Ha 'impressively agile,' says Perdue

Updated: March 12, 2004, 3:00 AM ET
Associated Press

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."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press