This article was published in the August 2023 issue of Basket Korea webzine. The interview was conducted on the afternoon of July 12th. (Link to purchase Basket Korea webzine)
A sport in which five people play on a court. That’s basketball. That is why the sum of 5 is important. That’s why most coaching staff consider ‘organizational skills’ important.
However, if a player’s individual capabilities do not support it, organizational skills show limitations. Therefore, teamwork and individual performance must be in harmony. That was the same reason why Han Umji (Busan BNK Some) brought up the phrase ‘50/50’.
The pride of Samcheonpo,
Umji Han played basketball at Samcheonpo Girls’ Middle School and Samcheonpo Girls’ High School, the cradle of women’s basketball. From a young age, she made her presence known to professional team officials. In 2014, when she was a freshman in high school, she won the WKBL Total Championship and Association Janggi Championships, and also won MVP in Association Janggi, a rare feat for a first-year player.
In 2016, when she was in her third year of high school, she gave Samcheonpo Girls’ High School the championship trophy. Reached the top spot in the category championships. Han Umji, who has become the pride of her Samcheonpo team, joined Incheon Shinhan Bank as the 5th overall pick in the 2017 WKBL New Player Selection. Since it was a draft that included Park Ji-soo (Cheongju KB Stars), Lee Ju-yeon (Yongin Samsung Life Insurance), and Na Yun-jeong (Yongin Samsung Life Insurance), the 5th place was quite meaningful.
Since she was a freshman in high school, she has won MVP.
Since my classmates and I did well, we received as many opportunities as our sisters. I also exercised a lot. I think I received a good award because I scored a lot of points in the association game where I received MVP.
What was your best play in high school?
It wasn’t much different from now. He made post plays and moved around a lot on the outside. I scored a lot by running into empty space and catching a lot of points, and I also threw a lot of 3 points.
Entered the pro ranks 5th overall at the 2017 WKBL New Player Selection.
He did well in grades 1 and 2, but not so well in grade 3. There was a time when I didn’t exercise hard. Personally, I was very disappointed.
So the nomination ranking honestly didn’t matter. However, I thought, ‘I wish I was selected in the first round…’ And I was very grateful to be included in the first round. Also, I had a feeling he would go to Shinhan Bank. I just felt that way. (Laughs)
While his peers with career highs
stepped on the court at least for a moment, Umji Han did not run for a single second in his debut season. Only in his second debut season (2017-2018), he played an average of 6 minutes and 24 seconds in 8 games. The wall of pros seemed to be blocking the prospects.
However, Umji Han has been reborn as the team’s key sixth man since the 2018-2019 season. Since coach Jeong Sang-il took office in 2019, Han Um-ji has received more opportunities. In particular, in the 2020-2021 season, he played in all regular league games and set career highs with 10.7 points, 4.23 rebounds (1.7 attack) and 1.3 assists in 28 minutes and 39 seconds per game. He brought hope to Shinhan Bank, which was longing for future resources.
In his debut season, he did not step on the court for even a single second.
At that time, he was called up to the under-18 national team. But he wasn’t feeling well. Upon examination, both kidneys were in bad condition. He ended up dropping out of the national team and had to build up his body slowly. He told me at the hospital, “Don’t overexert yourself,” and the club also took care of helping me get in shape.
I think he felt the difference between a professional and an amateur.
After I felt somewhat better, the director wanted to test me. He tried to put me in even during garbage time. I got stronger and played 5v5 with my sisters, and the feeling of hitting each other was different. Strength is strength, but the way you use your body is different. I realized even more that ‘professionals and amateurs are very different.’
After coach Jeong Sang-il took office, Han Um-ji’s playing time increased.
Even before Coach Sang-il Jeong took office, my opportunities to play increased little by little. My sisters were very sick and the team was at the bottom, so I played a lot from the second half of the season.
Coach Jeong Sang-il emphasized ‘active attack.’ He also said that during time out.
Because I played a lot with my sisters, I worried a lot about bad things. There were a lot of older girls who could score. However, if I didn’t attack, the director strongly said, “You can attack, but why don’t you?” It’s not that I can’t attack, and I was aggressive during training.
He set a career high in the 2020-2021 season.
I trained a lot, but I also did a lot of private practice. I made time to exercise early in the morning, afternoon, and at night, and whenever I had to do something. I think that led to good results.
Han Umji, where I first met,
barely played the 2021-2022 season. His knee pain was the cause. And for the first time in his debut, he qualified as a free agent.
