.

Curtis Withers – Ulsan Mobis Phoebus

Jen and I had reasonable seats, close to the front, but level with one of the baskets. We were also near to one of the cameramen and before the game started he came over and had a few words.

“Would you mind being on the Kiss Cam?”

For those of you who don’t know, one of the ways in which the crowd are kept occupied during breaks is by apparently unaware couples being shown on the big screen and then being encouraged to kiss. I’ve always thought it a risky business, after all, you could be attending the game with someone who you shouldn’t really be seen with, never mind seen kissing. It seems though that they’ve thought of that and they very sensibly check in advance that you don’t have a wife at home who might not be too keen on seeing you kissing the girl from the office.

Apparently they have rules for groping too, as there are families present, ‘Upstairs, outside’ is the rule by all accounts.  We didn’t push it though and when the time came Jen and I settled for a relatively chaste effort. It was deemed worthy of a cheer from the crowd and two tickets to the cinema.

Fame at last.

And the outcome of the game? Never in doubt really. Ulsan were four points up at the end of the first quarter and they steadily increased their lead throughout the game before finishing up winning by eighty-eight points to sixty-five.

SK Knights v Incheon Elephants, Saturday 13th October 2012, 2pm

October 26, 2012

This weekend saw the beginning of the basketball season. Autumn is almost upon us but it was still a warm sunny day as I made my way to the Jamsil Student Gymnasium for the game between SK Knights and Incheon Elephants.

It was quite busy outside, with plenty of old biddies selling food and drink. I bought a ticket for the second tier, near to the half-way line, for thirteen thousand won.

Chestnuts, gimbap, water and beer.

As the teams warmed up I recognised Aaron Haynes amongst the SK players. He had played for LG Sakers last season. I thought that he’d done ok with them so it was surprising to see him take a step downwards to the team that had finished bottom of the league. SK Knights are now the fourth Korean side that he has played for so I presume that he must like living over here. He went on to have a reasonable game, scoring sixteen points during his time on court.

Aaron Haynes gets the season started.

The second non-Korean player for the home side was Chris Alexander. He’s a 7’1“ centre who also turned out for the Sakers last year. As with his teammate Haynes he’s also been around the world a bit, with stints in China and the Philippines as well as a spell with the USA –D League side Sioux Falls Skyforce. As the second choice non-Korean he only played thirteen minutes but was able to contribute a relatively impressive eleven points.

Chris Alexander collects a rebound.

Carlos Powell was the first choice foreign player for Incheon. He’d played for them a few years ago before returning to Korea this season. If ever the term globetrotter was to be applied to a basketball player outside of Harlem it would be him. Apparently he has played in Portugal, New Zealand, Ukraine, Iran, Israel, China and Germany as well as the USA – D League. He rattled home twenty two points in his twenty seven minutes on court.

Carlos Powell (Number 15)

Fellow American DeAngelo Casto made up the quartet of non-Koreans. He’s only twenty-two and left college a year early to go and play in Turkey last season. He didn’t make as much of an impact as Powell but still contributed six points from his twelve minutes playing time.

So, that’s the introductions out of the way. As for the game itself, it had the most exciting finish I’ve ever seen. In basketball that is, obviously I’m not counting Massimo’s injury time winners against Basel and Bucharest.

As the game went into its final minute SK were a point ahead, 79-78. They managed to keep it that way and with ten seconds remaining Incheon gathered themselves for one last play. Carlos Powell waited until there were only a couple of seconds to go and then drove at the basket. The shot went up, hit the rim and bounced back out. As the players scrambled for the loose ball the buzzer went for full-time, 79-78 to SK Knights.

SK Knights celebrate their victory.

The music started, the streamers were released from the ceiling and the cheerleaders dashed onto the court to celebrate with the SK players. After what must have been around thirty seconds it became apparent that the Incheon players were protesting that one of them had been fouled somewhere in the last play. The officials went over to the fellas sat behind the desks and a few moment later the clock was reset to show 1.2 seconds remaining.

What’s going on here then?

