Last week, aspiring basketball players traveled to Las Vegas, hoping to be drafted onto a professional team in South Korea.
The Korean Basketball League, or KBL, is popular in South Korea. Basketball is the third-most popular sport in the country after soccer and baseball, says Les Carpenter, a sports journalist who was in Las Vegas for the KBL draft and wrote about it for The Guardian.
The league has existed since 1997, and the draft been held in Las Vegas for a few years. Vegas may seem like an odd choice but, Carpenter says there’s actually “a lot of basketball going on in Las Vegas” during the summer — the NBA plays its summer league there. “So it logistically made a lot of sense” for the KBL draft to happen in Las Vegas, Carpenter says.
After two days of tryouts — held this year in a high school gymnasium — the draft took place in a ballroom at the Palms Casino. The American players hoping to make it to the KBL were competing for a limited number of spots — each of the 10 Korean teams are allowed only two international players.
But, this year, there was a new qualification. Some teams felt the pace of play was slowing due to taller, but slower, American players. To remedy that, teams were required to draft one players 6-foot-4 or shorter. So most teams essentially drafted one tall American player and one shorter American player, which Carpenter says changed the way managers and coaches looked at their pool of potential players.
Playing in Korea comes with its own set of culture shock, Carpenter says. He recalls one player who told him that “in Korea, the coaches are going to ask everything of you.” The player said that new recruits must realize that coaches are "going to ask their American players to do the impossible.”
His advice? Smile — and try your best.