Samsung Life is a team that boasts the widest line of prospects in WKBL. Last season, they were unfortunately pushed out of the playoff competition, but this season, with the joining of Kiana Smith, conditions have been prepared to expect growth and performance. However, Samsung Life Insurance was in a crisis of desperation due to a series of bad news. How did they overcome the crisis?

At the beginning of the season, which was smooth with the addition of a special rookie, 

Samsung Life unfortunately failed in spring basketball amid fierce playoff competition with BNK last season, but left hope for the growth of young players. Yoon Ye-bin, who has already been reborn as the core of the team, as well as Lee Ju-yeon, Kang Yu-rim, Lee Myeong-gwan, and Lee Hae-ran, have gained experience.

Samsung Life Insurance, which placed high expectations on the development of promising players, did not show any movement even in the noisy free agent market. Samsung Life Insurance, which achieved the task by catching Lee Joo-yeon and Kim Han-bi, who were internal FAs early on, sent the transfer market quietly without external recruitment. Lee Joo-yeon, who showed remarkable growth last season, promised to accompany the team for a long time by renewing the contract for 5 years at 210 million won, and tall resource Kim Han-bi also stayed at 50 million won for 1 year. 

There was no outside recruiting, but a large rookie who could greatly upgrade his power through the draft joined. Coach Lim Geun-bae, who secured first place overall at the new player selection meeting held in September of last year, called Kiana Smith’s name without hesitation. 

Smith, a University of Louisville graduate, is a player who even played for the Los Angeles Sparks after being selected 4th overall in the 2nd round of the 2022 WNBA Draft. As soon as the news of Smith’s participation became known, she was solidified as the first choice, and she was selected by Samsung Life Insurance, making her the first foreign nationality compatriot player in WKBL to be nominated as the first choice. 

The expectations for Smith were, of course, high. Smith, who is 178 cm tall, was evaluated as a player who has shooting, dribbling, athletic ability, and breakthrough. Smith, who has already demonstrated his presence as a key player in the team from off-season practice matches. He was highly anticipated as a player who could save not only his offense but also his teammates. 

As expected, Smith successfully settled on the WKBL stage, and Samsung Life Insurance got off to a great start by winning 4 out of 5 games in the first round. It was also positive that Kang Yu-rim, who was in his second season after transferring, showed remarkable growth and formed the so-called KBS trio with Smith and Bae Hye-yoon. 

Samsung Life Insurance, which had the worst offense index in the league last year, took first place in the average score, 2-point field goal rate, 3-point field goal rate, and assists in the first round, boasting a completely different team color. If the pace was maintained, it was a situation where good results could be expected for the rest of the season. 

Too cruel injury bad news, but…

After the first round, Samsung Life suffered a period of slowdown, but overcame difficulties well in its own way and harvested 11 wins in the first 16 games of the season. It finished the first half in the top ranks, running second after Woori Bank.

However, cruel injury bad news hit Samsung Life Insurance. Samsung Life Insurance, which had already taken off the line due to a cruciate ligament injury by national guard Yoon Ye-bin, faced a major bad news in which Smith and Lee Ju-yeon were injured at the same time in the match against Woori Bank on December 26 last year. Smith and Lee Ju-yeon, who were diagnosed with patellar tendon rupture and cruciate ligament rupture respectively, ended the season early.

Samsung Life Insurance spent the rest of the season losing three talented key guards. No matter how deep the team was, it was bound to be a fatal blow. The only guards that can be used for a long time now are Shin Dew Seul and Jo Soo Ah. 

I had time to reorganize through the break, but the injury gap seemed too big. In an instant, the atmosphere subsided as they lost five games in a row. I felt the burden on Shin I-seul and Jo Soo-ah, who suddenly had the main title. The content of the game was also not good, so it created tension that Park Ji-soo could be overtaken by 5th place KB, who returned.

However, Samsung Life changed again from February. It started with Woori Bank on February 2nd. In fact, it was a match that no one could have predicted easily. It was an away game, and Bae Hye-yoon, who was suffering from knee pain, was also missing. Woori Bank was not without power leaks, but the possibility of a longer losing streak seemed very high. 

However, the players of Samsung Life Insurance, who did not give up easily, produced a surprise. Expectant player Lee Hae-ran posted 22 points and 13 rebounds, showing the best performance since his debut, and the backcourt duo Jo Soo-ah and Shin Iseul combined for 20 rebounds. It was a game that properly prepared the opportunity for a rebound with an unexpected victory. 

