CLARK, PAMPANGA - The Philippines and South Korea have played in many epic basketball games in the past and it's a guarantee that the two countries would be matching up at some point in FIBA's busy calendar. It's no surprise then that players from both camps end up glancing at their would-be opponents from time to time.
Ra GunA is no stranger to the Philippines since he played in the PBA as an import. After he became a naturalized citizen of South Korea in 2018, Ra went up against a young Ange Kouame and his Ateneo teammates in that year's William Jones Cup.
Ra commanded the first half with 15 points and seven rebounds. South Korea so completely dominated the game that their naturalized player did not need to play in the second.
"I played against [Kouame] in the Jones Cup, and I've been keeping eyes on him to see his development since 2018," said the 6-foot-8 Ra. "He's gotten a lot better. I'm looking forward to playing against him again."
The two naturalized players will meet for the second time in their careers later today as the Philippines host South Korea in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers.
"It's been years since that game," said Ra. "He's been putting on weight, he's been studying teams and studying our team. I look forward to playing against them and see how much they improved since then. We're two up-and-coming teams, two young teams, so I'm looking forward to being a part of it."
South Korea are in a similar situation as the Philippines for this window of the qualifiers with many of their professional basketball players not available for the national team. Ra, however, sees this as a opportunity for the country's younger talent to shine. One particular player he thinks will make a statement is Lee HyunJung.
Lee's mother was a silver medalist in the 1984 Olympics. He's a 6-foot-7 shooting guard/small forward who played for Davidson in the US NCAA where he was part of the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team.
In his second year with Davidson, the same program that produced Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Lee started all 22 games and averaged 13.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. What set him apart was his efficiency as he shot 51% from the field, 41% from deep, and 90% from the stripe.
"Davidson has a good basketball program so I'm preparing for a better career after. And this is one of the great opportunities to show the things I can do in getting on to the next level," Lee said.
"Our team is getting younger, but we have great leaders. I just have to play basketball, as usual. I just have to play my style, I just have to play hard and just have fun."
Like Ra, Lee also has his sights set on a particular player from the Philippines, a fellow second-generation player in 7-foot-3 Kai Sotto.
"The Philippines has always been a great team. I'm really excited about it. I'm looking forward to playing against them, especially Kai Sotto," he said.
The game between Korea and the Philippines will add a unique chapter to the rivalry as it will feature many new members of the two national squads. With the deep history between the two squads, the competition is still expected to be fierce.