Hyunjung Lee
Davidson forward Hyunjung Lee is hoping to be just the second Korean to play in the NBA. (Getty Images)

Davidson's Lee Hoping to Carry Korean Banner into NBA

Hyunjung Lee didn't get much sleep on Thursday night. After pre-draft workouts on the West Coast with the Warriors and Kings earlier in the week, the 6-7 forward out of Davidson didn't arrive in Indianapolis until 1:30 on Friday morning. Just a few hours later, he was on the court at the Ascension St. Vincent Center, one of six prospects taking part in the Pacers' first pre-draft workout ahead of the 2022 NBA Draft on June 23.

That will be life for Lee and other pre-draft prospects for the next several weeks, jetting from city to city as they chase their NBA dreams. But for Lee, there's an added significance to this whole process.

Lee is hoping to be the second Korean to ever play in the NBA. Ha Seung-Jin, a 7-3 center, was drafted in the second round by Portland in 2004 and played in 46 games over two seasons with the Trail Blazers.

"Representing your country, it's a big thing but also it could be a big pressure, too," Lee said. "I'm just trying to (use) that pressure as motivation. Representing the country is a big honor...You cannot let the whole country down."

Lee certainly made his country proud during his decorated college career.

He averaged 12.7 points and shot just under 40 percent from 3-point range over three seasons at Davidson. After contributing as a shooter off the bench as a freshman, Lee broke out his sophomore season, when he averaged 13.5 points, 4 rebounds, and 2.5 assists over 22 games and joined the elusive 50/40/90 club. Lee shot 50.8 percent from the field, 44.2 percent from 3-point range, and 90 percent from the free throw line in 2020-21, becoming the first player in school history and just the 11th player in Division I over the last 30 years to shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from beyond the arc, and 90 percent from the charity stripe.

Lee took an even larger role as a junior, averaging 15.8 points and 6 rebounds while still shooting an impressive 47.4 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from 3-point range on a high volume of attempts. He topped 20 points seven times, including a career-high 32 in a Nov. 30 victory at Charlotte, was named to the Atlantic 10 All-Conference First Team, and helped lead the Wildcats to a regular season conference title and an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.

If he makes it to the NBA, Lee would be the first player from Davidson to reach the league since Stephen Curry. Like Curry, Lee thrived in legendary head coach Bob McKillop's motion offense thanks to his shooting prowess.

"It was a big, big pleasure," Lee said of his time playing for McKillop, who has amassed 634 wins over 33 seasons at Davidson. "He taught me how to be a great player, but also a great person."

2022 Draft Workouts: Hyunjung Lee

McKillop recruits internationally as well as any coach in college basketball (Lee's teammates at Davidson included players from Austria, Denmark, England, and Iceland) and discovered Lee after he attended the NBA Global Academy in Australia while in high school.

Lee comes from a basketball family. His mother, Sung Jung-a, was a member of the South Korean national team that won a silver medal in the 1984 Olympics. His father also played and coached. After showing promise as a teenager, Lee made the decision to head to Australia to learn English and continue his development, then ultimately wound up deciding to head to the United States for college, choosing Davidson over Washington State (interestingly, his basketball idol is not Curry, but his teammate Klay Thompson, who starred at Washington State).

Like Thompson, Lee has great size on the wing. He rebounded well for his position in college and has some athleticism to make plays on both ends, but he knows his shooting will be what lands him on an NBA roster.

"I believe in myself that I'm the best shooter in this draft class," Lee said Friday.

Like Curry, Lee elected to declare for the draft after three seasons at Davidson and is hoping to impress enough in the pre-draft process to hear his name called on draft night. The 21-year-old was one of 44 players invited to take part in the G League Elite Camp next week in Chicago. The players who impress scouts the most in that setting will be invited to remain in Chicago for the NBA Draft Combine.

With basketball becoming an increasingly global game, a few players from east Asian countries have recently made it to the NBA. Japanese forwards Yuta Watanabe and Rui Hachimura have carved out NBA careers, with a sizable media contingent from their native country traveling with them from city-to-city to document their every move.

Should Lee reach the NBA, he would likely receive a similar treatment. As his star grew at Davidson, Korean journalists made frequent visits to cover the Wildcats and Korean fans began to flock to Lee's games. One can only imagine what would happen if he plays in the NBA. And for Lee, the opportunity to show other Koreans that reaching the NBA is an attainable goal would make it all the more fulfilling.

So for now, at least, there's no time for rest.

Diabate, Minott Preparing for Combine

Among the six prospects at Friday's workout, Michigan center Moussa Diabate and Memphis forward Josh Minott are the only two that have received an invite to the combine. Both are currently in the draft after one season playing for college coaches with plenty of NBA experience.

Diabate, who is originally from France but moved to the United States at 14 for high school, started 26 of 32 games for the Wolverines, averaging 9 points on 54.2 percent shooting and 6 rebounds. He showed growth over the course of his freshman season, highlighted by a 28-point outburst in a win at Iowa on Feb. 17 and a 13-point, six-rebound, three-block performance in a second-round NCAA Tournament victory over Tennessee.

Diabate is currently testing the NBA Draft waters while maintaining his eligibility to potentially return for another season at Michigan (underclassmen have until June 1 to withdraw their names from the draft). But he has a lot of the tools that could entice teams to take a chance on him at the draft, including a high motor and the athletic skillset to be a strong defender.

