The game between LG and Sangsung was in full swing, and the DB and Hyundai Mobis players, who were warming up from a distance for the next game, started making noise. They weren’t even warming up, they were running back and forth, checking the score on the scoreboard.
There was only one reason. LG, running a six-man rotation, was about to take on the ‘best team in the D-League’. It’s a cliché by now, but the Sangmu is a flashy team that consists of a starter or key sixth man for each team.
A team that flips through the scorebook and sees nothing but wins, a team that didn’t lose a single game between December 20, 2022 and January 4, 2024, and a team that only gets noticed when they lose. That’s commerce.
On the flip side, half of the players LG put on the court that night were unfamiliar to anyone who’s only recently gotten into Korean basketball. Lee Seung-hoon, the 10th pick of the second round, and Park Joon-hyung, the first pick of the third round, were the last players selected in the professional world. Add to that Han Sang-hyuk and Lee Seung-woo, both of whom haven’t played in the regular league this season.
Rewind to December 21st for a moment. At the same venue, on the same day of the week, LG and Sangmu played their first D-League matchup. At the time, LG sent out experienced players, led by Park Jung-hyun and Yoon Won-sang, as their attacking lineup, sending chills down the spine of the Sangsang.
The bitter taste of defeat, which is all too familiar to some, had been forgotten by Sangsung since the 22nd year. LG gave them a taste of that in the final game of 23, but the two-man show of Byun Jun-hyung and Han Seung-hee blocked the way.
The new year dawned in 24, and LG faced them again in a worse situation. Energized, the Sangmu players were relaxed from the start of the game. Whether it was the cameras broadcasting the D-League game or the fans gathered in the stands, the spotlight was always on them.
“No matter what kind of D-League game I play, I’m a professional player, and I don’t look down on anyone because they’re older, and there are definitely things I can learn from the younger guys. I think the D-League is really an extension of the regular league, and I think I’m always a little eager when I play a game.”
Han Sang-hyuk, who led the D-League squad and was the most senior among them, said that the Songgol Falcons went into the tip-off with the mindset of playing ‘toothless, gumless’ and ‘one step further than the CEO’.
Desperation and hard work paid off, as LG scored 32 points in the first quarter alone, led by Lee Seung-woo, to open up a double-digit lead. However, by the end of the second quarter, the gap between the two teams had disappeared like a snowstorm that came and went overnight. Three points, at most.
It was a familiar picture. Same game pattern as Dec. 21. The same picture of LG holding a narrow lead until the third quarter, and then eventually winning.
As time went on, the Commerce Phoenixes squeezed LG’s breathing room. Byun Jun-hyung broke down LG’s defense with a spectacular dribble that brought the crowd to its feet.
But LG didn’t want a December 21 replay. Lee Seung-woo spearheaded the charge, with Lee Seung-hoon and Kim Jun-hyung hitting threes from both sides of the floor. As the game got more heated, Lim Dong-seop was ejected and Lee Seung-woo and Lee Seung-hoon picked up four fouls. The rest of the players also had at least three fouls.
Even I was tapping on my keyboard thinking, “It’s going to be another win for Sangmu…”. It was a moment when even the sweaty players on the court could have easily let the victory slip through their fingers.
Ironically, the LG players were not afraid of fouls and threw themselves into the fray. In the process, Han Sang-hyuk, the field commander in charge of running the game, committed fouls and consecutive turnovers.
Han Sang-hyuk’s confident words were no lie. Han made 10-of-10 free throws on the night, finishing with 18 points, seven rebounds, and five assists as he and Lee Seung-woo played a revolutionary role in destroying Sangmu.
After the game, Han had a smile on his face and held his knee. Han Sang-hyuk was the only player to play the full game, as he was suffering from enteritis. He was the only guard who could reliably carry the ball for LG, but it was a responsibility and a senior player.
It was a responsibility, and the senior gave credit to the younger players.
“I’m sure it’s shown on the scoreboard, but all six players, including (Lee) Seung-woo, did a great job. Especially Seung-woo, I asked him to do a lot of things, but he did a great job, so I want him to know how much I appreciate him.”
“LG players, we’re doing a lot of work behind the scenes so that you can have confidence, and because we have that goal, I think we can always play hard even in D-League games where there is less interest (laughs)”
Oddly enough, the players were smiling despite the loss, but for someone else, they were an opponent they desperately wanted to beat. The underdog catching the top dog is always a thrill in the sports world.
On January 4, 2024, Sangsung’s winning streak clock was reset again. And he’s back at it again.