Instead of Shinhan Bank, his original club, he signed with BNK, which is close to his hometown. He wore a BNK uniform under the condition of a total annual salary of 180 million won for the 2022-2023 season during the 4-year contract period. He added his name to his starting lineup consisting of Ahn Hye-ji, Lee So-hee, Jin An, and Kim Han-byul.
It wasn’t just a name added. He upgraded BNK to the next level with his clever movements and long shooting distance. He contributed to BNK’s ‘second place in the first regular league since its founding’ and ‘advance to the championship match for the first time since its founding.’ Han Umji also experienced ‘the first championship match since debut’.
I signed a contract with BNK after the end of the 2021-2022 season.
I blew the entire 2021-2022 season. His knees were bad. His body as well as his mind were exhausted. And he became a free agent. He felt like he wanted to learn from a new team. He knew he wanted to learn at BNK.
Why did you want to learn at BNK?
I wanted to learn shooting, and there were two coaching staffs at BNK who specialized in shooting (Director Park Jeong-eun and Head Coach Byun Yeon-ha). Actually, both of them taught me how to shoot well. He taught me where to catch the ball, how to shoot, how to use my fingers, and how to react when the ball falls out of my hand. I really liked that detail.
After Han Eom-ji joined, BNK’s power was upgraded to a higher level.
Everyone on the team worked hard in the off-season. In order to show even a little better organizational skills, we talked a lot. In particular, I asked a lot of questions to the players. Even though I was new to the team, I had to play as a key player as well. I also practiced a lot to match up with existing players.
Of course, my personal record was not better than the 2020-2021 season. But even if I performed poorly, it was good for the team to win. I wanted the team to rise high. Because I played with that mindset, I think the synergy effect with my teammates was great.
For the first time since his debut, he participated in the championship match.
As you said, I have not experienced a single championship game until the 2021-2022 season. I watched the championship game at home, and my team was the last one left. It felt strange. But every professional athlete dreams of winning. It was a refreshing feeling to think that I was getting closer to my highest goal.
And actually, when I first came to BNK, I promised to Hyeji Ahn, “This time, let’s make it to the championship match.” I played the season with that mindset, and what I thought came true. I think that’s why it was even more daunting.메이저놀이터
Did you feel the difference between the championship match and other matches?
The first game was definitely different. I was very nervous. And we lost in the championship match against a traditional powerhouse called Woori Bank. Woori Bank is a team that has different looks on the big stage, so I think I was more nervous. But during the game, I think all of our players showed their performances. I don’t think I felt any difference from the regular league in the 2nd and 3rd games.
Han Umji had a successful first season at BNK. And it was his second off-season in Busan. I am working hard to show better performance.
Also, he experienced the championship game for the first time since his debut. He became more aware of what needs to be improved. So what needs to be done also becomes clearer. The keyword that Han Umji put forward was ‘50/50’. What was the meaning of ‘50/50’ that Han Umji talked about?
It’s my second off-season in Busan. How are you spending your time?
The 3-point shooting percentage dropped too much last season. And since I played small forward and power forward alternately, it was hectic. So this summer, I changed my personal exercise routine a little. I decide on just one part a day and then divide it into parts to do.
(For example, on Monday, I do individual exercises focusing on shooting, and on Tuesday, I practice focusing on post play.)
As a team, after physical training in Busan, I am working hand and foot with the players who returned from the national team. Since it’s been a while since I started training for basketball, I think it’s important to get the balance right. Among them, we are focusing on defensive organization.
I think what I learned from the championship game will be the core of my training this off-season.
I only remember the things I couldn’t do in the game I lost. The championship match was even more so. Even though it was a mismatch, I wasn’t able to post up effectively, and I hesitated at 3-point shooting opportunities. In particular, it remains regrettable that he was unable to shoot at the first chance. I want to improve those things.
What do you hope Han Umji will achieve in the 2023-2024 season?
Every time we do an off-season interview, he always says, “I want to grow every year.” It’s the same this time too. He wants to increase his aggressiveness and fighting spirit. And I try to balance the proportion of thinking about the team and the proportion of thinking about the individual at 50/50. It may be difficult, but I think we have to do it.
Is there a reason?
He wants to fulfill the team slogan. The slogan is ‘Dedicate yourself to the team.’ However, if I want to dedicate myself to the team, I also need to increase my competitiveness. So I said ‘50/50’.