(The series continues. Read the previous installment here.)
By now, many fans know the legend of Korean Jin Soon Choi. Unless, of course, you live in North Korea. Or inside a burlap sack. A beautiful, glorious burlap sack. Either way.
He is the artist formerly known as Jin Soo Kim. He is the first Korean to play in Division I and in the NCAA tournament. And he is probably the most celebrated and enigmatic non-Vasquez personality on the Maryland basketball team.
The 6’8″ Choi, who spent some of the offseason playing for Korea in the FIBA Asia championship (they finished seventh), committed to Maryland in 2007 after Gary Williams watched one workout and made him an offer on the spot. Choi once allegedly hit 17 of 20 threes in a workout, and has drawn comparisions to Reggie Miller and Dirk Nowitzki (the latter from Williams himself). He’s quick for his size and has good handle, but his big weapon is that long-distance stroke. The Terps haven’t had a money-in-the-bank perimeter shooter since Drew Nicholas (or maybe Mike Jones, if you’re feeling charitable), and this squad, so heavy on penetrators, could use a sniper to loosen up opposing defenses.
Jin Soo has basically been a folk hero at Maryland since he first set foot on the court. The big blue ox he rides around the campus also helps, as does his willingness to challenge any machine who would seek to supplant the works of man. Whenever Choi got into a game last season, the crowd went wild. He blocked a shot once and I thought Comcast Center was going to shoot into orbit. Unfortunately, though, his stats aren’t quite as eye-catching as his back story; in 6.5 mpg last year, Choi shot 24 percent from three and 29 percent overall. This year, in the team’s second scrimmage, he netted two boards and zero points on 0-6 shooting in 32 minutes, prompting Gary Williams to opine thusly:
It’s got to be more than a jump shot…it’s got to be a complete game. You have to bust your butt on the defensive end of the court. You have to be a good passer at that three position that he’s playing right now.
So basically, the guy camps out behind the three-point line and that’s about it. With so many guys having a legit shot at PT this year, especially in the wing spots, that’s just not gonna get er done. He did a little better in the first scrimmage — 3-10 for 10 points, five boards, two steals — but still not setting the world on fire.
Now, clearly, Choi’s case is more complicated than others. He moved to the U.S. when he was 14, and has a lot to overcome. His English remains limited, and he calls academics his biggest challenge so far in the states. He does have family nearby, including a brother who graduated from Maryland in 1999, but I can only imagine that this continues to be a huge transition, on and off the court. Off the court is self-explanatory. On the court, he simply seems uncomfortable against D-1’s stronger, tougher players, none of whom look like, act like, or, uh, share any discernible cultural attributes with him.
This adjustment could take years, if it ever happens. Fortunately, on the court, there may be a relatively easy solution. Choi needs to bulk up. A lot. He needs to be, like, frying Snicker’s bars in bacon grease. Gary should hire a nagging Jewish mother to follow him around: “Jin Soo, eat something! Why don’t you take a little bread with that? You’re skin and bones!” A little more mass would give him confidence and reduce his getting-pushed-around quotient. Choi apparently has added muscle and is up into the 200 lb. range, but he’s gotta keep it up. No one expects Charles Barkley, but when you’re 6’8″ and you’re gonna play the three, you can’t be all reedy like that.
I think coaching also plays a large role for Choi. Hopefully they’re helping him with more than just learning the offense or explaining the definition of “pick and roll.” There’s psychology at work here. Hopefully they’re helping Choi feel more included and comfortable around his teammates, which ultimately translates into more confidence in the face of his opponents. It’s not that Choi plays scared. It’s just that when you grew up on the other side of the world, anything that can help you feel more at home is gonna be welcome. I know I’m not saying anything the coaching staff doesn’t already know.
Bottom line: if we can develop him in a meaningful way, we’ve got a player. Otherwise, he’s in danger of becoming a sideline novelty.
(Photo credit: UMTerps.com)