A Basketball Seoul

Passionate Wolf spends week in Korea

By Brett Winkler
05/28/10

Joe Wolf talks to some of the students at the 2010 Korean Development Camp.

Bucks assistant coach Joe Wolf is the kind of guy who eats, sleeps and breathes the game of basketball.

Well, he sleeps it when he can, anyway.

From May 19-23, Wolf's love of the game took him to Seoul, Korea for the fourth annual Korea Development Camp, where a long flight and 14-hour time difference interfered with his relationship with the hotel bed.

"Because of jet lag, I was up anywhere between three and five in the morning," Wolf said. "But it was my first trip to Korea, first trip to Seoul. It's a great city with great people, great food and a great way of life. I really had a great experience."

The experience was Wolf's third as a coach in a foreign land, having previously worked camps in South Africa and Senegal. In addition to playing 11 years in the NBA, including the 1996-97 season with the Bucks, he got his first taste of basketball overseas as a player for Leon in Spain's top league, the ACB. Since then, the North Carolina alum has maintained his interest in learning about the game of basketball in different parts of the world.

"I enjoy the different cultures," Wolf said. "I enjoy seeing basketball taught in a different way because of that culture. It's always interesting for me to get out and see that."

Joe Wolf and Emeka Okafor teamed up in Korea.

The Kohler, Wis. native touched down in Korea a day in advance, allowing him to fight off a bit of the jet lag as well as get acclimated with the city and do some sight-seeing. Once he was settled, he got to work representing the NBA in Korea with Hornets' center Emeka Okafor.

"He was great with the kids and enjoyed being at the camp," Wolf said of Okafor. "He participated all the time and did a great job."

Held at the Yangjae Seoul Education and Culture Center, the Korea Development Camp included the top 40 high school players from the country based on their performance during the high school season, a Big Youth Clinic consisting of 70 tall prospects and the Gatorade NBA Fit Clinic, which included 150 kids selected to learn fundamental basketball skills as well as nutrition and tips on healthy living. The camp was co-organized by the NBA and Korean Basketball League (KBL) as the two leagues hope to continue to develop players in the area.

"The thing that the Korean Basketball League is looking at is how they can implement fundamentals earlier in a player's life," Wolf said. "I think they're unhappy with the fact that the kids don't get taught the fundamentals when they're really young. They don't have that avenue yet in their system.

"I think running a camp for them over there, they see how beneficial camps can be in teaching the fundamentals. I think they'll take what we gave them and hopefully implement it earlier into a player's life."

KBL players and coaches joined Wolf and Okafor throughout the camp. Lee Chang Soo of Chang Won LG Sakers as well as Yang Hee Jong and Shin Myung Ho of Sangmoo participated in the event, ensuring that a KBL player was on hand for each of the five days.

Wolf and Okafor pose for a picture with Korean Basketball League Commissioner Chon Yook

Two former head coaches, Choo Il Seung of Pusan KT Sonic Boom and Kim Sang Sik of Daegu Dongyang Orions, were joined by Pusan KT Sonic Boom assistant coach Kim Hee Sun and Daegu Dongyang Orions assistant Jung Jae Hoon for the duration of the camp.

To communicate with the coaches and campers, Wolf relied on a translator to help interpret drills when the universal language of basketball didn't suffice. While convenient, the presence of the translator prevented the self-proclaimed language lover from picking up as much of the Korean dialect as he would have liked.

"Anytime I gave a presentation, the translator would be there," Wolf said. "I'd talk in a sentence, he would talk in a sentence. When we went out, the translator was there to help me.

"I never got a chance to really get 15 or 20 sayings in my head that I could speak to a normal Korean person. I got two. I thought that was something that was different for me because I usually go into a situation wanting to learn more of the language."

Wolf shows the Korean players proper shooting form

The language barrier--or lack thereof--wasn't the only challenge for Wolf. The Big Youth Clinic that opened the camp on May 19 consisted of 70 players who were selected solely based on their above-average height, leading to a very wide range of skill sets.

"Whether they had played basketball or not wasn't a prerequisite," Wolf explained. "It was an interesting experience just because I had never been in that kind of setting before, just based on the fact that the players may not have ever touched a basketball. To teach from that point was interesting and exciting for me."

As for the rest of the campers, Wolf was surprised at times with the amount of talent on the floor.

"The guards are exceptionally quick," he noted. "There were a couple of young big men that were exceptionally skilled. It was a quality camp. It was fun to be at."

For Wolf, obstacles such as language and time differences are minor when compared with the unique experiences he enjoys on trips such as these, and being able to do something he loves makes it easy to sleep at night--jet lag or not.

"I just love teaching," Wolf said. "Teaching basketball is a passion of mine, so to be able to do that with a country that wants that knowledge, wants that information and is very thirsty for it, it gives me a thrill to be able to help them grow as a basketball nation.