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Former youth players lead Korea's charge in FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers

CLARK, PAMPANGA-It's always a major draw when the Philippines and Korea go up against each other in a basketball game. The two proud hoops nations will be meeting each other twice for the first time within the same week as the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers resume this time at the Angeles University Foundation here.

It has been over a year since the Koreans saw action in this event and it has successfully posted wins against host nation Indonesia and a surprisingly close one against the visiting Thailand squad in the February 2020 window.

Because of COVID-19 issues pushing back several window dates, the Philippines and Jordan have been selected as "neutral" venues for the qualifiers to commence, but that in no way will taint the tradition of this incredible rivalry-especially at this stage where both contingents are still undefeated.

We examine the roster of Korea heading into their final four assignments here.

It will be quite a challenge for the Coach Cho Sang-hyun, who replaces icon Hur Jae as the team's head coach, and despite the presence of the veterans in two-time FIBA Asia Cup campaigner Lee Seoung-hyun, gunner Lee Dae-sung and naturalized player Ra Gun-ah (formerly known as PBA reinforcement Ricardo Ratliffe), the youth movement is in full swing with the Koreans.

Being named to the squad are high school sensation Yeo Jun-seok and Davidson College sophomore Lee Hyun-jung, aged 19 and 20, respectively.

Yeo made a splash initially as a wild dunking teenager that led him to some fame on the internet before the national team program took him in, and he has rapidly progressed as polished player way ahead of his years.

He has seen action for Korea in the 2018 U18 Asian Championship where he averaged 16.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.2 SPG and 1.8 BPG in being instrumental to his nation making it to the quarterfinal stage of the tournament. Yeo also took part in the 2021 NBA Global Academy and scored in double figures in all but two tiffs.

"I've been watching him for a while because of his potential, and now I am sure he's going to be a great asset for the team as being a shooter with his tall height," Cho said of his young prospect in an interview with FIBA. "He is still a high school student, but his speed and physical feature cannot be matched in his age group. Therefore, I believe he can play in the senior national team. With his talent, I am going to put him as three or four, (depending) on the situation."

Many aficionados are already salivating over a potential match-up between Yeo and new Gilas addition Kai Sotto in a battle of perhaps the future pivots for both nations.

Yeo's U18 teammate Lee has made a big impact for his NCAA Division I school, which is the alma mater of NBA superstar Stephen Curry, as he was named to the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie team in 2020 and started all 22 games for the Wildcats in the previous season.

Lee churned out norms of 13.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG and 2.5 APG and led Davidson in minutes played, averaging 29.9 per game. His percentages, however, are what put him on the radar: over 50% from field including 44% from deep.

Lee made his mark as a fifteen-year-old sensation when he led Korea's gold medal charge in the 2015 FIBA Asia U16 Championship and has chalked up two more international stints, the last one alongside Yeo.

"As this team got much younger compared to the previous group of players, I am looking forward to seeing a lot of energy on the court," Cho explained. "That means energetic and sticky pressure on the opponent for the defense and fast-paced, strong attack to the rim for the offense."

Korea is currently ranked 30th in the world, according to the present FIBA rankings, and will be the busiest team in the third window

It opens against the Philippines (as supposedly the home team) on Wednesday, June 16 before facing the Indonesians the following day. After a one-day rest, Thailand will be their next assignment before clashing with Gilas anew on June 20.