Heading into the halfway point of the season, it has been another stellar season for Changwon LG Sakers star Moon Tae-young.
Tae-young, now 33, was born Greg Stevenson, to an African-American father and Korean mother. After playing at the University of Richmond, he headed overseas to fulfill his dream as a professional basketball player. Moon had a successful career in the NBA D-League and Europe, playing in France and Germany. Known as a prolific scorer, the 6’6 guard/forward was second in the Korean league in scoring last year.
In 2009, the Korean Basketball League held an ethnic Korean draft in 2009, which allowed foreign players with Korean ties not to be considered foreign players. Stevenson applied for the draft, was selected third, after Tony Akins (Jeon Tae-poong) and Eric Sandrin (Lee Seung-joon).
Greg Stevenson – The Man
Initially, it wasn’t an easy go for the new pool of ethnic players coming into the Korean league, including Stevenson. Coaches and college players were unhappy that American players were not only grabbing spots on the courts from Koreans, but also dominating the game.
Off and on the court, there were the adjustments that the team and the incoming ethnic players had to make. Language was definitely are barrier, but also culturally, Stevenson had to start from scratch. The first months were the toughest â Tony Akins once famously referred to themselves as the black sheep of the league, as the ethnic players got very little respect. It is a fight that Hines Ward of the Pittsburgh Steelers has tried to eradicate about mixed-blood Koreans in his frequent visits to the country.
I think Hines Ward opened some eyes in and about Korea, with his situation, being a top level professional athlete with Korean descent, Stevenson said.
But the one thing that Stevenson and the ethnic players could do, and better than almost everyone in the league was play ball. After time, the trust and acceptance came.
This past July, along with his brother Jarod, became Korean naturalized citizens, not only to represent Korea in international basketball tournaments, but to become closer to his mothers homeland.
Moon (left) with his brother Jarod when they became naturalized Korean citizens.
During the off-season, he splits time with his family back in the States and playing in the Puerto Rican Basketball League (BSN) to stay in shape and work on his game. And when he’s not on the court, he also takes Korean classes so he can learn the language, making it easier to communicate with teammates and learning the culture.
Korean classes have been going well. I have a great teacher who really enjoys teaching, which makes for a great learning environment. I feel more Korean, yes, but I still have problems communicating, I feel like I am a little slow, he said.
Moon Tae-young – The Player
Along with his older brother Tae-jong who plays for Incheon ET Land, the two have been dominating presences in the league since they arrived on the peninsula, Tae-young first in 2009, and his brother a year later.
This year, LG has gotten off to a slow start due to injuries and personnel changes. LG recently acquired import Aaron Haynes to help take some of the scoring burden off of Moon, a move he thinks will help the team, but has affected the team’s chemistry.
It has been hard, but it is the cards that were dealt, so we have do our best to make it work. Building team chemistry is an ongoing process that will always need to be worked on,he said.
Additionally, from this year, the KBL decided to only allow one foreign player per team, which as Moon sees it, might not have been the best move for the league.He says that having only one foreign player on the squad naturally draws the spotlight â along with all the responsibilities of producing on the court.
There is an enormous amount of pressure on the foreign player to perform on a night in, night out basis. I think the league will be affected in terms of what type of foreign player they go after and bring to the KBL. The reason I say that is because these guys are pretty much averaging around 37 minutes a game and the KBL plays a 54 game regular season. That is a lot of wear and tear on the body. Foreign players better be and stay in great shape physically and mentally, he said.
As for his future, this season will be his last with the Sakers. The ethnic players must re-enter a draft after three years, and he, along with Akins and Sandrin will be forced by league policy to switch teams.
Moon would like to continue his career here, and when asked how long he wants to continue playing the game he loves?
That is a good question. I would say at least four years, provided that I am healthy and still enjoy playing the game.
You can read more on Korean basketball from Jeff Liebsch, who covers the league for the website Asia-Basket.com
Full coverage of Busan’s Sonic Boom basketball here.