Samsung Life Insurance, which gained confidence after winning the Woori Bank match, immediately succeeded in winning 4 consecutive wins and was on the rise. In a situation where even defending the playoff ticket felt difficult, the game was quickly overturned and climbed to a position threatening second place.  

Frustrated advance to the championship match, but a reason to smile 

Samsung Life Insurance, who was aiming to recapture 2nd place while giving up. Unfortunately, the regular season ended in 3rd place. It was painful to lose both the BNK match on February 24 and the Shinhan Bank match on February 26, which were important matches in the ranking fight. 

The opponent Samsung Life met in the playoffs was BNK. BNK is a team with a unique story as coach Park Jung-eun, a former Samsung Life Insurance legend, is in charge, and it is also a team that competed for playoffs until the end of last season. 

For Samsung Life Insurance, which has many young players, it was important to catch the first game on the road. Surprisingly, the first round seemed to go smoothly. Samsung Life Insurance, who succeeded in blocking opponent Ace Lee So-hee in the first half, got off to a good start with a wide lead. 

However, Samsung Life Insurance안전놀이터, which failed to block BNK’s fierce counterattack, which was revived by Lee So-hee in the second half, was in a position where it was impossible to guarantee victory by allowing a fierce chase. In the end, Samsung Life Insurance, whose players’ lack of experience was clearly revealed in the game, suffered an unfortunate come-from-behind defeat and headed home with one loss. 

The aftermath of giving up the first game in vain also affected the second game. Samsung Life, who suffered from offense and defense from the first half, could not easily control Ahn Hye-ji and gave it the upper hand. The condition of Bae Hye-yoon, the center of the team, who suffered from knee pain throughout the season, was also not normal. In the second half, Lee Hae-ran, Jo Soo-ah, and Kang Yoo-rim put their energy into a fierce chase, but in the end they couldn’t overcome BNK’s wall.

Although they withdrew from the playoffs with two losses, Samsung Life finished the season with many achievements. As if reflecting the growth of the players, four round MIPs (Kang Yoo-rim, Shin Iseul, Jo Soo-ah, and Lee Hae-ran) were produced in the regular league, and Kang Yoo-rim, who had a career-high season, won the MIP award for the entire regular league. 

Seniors also did their part. Bae Hye-yoon played the role of an ace despite having a difficult time due to injury and was selected as the best 5, and Kim Dan-bi supported the team with her altoran-like performance behind the scenes. Coach Lim Geun-bae praised her as “(Kim) Dan-bi is our team’s housekeeper.”  

If there are no big setbacks, Samsung Life will return next season with Yoon Ye-bin, Lee Ju-yeon, and Kiana Smith. If the three players return, it is Samsung Life Insurance that will fall into happy troubles as the rotation width is noticeably widened. It seems that the worries about struggling in each important match will be relieved to a large extent with the arrival of the three players. 

Regarding the plan for the next season, coach Lim Geun-bae expressed his anticipation by revealing, “I plan to go in the direction where young players can play actively. It will be a composition of members to do so. I think we will be able to complete strong and fast basketball.” How will Samsung Life Insurance, who finished the season after overcoming the brutal and harsh winds, show next season?

Team MVP | Bae Hye
-yoon 25G 27:59 16.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists 

In Samsung Life, where there are many young players, Bae Hye-yoon plays a significant role. This is a leadership position that requires her to lead players on and off the court as well as on the court. And Bae Hye-yoon is doing her part without any major problems. 

Despite missing 5 regular league games due to a knee injury, Bae Hye-yoon performed well this season as well, to the extent that she was selected as the best 5. She took an absolute role in the team’s attack by utilizing her seasoned scoring skills and wide field of view to save teammates’ chances. This is the reason Bae Hye-yoon was selected as Samsung Life’s MVP without hesitation.

Team RISING STAR | Kang Yoo
-rim 30G 34:02 12.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.5 steals

Besides Kang Yoo-rim, there are many players worth mentioning as rising stars such as Lee Hae-ran, Jo Soo-ah, and Shin Iseul. However, it was hard to pass by Kang Yoo-rim, who had the best season since his debut by winning the MIP in the regular league. It was a time when he became a clear key player by making appearances in all matches.

Kang Yu-rim, who rode a roller coaster last season, was very proud ahead of this season. Coach Lim Geun-bae gave such a player many chances to play, and Kang Yu-rim, who played in the previous game, repaid his trust by recording 12.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 3 points, a success rate of 36.7%, playing an average of 34 minutes. He is now one of the best forwards in the league and is expected to grow.   

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