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Yao, HyunJung Lee, Jeremy Lin

From Yao to Linsanity: HyunJung Lee could be the next great Asian NBA player

Over the past two decades, basketball has exploded in popularity throughout all parts of Asia. While Yao Ming graced us with 8 NBA All-Star game appearances during his career, he had over 200 million Chinese viewers tuning into every Rockets game to see him play. 

This was one of the first, and certainly the biggest moment that opened the door for the increase in popularity. 

2021 also marked the first time two Filipino-American players squared off when Jordan Clarkson and the Jazz faced rookie sensation Jalen Green and the Rockets in Houston.

However, despite the presence of basketball growing in Asia, there still seems to be a disconnect with the growth of Asian presence in the NBA.  

Following Yao’s retirement, Linsanity was the next big headline for Asian fanbases. During the NBA combine, scouts graded Jeremy Lin very close to the highly touted John Wall out of Kentucky, but the Harvard hooper of course went undrafted.

After some time in the G-League, he found himself living on a couch with a 10-day contract and managed to get some playing time for the Knicks.  He ended up mesmerizing the entire city by leading them on a 7-game winning streak with wins over Dirk’s Mavericks and Kobe’s Lakers.

Unfortunately, this moment was short-lived. Once New York let J Lin go, he found himself once again being overlooked. 

However, Jeremy Lin is still a legend and trailblazer who helped change the public perception of Asian hoopers and inspired the next generation to go after their dreams.

One of those kids he motivated was surely the 6’7 HyunJung Lee from Seongnam-si, South Korea. Now as a junior at Davidson, he’s solidifying his status as one of the top players in the nation. He now looks to become only the second Korean-born player to make it to the NBA.

Lee grew up with the game, as both of his parents played basketball at a high level.  His mother won a Silver medal playing for the Korean team in the ’84 Olympics and his father is a coach that played semi-pro.  

He played for the U16, U17, and U18 Korean national teams, and in 2018 was the leading scorer averaging 26 ppg in the Asia Basketball Championships.  

Lee was recruited by several D1 programs but ultimately ended up choosing Davidson, as Coach Bob McKillop promised him a minimum of 20 minutes per game. He felt that it was crucial to his growth if he was able to be on the floor immediately as a freshman. 

After he committed to Davidson Lee also decided to attend the NBA Global Academy in Australia.  It is the NBA’s hub for top male and female prospects from outside the US.  Up to 16 athletes are able to attend each year, where they receive mentorship from NBA-hired coaches.  

It would appear that the mentorship from the academy paid off.  In 2020 as a Sophomore he became the 11th NCAA men’s basketball player to complete a season averaging 50/40/90.  He shot .508 from the field, .442 from deep, and .900 from the free-throw line.  

Davidson Alumni and future NBA Hall of Fame point guard Stephen Curry was not even able to achieve this feat during his time as a Wildcat! Just recently on the 22nd of December, Davidson put the NCAA basketball world on notice as they were able to upset 10th ranked Alabama.

So far through his Junior campaign, he is picking up right where he left off.  The Wildcats are on an 8 game winning streak and Lee is leading the way.  He leads the team in both points and rebounds as he is averaging 51.1% FG, 41.3% 3PT, and 85.3% FT.  

Lee’s head is in the right place as well.  When asked about individual stats by A10 Media reporter Adam Finklestein, Lee responded by saying, 

β€œBasketball is a team sport, all I care about is how to get the team to win, even if I score 0 or 10 all I have to figure out is how to get the team a win.” 

Currently, Lee is projected as a late 2nd round draft pick, but if they can make it to the dance and win a couple of games, his draft stock will certainly rise.  Being overlooked won’t be a possibility if he can shoot his way into the Sweet 16.

Lee strives to be the next Klay Thompson. If he is able to achieve anywhere close to the type of career that Klay is having, it will have a major impact on both Korean athletes and the entire Asian basketball community. 

This can be a catalyst for more exposure, scouting, scholarships, and professional opportunities for more South Korean players to come. 

It is a very exciting time for Korean athletics as well as the fans of Davidson basketball because they have the HyunJung Lee-led Wildcats competing for a shot at the NCAA championship!