▲ Lee Dong Yeop smiling widely. Photographed by Lee Jeong Min.
Lee Dong Yeop (’12, Physical Education), former captain of the Korea University (KU) Basketball team and currently a guard for Samsung Thunders professional basketball team talks about what he loves the most—basketball.
It is said that you started basketball in 2nd grade of elementary school because you liked the sport. At such a young age, what about basketball did you find attractive?
At that time my father was still on the basketball court and thus I had many chances to go see basketball games. I naturally got familiar with the sport. I actually played soccer, baseball, and many other sports with my father—I liked playing ball with him. However, there was something about basketball that made me feel as if I could do it well.
That means that you have played basketball nearly all your life. Did you ever get fed up with basketball or want to give up on it?
Yes, of course. I have never been fed up with it but one time I did feel I wanted to quit. That was when I came to KU, got an injury, and felt that my skills were not improving. It was a hard time, so I thought about giving up.
How did you manage to overcome that slump?
The motives that kept me in basketball were all different during primary, middle, high school, university, and life as a professional team member. Before my university years, I continued basketball because it was fun. During university life, it was more because of what I wanted to show myself. I wanted to challenge myself to become the player that I had been dreaming of. Now as part of a professional team, I tend to pursue professionalism.
How do you cope with all the tension you get every time you participate in a game?
I try not to overcome it, but to ignore it. To be honest, it is all about whether you are good or bad every time you are out there on the court. It is dichotomous—more of whether you satisfy yourself or not. There is no middle there. So I try to think, “Why be stressed out when the results are already certain? Either you ace it, or you fail it.”
Has the cheering from the crowd of the Ko-Yon basketball games actually helped you?
Before we actually start the game, we go on the courts to warm up. Then both the KU team and YU team line up in the middle of the court. That is exactly when I can feel the spirit of the cheering. It is easy to tell which school is much more fiercely engaging in the cheering. For the last four years I stayed as part of the KU team, KU was always better at cheering. This always made me feel more responsible and, at the same time, encouraged me.
What is your favorite cheering song of KU?
I have always liked Minjok eui Aria the best. You can hear the crowd’s yelling the most.
How did you feel when you won your first Ko-Yon Games in basketball?
Absolutely fantastic. I could hear the crowd yelling joyfully—it was great. But then when I looked at the YU team who had lost, it was kind of shocking because in the Ko-Yon Games one has to be the winner and the other the loser. That is when I thought that I should never lose. (Laughs)
▲ Lee Dong Yeop in the 2015 Ko-Yon Basketball match as captain. Photographed by Lee Ji Hoon.
How about when you won last year, as captain of the KU Basketball team?
During the victories of my first three years, I never cried. However, last year I actually shed some tears after winning. It felt as if I was being rewarded for all the hardships I had to overcome during the last four years—I mean it was really hard. Plus the game meant so much to me because it was my last game as a university student.
You are known to be an elite—having high grades and being a competent basketball player at the same time. Was it not hard for you to pursue both at once?
It is very difficult. It is hard but I do not think it is impossible, not only for me but for everyone else, too. I also think that university sports should encourage pursuing both.
Are there any other sports you like?
I like watching baseball. At KU, my friends on the baseball team and I would play catch and I usually was the pitcher. (Laughs)
You are often praised as a player with good manners both on and off of the court. From where did you learn these manners?
I do not know if you could call it manners but I certainly got it from my father. Since I was young he would tell me to be humble and be nice to others. He would also tell me not to be afraid to say I am sorry during games whenever I did something wrong and not to be too aggressive against the referees. Those are what I learned when I was young so I guess it has become internalized.
You are a competent basketball player, tall, and good-looking and thus very popular. Do you feel the popularity yourself?
(Laughs) No way. I am not that popular! I do not feel it. (Chuckles) However, it does feel great to meet fans who have been supporting me since I was at KU. They sometimes come to see me play at the Thunders’ games.
You are deemed as a perfect guy that has everything. However, let’s be honest—is there anything you are bad at?
(Laughs) I am a bad dancer and a bad singer. That is why some of my friends say that I am my best when I do nothing and stay still (Chuckles).