It was SK’s turn to protest at that point, but it made no difference. The cheerleaders had to sit back down and the bloke with the brush came out to sweep up the streamers. Incheon were given the ball at the sideline, it was tossed to a heavily marked Powell who was able to get his shot away just as the buzzer sounded for a second time. It dropped through the hoop. 80-79.

It was Incheon’s turn to celebrate now whilst the home fans didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Incheon Elephants celebrate their victory.

The lads sat next to me were just silently shaking their heads in disbelief. It wouldn’t surprise me if that first game of the season also turned out to be their last. As a neutral though, you couldn’t beat it for a finish.

Incheon ET Land Elephants v KCC Egis, Sunday 5th February 2012, 5pm

February 14, 2012

Incheon is one of those places that fancies itself as a city but, like Suwon, it’s really just a suburb of Seoul. Nevertheless it does pretty well for sport. The baseball team is one of the best in the country and plays in what is probably my favourite stadium. They have two football teams and one of them,Incheon United, having already got bored with the stadium that was built for the 2002 World Cup, will kick off next season at a new ground.

It’s baseball at this time of year though and so I made the trip to see Incheon ET Land Elephants take on KCC Egis. I was advised that it is pronounced Incheon – ET Land – Elephants and not, as I had been doing, Incheon – ET- Land Elephants. Mind you, either way sounds equally odd to me.

Jen will be starting a new job in Incheon soon, so we thought we would try out the bus that she might use. We caught the 9500 from near to Gangnam Subway Station and an hour later it terminated at Bupyeong Subway Station. This isn’t too far from the Sansam Arena where the Elephants play but it’s a nightmare getting your bearings. The subway is home to an enormous shopping mall and has over thirty exits. The place was packed with people who were filling in their day by wandering aimlessly around for no good reason and getting in the way of people like us who had legitimate business. We quickly gave up trying to find the right direction to walk and just caught a cab instead. It only took about five minutes to get there and cost less than five thousand won.

It's looking less than brand new, so will probably get demolished soon.

There weren’t too many people milling around outside and it took us a while to find the entrance. We bought a couple of tickets from a granny tout for five thousand won apiece. This seemed like a bargain until we saw the one thousand won price on them. I don’t suppose I should complain at paying less than three quid to watch a game, but when I’m paying five times over the odds it seems a bit much. I was a little concerned that we had been sold tickets intended for the under-threes but we got in ok.

We took our seat level with one of the baskets and next to a gang of Korean kids who all seemed to need to go for a piss at the same time. I was just grateful that they hadn’t yet discovered beer.

The game looked like it would be a good one with KCC Egis in fourth place and the home team in fifth. Incheon started the better and although KCC pegged it back a bit in the second quarter the Elephants were ahead at half time by 51 points to 47. At this point we were treated to a dance routine involving three of the cheerleaders and three of Incheon’s new signings. I doubt they will have seen a basketball in the last week or two as they will have been perfecting their dance moves instead.

I'm sure that they once dreamed of the NBA.

The star player for the home side was Moon Tae Jong. He used to be known as Jarod Stevenson and has had a career that seems to have taken in most countries that play the game and probably one or two that don’t. He rattled in thirty one points.

Jarod Stevenson - Incheon Elephants

The foreign player for Incheon was American Herbert Hill. I’d like to think that he’s managed to find an apartment on either Hooker Hill or Homo Hill, just for the confusion it would cause the postman. He did ok too, contributing twenty six points including this crowd-pleasing dunk.

Herbert Hill - Incheon Elephants

KCC were missing their arsey guard Tony Atkins, but still had DeShawn Sims and Ha Seung Jin. Sims had a quiet game but Ha was able to position his 7’3“ frame underneath the basket often enough to score twenty two points.

He took the odd rebound too.

Incheon began the final quarter six points ahead and had plenty of opportunities to make the game safe. KCC should also have done better with the ball and missed a few chances themselves that they would normally have scored. It was as if neither side wanted it and eventually time ran out with Incheon nicking it by two points.