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Ha 'impressively agile,' says Perdue

3/12/2004

LOS ANGELES -- Ha Seung-jin sprints and shoots and muscles
his way to the basket -- all under the watchful eye of former
Chicago Bulls center Will Perdue.

And his father, of course.

The 18-year-old from Seoul -- a 7-foot-4, 325-pounder -- is at the
gym daily, working on his jumper, free throws and rebounding with
one goal in mind: to become the first Korean to play in the NBA.

"Before I started working with him, they said 7-4, 325 and you
think he's just a big guy who kind of lumbers along, doesn't have
good footwork or any agility," Perdue said. "For a big man, he's
impressively agile, and it's even more impressive considering his
size."

Ha and his 6-foot-6 father, Ha Dong-ki -- a former starting
center for the South Korean national team -- have been in Los
Angeles since December, working on the teenager's court skills on
the campus of UCLA.

"I need more power and more conditioning," Ha said, speaking
through an interpreter. "I need to get stronger so I can deal with
the physical type of NBA play day in and day out. I'm working
hard."

He's no Yao Ming -- at least not yet -- but he is expected to draw
increasing attention as June's NBA draft nears and may even be a
first-round pick if he impresses teams in workouts a couple of
months from now.

Ha has already signed with a Los Angeles-based sports agency.

"He's big and he's breathing, so he's a prospect," said Ryan
Blake, a scout for a service affiliated with the NBA. He laughed
and added, "That's the same thing I said about Yao early on."

But Ha has far less experience than Yao, the Houston Rockets
center from China who was the No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft and
already is a two-time NBA All-Star.

Ha just graduated from high school in Seoul, where he led his
team to three national championships. Under South Korean rules, he
was allowed to play for Yonsei University in a tournament last year
as an incoming freshman. He averaged 12.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and
1.6 blocks in seven games and Yonsei won the national college
title.

While still in high school, Ha went up against Yao in the Asian
Championships, though made a quick exit. He scored only 4 points
and four fouls in four minutes in South Korea's 106-96 loss to
China in the title game.

"He's a very strong and physical player. That's about all I
know. He needs some time," Yao said from Houston. "I never knew
of him before that but I knew he played well in the Asian Games and
in Europe."

Despite Ha's limited experience, Perdue sees parallels between
the teenager and the 7-foot-6, 229-pound Yao, who was part of the
recent surge in foreign players to the NBA.

"There are a lot of similarities in the way they play, their
body type, their ability to get the shot off because of their
size," Perdue said. "Seung-Jin has good movement in the post, and
we're working on his perimeter game."

During a recent three-on-three scrimmage at UCLA, Ha looked
relatively mobile for his size and seemed to have a good -- if
inconsistent -- shooting touch.

Guarding former NBA forward Jelani McCoy, Ha stayed tight on the
6-10 McCoy as he dribbled to his right, whirled to his left and
shot. Without leaving his feet, Ha tapped the ball away.

A few minutes later, Ha threw up an air ball from 15 feet, then
slapped his hands and shook his head in disgust.

"Teams are drafting a lot of potential now because there are
more and more young players, high school players, entering the
draft," Perdue said. "They may not be the best players right now,
but the upside is better.

"I think Seung-jin falls into that class. Will he develop into
the player they might expect him to be? I'm biased, but I think he
will."

Ha Dong-ki, whose 6-foot-7 daughter Eunjoo is playing basketball
in Japan, believes his son has improved since coming to the United
States.

"I see a definite difference," Ha Dong-ki said, also speaking
through an interpreter. "I feel like in two more months, he can
take it to another level."

In the meantime, Ha is living life like a typical teenager in
many regards: He's hooked on a wrestling video game, and has a
couple of pet turtles. He said he hasn't had much difficulty
adjusting to living in America, though he speaks little English.

"The biggest thing for me is that I can go to a store where
they have clothes for big and tall men," Ha said. "In Korea, I
had to have everything special-made and it was very expensive."

On the streets of Los Angeles, Ha is frequently mistaken for the
Rockets' center. "Are you Yao Ming? Are you Yao Ming's brother?"
he's often asked.

While Ha admires Yao as a player, another center is his hero.

"I'm Shaquille O'Neal's biggest fan," Ha said.

And asked when it was obvious he was going to be tall enough to
be a center himself, the teenager replied: "When I was born. I
weighed more than 13 pounds."