The 2023 Korean Basketball League has officially come to an end on March 29. Anyang KGC captured the regular season title three days before, but it was a fierce ride to the finish for the second illusive first-round bye between Changwon LG Sakers and Seoul SK Knights.
Anyang KGC were crowned the KBL regular season champions after a 76-71 victory Wonju DB Promy on March 26 in front of their sold-out crowd of 4,929 home fans. The regular season champions are the third team in KBL history to achieve a wire-to-wire finish, where they remain first from beginning to end the entire season. As the regular season champions, Anyang earned a first round bye, getting a free pass into the semifinals.
For the fight for the second first-round bye, Changwon LG Sakers and Seoul SK Knights had identical records going into the final day of the regular season. LG Sakers had a slight edge with a 16-point difference in point differential. In the end, both teams won their respective matchups, as the Sakers won by nine and the Knights won by 11. This result gives Changwon second place in the standings and the all-important first-round bye from the quarterfinals.
Seoul SK Knights stays in third, and will look to defend its title against sixth-rank Jeonju KCC Egis in the quarterfinals. Game 1 of this matchup begins April 3 in Jamsil Students’ Gymnasium, home of the Knights. Meanwhile, the fourth-fifth playoff matchup sees Ulsan Hyundai Mobis Phoebus battle it out with Goyang Carrot Jumpers. Goyang managed to pay their league subscription fee just in time for the playoffs. Failure to do so would’ve eliminated the Jumpers by default, meaning Wonju DB Promy, who was on the outside looking in, would have jumped into the playoffs. Game 1 between Ulsan and Goyang begins April 2 in Dongchun Gymnasium, Ulsan’s home court.
A day later after the regular season finale, KBL designated their season’s awards in a ceremony in Seoul. The most prestigious award, the 2022-2023 KBL Most Valuable Player, goes to Kim Sun Hyung of Seoul SK Knights. This is Kim’s second KBL MVP award, winning this distinctive honor back in 2013, exactly 10 years ago. Kim averaged 16.3 points and a team-high 6.8 assists, leading the team to a 36-18 record, good for third place this season.
“I was always confident that I could receive the MVP. However, I couldn't let it go out of my mind until the end because it is not an award that I could receive just because I wanted to, but an award that requires recognition. I think the award was heavier than when I received it 10 years ago,” said Kim Sun Hyung upon receiving the award. “The MVP I received today is a heavy award with my joys and sorrows buried in it, so it was even more touching.”
Kim’s teammate, Jameel Warney took home the Import Most Valuable Player award, giving Seoul SK Knights a clean sweep in the MVP department. The New Jersey, USA-native joined the Knights in 2019 and has been a force for the team since his arrival, taking home the Best Import award in three of his four seasons in the league. The former NBA big man led his team in points, rebounds and blocks this season, averaging 24.1 points, 11.2 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game.
Meanwhile, this season’s Rookie of the Year award goes to Ulsan Hyundai Mobis Phoebus’ Rhon Jay Abarrientos after receiving 101 of the 109 from the media. The Filipino import shone in his first season in Korea, averaging 13.4 points, 4.8 assists and 1.4 steals this season, helping Ulsan finish with a 34-20 record, good for fourth in the regular season. The Rookie of the Year award was presented by Maria Theresa B. Dizon-De Vega, Philippine Ambassador in Korea.
“This is the first professional award I’ve ever received. It is an honor for me to win the award on such a stage. I think this award was made because the fans cheered hard for me on and off the court,” Abarrientos said. “Seeing my own people in another country makes me feel like I am at home. Also, thank you for the many fans who support the Filipino players. I often see Filipino fans outside the stadium.”
Coach of the Year went to Anyang KGC’s Kim Sang Shik, after leading his team to a league-best 37-17 record this season. Kim helped KGC become one of the most dominant forces in the league, as the team had the league’s third-best offense, averaging 82 points per game, and the league’s second-best defense, allowing just 77.7 points per game, giving Anyang the best point differential in the KBL, pushing Anyang to win their second-ever regular season championship since joining the league in 1997.
Kim also helped the team win EASL Champions Week, the mid-season tournament where they took on eight of the best teams from five different countries in the Asia-Pacific region. KGC demolished the likes of Taipei Fubon Braves of the P.LEAGUE+ in Taiwan and San Miguel Beermen of the Philippine Basketball League (PBL) before beating their Korean rivals and defending KBL champions Seoul SK Knights in an all-Korean EASL Champions Week finals.
"It's the first time I've ever received an award like this. I am honored. I think it's an award given to the club and the players for doing well. It feels so good,” Kim Sang Shik said, reflecting on his team’s season. “After going to EASL, I hesitated for a while, but it seems that the results of the players' hard work with their concentration stayed until the very end.”