One perk of playing at Michigan has been the opportunity to learn from head coach Juwan Howard, a fellow big man who spent 19 years in the NBA.

"Coach Juwan, he's a great man," Diabate said. "He's always been real with me. The fact that he's played in the NBA, been in those shoes of where I want to be at, it's just a blessing and it's great."

2022 Draft Workouts: Moussa Diabate

Minott, meanwhile, spent the past season playing for four-time All-Star Penny Hardaway, now the head coach at Memphis. The 6-9 forward said he learned a lot from Hardaway about the work ethic it takes to make it in the league.

Minott was a role player on a deep Tigers team last season, only starting six of 33 games. He averaged 6.6 points and 3.8 rebounds, but showed flashes of elite athleticism in limited minutes.

Minott had three double-digit rebound games, seven games with two or more blocks, and nine games with two or more steals. He said on Friday that he is confident he can help a team right away on the defensive end.

"I feel like I can guard a wide variety of positions on the court," Minott said. "I don't really feel like a liability (at) any position, one through five. I'm not sure if it's a mindset or what, but I just feel like defensively, I'm able to complete an assignment on anybody."

2022 Draft Workouts: Josh Minott

Minott will take that confidence into the combine next week, where he feels he has "so much to prove."

"Every time I step between those lines, there's a hunger, man," Minott said. "It's you or the next guy. I plan on showing everybody why it's me."

Hall, Ellis, Aimaq Round Out First Workout

The final three players at Friday's workout were Saint Joseph's forward Jordan Hall, USC guard Boogie Ellis, and Utah Valley center Fardaws Aimaq.

Like his Atlantic 10 counterpart Lee, Hall also was invited to the G League Elite Camp. The 6-7 guard tested the waters a year ago after a strong freshman season where he averaged 10.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 5.7 assists.

Hall ultimately elected to come back to Saint Joseph's for another season and took on an even larger offensive role. He led the Hawks in scoring (14.1 points per game), assists (5.8), and steals (1.2) and was second in rebounding (6.7).

Hall's size and playmaking are what make him stand out to scouts. He ranked 11th nationally in assists and while he doesn't project as a point guard at the next level, his passing ability could earn him minutes as a secondary ball-handler and facilitator.

"Having the ability to see the next player or see the play ahead and make the right read, it just feels good to make that pass and make your teammates score," Hall said.

2022 Draft Workouts: Jordan Hall

Ellis, a 6-3 guard, has had a circuitous journey through the college ranks. A top recruit out of San Diego, he originally committed to Duke before switching to Memphis late in his high school career. He spent two seasons playing under Hardaway and was named the American Athletic Conference Co-Sixth Man of the Year as a sophomore, when he averaged 10.2 points and shot 38.6 percent from 3-point range.

Ellis then elected to transfer to USC for the 2021-22 season. He started 33 games and was second on the Trojans in scoring, averaging 12.5 points per game.

He is capable of erupting on any given night, as evidenced by his performance in the Pac-12 Tournament Semifinal, when he dropped 27 points on 5-of-9 3-point shooting in a loss to 13th-ranked UCLA.

Born Rejean Ellis Jr., he got the nickname "Boogie" from his parents because of how much he danced as a baby. As he tries to dance his way into the NBA, he said his goal for the next few weeks is "just to soak it all in"

"Not a lot of guys get to go through this process, being in NBA facilities and get the opportunity to wear NBA (gear)," Ellis said. "Just taking what I can get from the experience and learning and seeing what I can get better at. Hearing out information because ultimately this is where I want to be."

2022 Draft Workouts: Boogie Ellis

Unless you've watched a lot of WAC basketball, you may not have heard of Aimaq, but the 6-11, 245-pound big man has made his presence felt over in that league the past few seasons.

Aimaq, who started his college career at Mercer in 2018-19 before transferring to Utah Valley, took home both WAC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2020-21, when he averaged 13.9 points and led the nation in rebounding at 15.0 boards per game, the first Division I player in 40 years to pull down 15 boards per game (Kentucky star Oscar Tshiebwe matched the feat last season).

Aimaq followed that up with another impressive campaign in 2021-22, upping his scoring average to 18.9 points per contest, while still pulling down 13.5 rebounds, second in the nation behind Tshiebwe. He repeated as WAC Defensive Player of the Year.

After attempting just one 3-pointer in each of his first two college seasons, Aimaq added the shot to his repertoire last season and shot it well over a small sample size, going 20-for-46 from beyond the arc (43.5 percent).

The Vancouver native also practiced mixed martial arts growing up and earned a black belt before giving it up to focus on basketball.

"I started when I was young, so it's been five, six years since I've last done it," Aimaq said. "But I did it for about 10 years and it definitely helps me out on the court. I've learned a lot of different things that I use. Most of it is just stuff up here, mental toughness and all that."

Aimaq has been running parallel paths over the past several weeks, simultaneously declaring for the draft while also entering the NCAA's transfer portal. He committed to transferring to Texas Tech if he does elect to withdraw his name from the draft, a decision he said he hopes to sit down with his family and make in the coming days.

2022 Draft Workouts: Fardaws Aimaq