Former Anteater Emil Kim (’11), now a member of the Fukuoka Rizing in the Japanese BJ League, was kind enough to take the time to chat with Zotcubed recently. Playing in five of a possible 11 games so far, Kim is averaging 1.6 PPG and 1.6 RPG while getting spare minutes off the bench.
Zotcubed: I know the last time we spoke, you mentioned possibly playing in Korea. So how did you end up in Japan instead?
Emil Kim: After college, I wanted to start playing again as soon as possible. The Korean league has its draft in February, so my agent wanted me to come over to Japan and start playing here first.
Z3: I see. Is the talent level in the Japanese and Korean leagues roughly equivalent?
EK: The dynamics of the two leagues are real different. In Korea you can only have one American or non-Korean on each team, but in Japan, they allow five Americans.The dynamic is really different.
Z3: I saw that you were a naturalized player for Japan—does that mean you have dual citizenship now?
EK: Oh no, I’m not naturalized. Whatever you saw was mistaken.
Z3: Oh I see. So unlike in the Korean league, you count as an American here?
EK: Yeah, it’s really difficult here because I’m competing with American guys here that were ACC or Big 10 players. If I get picked up [in the Korean league], I’d count as a Korean player, where you’re allowed to play up to four Koreans, maybe even five if you want, at the same time. But in the BJ league, you can only play three Americans at one time.
Z3: I see that your playing time has been spotty so far. Can you comment on your role on the team and how well you get along with your coach and teammates?
EK: Yeah I get along with everyone fine. Everyone on the team is a cool guy, and the coach is really nice, he’s a real cool guy. My role is like a glue guy, but not so much a glue guy where you’re like a Brian Cardinal. But you know, they count on me to do a little bit of everything. At the beginning of the season, for the first game of the year, I was the first guy off the bench, but then I got hurt in the first four minutes, and ever since then, I haven’t been playing barely at all. But when I go in there, they expect me to guard well, push the ball, attack the basket, play my game pretty much.
Z3: Do you miss the United States at all?
EK: Yeah man, I miss it a lot! [laughs]
Z3: How about college basketball?
EK: I miss the college atmosphere, playing for your school, being on campus… college basketball, it doesn’t really get much better than that. But it’s a lot different here–the way basketball runs, what they expect from you. College is actually a lot harder; practices are harder. Just the overall schedule. You’ve got longer practices, you focus more on fundamentals, a lot of defense and running a lot. Whereas over here, you just focus on how [the team] is going to play, get up shots … practices are shorter. They kind of expect us to already know what we’re doing. They’re not teaching us fundamentals, they’re teaching us what to expect from the other team more.
Z3: How big is basketball in Japan?
EK: It’s kind of big… it’s not as big as baseball, which is the biggest sport here by far. Soccer is kind of big, and basketball is right there with soccer. I think basketball is starting to get bigger. This league is getting bigger, because this league only started five years ago. It really just depends on where you’re playing too. Some cities it’s very popular, and some cities it’s not that popular.
Z3: How many fans do you guys get a night?
EK: Maybe one to two thousand? The arenas are smaller. The Bren was kind of big; when you go overseas, unless you’re playing in a big time country, you’re not going to play in big arenas.
Z3: How has the cultural adjustment been?
EK: Everything in Japan is different. It’s crazy. A lot of the culture is based on being courteous and respectful, and that carries over to basketball too. In America, when you’re playing basketball, all you think about is basketball. You don’t have to worry about nobody else. But over here, you always have to have courtesy and follow their traditions and cultures… before the game, right after the game. Everyone’s nice out here. Food is different, that’s probably one of the hardest things. It’s hard to find things you want to eat. Driving on the other side of the road, steering wheel is on the right side instead of the left side…
Z3: With that being said, what are the biggest plusses to playing overseas instead of somewhere in the United States?
EK: It’s cool because you get to experience another country. It’s a good life experience, putting yourself into a situation where you’re not comfortable. Everything is new, and you get to see how other places are, how people live. It’s a plus playing a different style too. You get to play basketball in a different way than just the American way.
Z3: Is it more of a finesse game, or what do you mean by that?
EK: Well it depends. This league tries to make things like the NBA, so it gets pretty physical. But they play a little slower.
Z3: So overall you’re enjoying the different cultural experience though?
EK: Yeah, you know. I’m not so much enjoying it, but it’s an experience. I don’t mind it. It’s tough being an American [playing foreign ball], and if you don’t prefer coming to a certain country, it can be hard to adjust. But you just get through it… you’re still playing basketball.
Z3: Most notable player you’ve faced over there?
EK: So far… there have been dudes that have started in the ACC and Big 10. Even on my team we have a guy who played for the Wizards for a little bit. A lot of the dudes in the league were former D-Leaguers.
Z3: I saw that Zack Atkinson was playing in Japan too.
EK: Yeah we talk like three, four times a week over skype. Because of the time difference, we’re the only people up at certain times, so we talk a lot. He’s actually real close to me, in the closest city that has a team, about two hours away from me.
Z3: And you guys are both in the same league? What’s the difference between the two exactly?
EK: Most countries have like an A and a B league but here there are two separate leagues. There’s a JBL (Japenese Basketball League) which is a traditional Asian league, where they try not to have too many foreigners, and they highlight the Japanese players. And then there’s the BJ League (Basketball Japan League), which is more an American style league, where they allow five Americans, and the game is more centered around the American players. In terms of talent, the BJ league is better. In terms of pay, overall, the other league is better.
Z3: I know it’s early, but are you pretty much using this experience as a stepping stone to playing in Korea or what’s your forecast for the future?
EK: I’d like to go to Korea, but I’m not going to say that I’m going to make it there because that’s also a journey in itself. But I’m going to try. After college i just wanted to do something right away, and I got the chance to come over here and make some money and keep playing and get to have a pro experience that can set me up for what’s next. If I don’t get a contract after this, that’s okay, I at least get to have this experience.
Z3: I saw that a lot of the seniors from last year are playing professionally. Do you keep in contact with all of them too?
EK: Yeah I talk to everyone. I skype with Jonas couple times a week, he’s doing well. He signed in Iran and played on the national team over there. I talked to Darren [Moore] a couple times, he just got cut but he was probably playing in the toughest league out of all of us. Pat [Rembert] a few times. There’s only so many people who understand the lifestyle and what we’re going through, so we all keep in contact.
Z3: Any thoughts on how this year’s UCI team will fare?
EK: Honestly I don’t really know what to expect. Can’t really expect too much from a team that has seven freshmen and lost their best player. But I hope that they just play hard and surprise people because I know that people aren’t expecting much from them.
Z3: Any last words to Eater Nation?
EK: Thanks for the support during my years at Irvine. Keep supporting the ’Eaters. They’re young, but hopefully they’ll be back on top soon.
Z3: Alright thanks for your time. Good luck with the rest of the season.