This interview was conducted in mid-to-late August and published in the September 2023 issue of Basket Korea Webzine. (Link to purchase Basket Korea Webzine)
Yang Ji-won, a junior at Sookmyung Girls’ High School, is the youngest member of a basketball family. Both of her parents are former basketball players, and her father is the former secretary general of the Women’s Korean Basketball League (WKBL). Her older brother is Yang Jae-hyuk, who plays for Daegu Korea Gas Corporation, and her younger brother is Yang Jae-min, who plays for the Sendai 89ers in the B League. It was no surprise that her brothers were her role models when she started playing basketball.
“From my older brother, I want to learn persistence and not giving up when things get tough. My younger brother, who has been living abroad for a long time, works tirelessly to reach his goals, and I want to learn from him.”
Second semester has started, how are you doing?
After school, I train or rehab in the afternoons, and I’m studying foreign languages in my spare time.
I tore my right ACL in a scrimmage back in April. I jumped for a loose ball near the end of the fourth quarter and hurt myself landing.
That must have been pretty upsetting.
Yeah. I was really looking forward to it because we had a good roster this year, and I had worked really hard to prepare for the season. I hadn’t played much since high school because of nagging ankle and other injuries, so I was just waiting (for this year), and it was even more frustrating because I had been training so hard and my body had come a long way.
How are you feeling now?
I’m working on my strength a little bit. In team training, I’m focusing on jump shots and dribbling in place, and I’m also working out at the rehab center. In September, I’m going to start jogging and doing cardio and weight training to build up my strength step by step.
You won’t be back this year.
I haven’t set a return date yet because I don’t want to rush it. Obviously, as a basketball player, I want to play professionally, but I’m going to go to college first to learn more. I think I’ll probably come back with a college team.
Let’s change the topic to the beginning of basketball.
I started at Shingil Elementary School when I was in the fifth grade. My older brother (Yang Jae-hyuk, Daegu KOGAS) and younger brother (Yang Jae-min, Sendai 89ers) were playing basketball, so I was naturally introduced to the sport. I gained weight while eating their snacks, so I think I started playing (basketball) to lose weight at first (laughs).
Did you originally attend Shingil Elementary School?
No, I didn’t. Before I started playing basketball, I went to Donan Elementary School near my house. I was taller than my peers, and I got a scouting offer, so I transferred to Shingil Elementary School.
How did your family react when you told them you were going to play basketball?
When I first started, I was trying to lose weight, so my parents and older brother were just like, “Do your best,” but my younger brother was against it, saying, “It’s hard to play sports, so I hope you choose a different path.”
When did you realize you wanted to be a basketball player?
When I was in elementary school, I got a lot of compliments on my athleticism. I was the tallest kid in the sixth grade at 173 centimeters, and it seemed like I was always going to be taller, so I think that’s when I thought, “I should try to be a basketball player”.
After that, I went to Sookmyung Women’s High School with a lot of expectations as a prospect. Let me briefly recap my middle school years.
In my second year of middle school, I injured my left ACL in the fall federation game. It was the first half of the Samcheonpo girls’ game, and I got hurt while shooting and landing. After surgery, I rehabbed until my third year of middle school (2020). At that time, there were no competitions because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I spent mornings and afternoons rehabbing in the hospital.
My family must have been very worried.
My family worries more than anyone else whenever I get injured. I know my mom quit playing basketball because of an injury, so when I get hurt badly, she’s like, “Let’s stop playing (basketball),” and she’s upset. My brothers are also like, “I don’t want you to quit. There’s more to life than just basketball,” and they’re worried about me, and they try to comfort me, whereas my dad is like, “It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay, it’s going to pass.”
What drives you to keep playing basketball despite your family’s disapproval?
First of all, I want to achieve my goal of becoming a professional player. When I got injured, I was confused because I thought, “It’s only happening to me,” but when I saw my teammates playing basketball off the court,굿모닝토토 I realized that I have a strong desire to play basketball. Also, my brothers are in the pros, so I want to be a pro too. I want to show my family that I’m not ashamed.
Even though there’s an age difference between you and your brothers, I’m sure you’ve played basketball together.
We used to play on their days off, and I learned things like how to position myself for post-ups and one-on-one offensive routes. I also went to skills training to work on my personal game.
Let’s talk about high school.
In my freshman year, my older sisters were good, so I learned a lot by watching from the outside. In my sophomore year, there were six of us, so I played a lot of games, but I was also very disappointed. (Why?) I felt like everyone else was moving up and I wasn’t. I had a lot of expectations when I was younger, but I felt like I wasn’t living up to them, so I lost a lot of confidence.
What are some of the things you do to rebuild your confidence?
I do a lot of imagery training, and I get a lot of advice from my family and my coach. (What advice do you get from your basketball parents?) My dad emphasizes shooting, and we used to go out in the early morning and shoot together. My mom and I watch game film together and talk about what went well and what didn’t go well.
What does your coach say to you?
When I came back later, he would say, ‘What can I do better? What kind of drills will help me,’ and so on. It gives me a lot of mental support, and I’m very grateful that he always thinks of me. (Lim Hyun-ji) Coach Lim took over in March of this year, and he felt very sorry for me because I was injured not long after he arrived.
I wonder if you have any role models?
From my older brother, I want to learn persistence and not giving up when things are hard. My younger brother, who has been living abroad for a long time, is constantly trying to reach his goals, and I want to learn from him. In the WKBL, Park Ji-hyun (Asan Woori Bank) is my role model because she is similar in height to me, but she is a guard. She can play inside and outside, and I want to complement her speed and lower my posture to become a player who can play inside and outside.
You mentioned earlier that you wanted to play in college before realizing your dream of going pro. What do you hope to accomplish in college?
When I played scrimmages with college teams, I realized that my college sisters were good, so I want to work hard in college and become a better player. I also want to study and get to know people (socially) that I can only do in college.
As the eldest sister of the team, I feel very sorry for my teammates. I have to be the center of attention, and there is a lot of pressure because the juniors are taking on that role, but we still managed to achieve the result of being runners-up in the federation championships. I am grateful and proud of them, and I will do my best not to be ashamed of them.