Nong-gu. That’s Korean for basketball. There’s a whole lot of nong-gu going on in Korea this week as the Kansas Jayhawks, masquerading as the United States team, are playing in the World University Games in Gwangju, South Korea.
If you are thinking about the chubby-faced little dictator as the leader, you’ve got the wrong country. The Jayhawks are in South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea, not in North Korea. The differences between the two countries are vast, as the Kansas basketball team is finding out during their two-week stint at the World University Games.
South Korea is East Asia’s highest ranked developed country. Its citizens enjoy a very high standard of living, with the world’s eighth highest household income. Globally it ranks among the highest in education, healthcare and ease of doing business. It is the world’s most research and development intensive country, having the world’s fastest internet connection speed. In short, the Jayhawks, and other teams from around the world, ARE NOT out in the boondocks playing basketball!
Why the Kansas Jayhawks? Why not the usual team of all-stars, formulated after a series of tryouts? Officials of USA Basketball made the decision to allow one college team to represent the nation this year. It had been done once before, in 2007, when Northern Iowa represented the U.S. and placed 9th . Though a team of all-star talent seems like it might be more formidable, that hasn’t proven true, at least for the United States.
The U.S. team did not do well in the last World University Games in 2013. That team was coached by Davidson coach Bob McKillop and featured All-American Creighton forward Doug McDermott, Louisville forward Luke Hancock, Colorado guard Spencer Dinwiddie and other collegiate stars. That team failed to medal.
This Kansas team jumped at the chance to represent the United States but as tournament time got closer, several Jayhawks were hampered with injuries and had to be replaced. Two players from other schools were added to the team to supply depth.
The U.S. team played their first game against Turkey in a rough and tumble affair as both teams had trouble adjusting to the officiating. Kansas (U.S.) prevailed in that game and played with uniforms that had KANSAS emblazoned across the front. A minor controversy came from that and World University Games officials asked coach Bill Self to put USA on the front of the jerseys instead of Kansas, or they may have to forfeit wins. Kansas athletic officials were happy to oblige but pointed out that the uniforms had been sent to WUG officials before the tournament for approval and they had approved the uniforms.
While Self is in Korea for two weeks, his assistant coaches , Kurtis Townsend and Norm Roberts are on the road in the United States because it is the heart of the recruiting season. Even with these difficulties, representing the United States in these Games is quite a bonus for Kansas basketball. Most of the games are being televised and you can bet that recruits back home are paying attention.
If the Jayhawks (U.S.) should be able to win a medal it will be a tremendous feather in the cap of Bill Self and his Jayhawk basketball program.
So roll out the balls. Let’s play a little nong-gu!