How KCC Egis went from fifth seed to KBL champion

May 8, 2024

How KCC Egis went from fifth seed to KBL champion
How KCC Egis went from fifth seed to KBL champion

Written by EASL

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KCC are the first team to win the KBL after finishing fifth in the regular season

Korean basketball history was made last Sunday when the Busan KCC Egis became the 2024 Korean Basketball League champions.

KCC defeated the Suwon KT Sonicboom four games to one in the finals, becoming the first team in Korean professional basketball history to win the championship as a fifth seed in the regular season.

It was KCC’s sixth KBL title, and their first in 13 years. KCC guard Heo Ung was named the 2024 KBL Finals Most Valuable Player after averaging 18.8 points in the five games against KT.

Both KBL finals teams have qualified for the EASL 2024-25 Season. Champions KCC are placed into Group B and runners-up KT go into Group A, under the preset Group Stage draw.

How did the Finals pan out?

KCC came into the Finals carrying plenty of momentum, having lost just once in seven playoffs games. The team swept the EASL Final Four 2024 runners-up, the Seoul SK Knights, in three games, before cruising to beat the 2023-24 KBL regular-season champions, the Wonju DB Promy, three games to one.

KT finished the regular season placed third, setting a matchup against the Ulsan Hyundai Mobis Phoebus in the quarterfinals. After splitting the first two games, KT went on to take the series three games to one.

Against the second-seeded Changwon LG Sakers in the semifinals, KT were taken to the brink of elimination twice. Down two games to one, Suwon rallied with back-to-back victories to take the series.

Game 1: KT Sonicboom 73-90 KCC Egis

KT got home-court advantage by finishing higher than KCC in the regular season.

A see-saw battle in the first half of Game 1 had KT leading by two at halftime. KCC responded in the second half, going on a 15-0 run in the third quarter to cancel out KT’s momentum, and ultimately taking the game 90-73.

Five KCC players finished the game in double figures, with Heo Ung and Song Kyo-Chang leading the way with 17 points apiece.

Game 2: KT Sonicboom 101-97 KCC Egis

Alize Johnson, the former NBA pro, scored 24 points in the second quarter, helping KCC lead by nine heading into the half.

The KBL leading scorer in the regular season, KT’s Paris Bass, was shut out in the first half, missing all six of his shot attempts.

The second half was a different story. Bass woke up and scored a game-high 36 points in the final two frames to help KT come back and win 101-97.

“Coach told me to forget about the first half and play my own game,” Bass said after the game. “The idea was to keep it calm and make an adjustment.”

Game 3: KCC Egis 92-89 KT Sonicboom

KCC showed up in their first home game, leading by as much as 10 at one point. But every time it looked like KCC would run away with the game, KT found an answer.

In a fierce matchup between the two Heo brothers, KCC’s Heo Ung and KT’s Heo Hoon, Heo Ung came out on top, scoring a team-high 26 points to lead KCC to their second victory in the series. Heo Hoon put up a valiant game-high 37 points.

Ra Guna, a naturalized South Korean, became the highest scorer in KBL playoffs history, passing the 1,502-point record set by Wonju DB Promy legend Kim Joo-Sung. Ra finished the game with 22 points.

Game 4: KCC Egis 96-90 KT Sonicboom

KT, down two games to one, had more bad news going into Game 4. Their star, Heo Hoon, was battling illness.

Could Heo pull off a Michael Jordan-esque “flu game”?

Heo indeed showed no symptoms on the court and came out firing, scoring 15 points in the first half, and KT went into the half with an eight-point cushion.

But the KCC offense came alive in the third quarter, outscoring KT 37-18 and giving the team an 11-point lead going into the final frame.

The 2022 KBL Most Valuable Player and two-time KBL champion Choi Jun-Yong showed his pedigree, icing the game for KCC with a three-pointer with 35 seconds to go.

Heo Hoon finished with a game-high 33 points.

Game 5: KT Sonicboom 70-88 KCC Egis

In a plot that mirrored the previous game, KT stormed into an early lead and were up five points at the end of the first quarter.

Once again, fans saw an epic battle between the Heo brothers. Younger brother Hoon was spectacular, scoring a game-high 29 points. Older brother Ung helped KCC claw back into the game in the second quarter, hitting a crucial three to give his team a four-point lead going into halftime.

Heo Ung continued his hot form in the second half, scoring 12 of his team-high 21 points in the final two quarters.

Busan outscored Suwon 25-13 in the third quarter and never looked back, ultimately winning 88-70 to claim their first KBL title in 13 years and become the first-ever fifth seed to win the KBL.

Stat of the Series

The Busan KCC Egis came out of halftime roaring in four of the five games. KCC outscored KT by 31 points in the third quarter in the five games combined.

Apart from the 35 points scored in the third quarter in Game 2, KT were only able to average 17.5 points in the third quarter in the other four games.

Heo Ung: 2024 KBL Finals MVP

As the Busan KCC Egis took home the KBL crown, star guard Heo Ung took home his first Finals MVP trophy.

Heo received 31 of the 84 votes in the MVP voting, beating out his teammate Ra Guna and his brother Heo Hoon to claim the prestigious trophy.

Heo Ung’s performance in the playoffs was essential to KCC’s win. He averaged 17.3 points in 12 playoff games, scoring a team-high 21 points in the Game 5 clincher.

Heo was one of KCC’s top scorers this season, averaging 15.9 points in 59 games, and hitting 2.5 threes per game.

A South Korean national team member, Heo has medalled on five occasions for the country. His best showing was at the 2016 Williams Jones Cup, where Korea won silver.

The fifth overall pick in the 2014 KBL Draft played his first eight years with the Wonju DB Promy. He was the KBL’s Most Improved Player in 2016 and was voted into the KBL Best 5 in 2022.

Heo bros put on a show

KCC’s Heo Ung took home the Finals MVP, but younger brother and KT star Heo Hoon was also electric throughout the series.

Heo Ung averaged 18.8 points in the Finals, including hitting five threes for a team-high 21 points in the championship clincher in Game 5.

Heo Hoon was instrumental in helping KT hang on. Battling an illness midway through the series, the 2020 KBL MVP averaged 26.6 points in the Finals and kept Suwon close in the series.

Roster changes loom

The rosters of both the Busan KCC Egis and the Suwon KT Sonicboom are expected to change significantly in the offseason.

KT are expected to make the biggest changes, to fortify their lineup ahead of 2024-25. The team is facing the possible departure of 2023-24 standout performer Paris Bass. Another foreign asset, Michael Eric, also faces an uncertain future.

KT are expected to be active in the ongoing free agents’ market. The FA includes marquee talents such as Kang Sang-Jae, Kim Jong-Gyu, Park Ji-hoon, Choi Bu-Kyung and Heo Il-Young. KT will face stiff competition for these coveted players and are expected to also look to foreign talent acquisitions to strengthen their team.

In contrast, the Busan KCC Egis find themselves in a relatively stable position. Most of their marquee players are set to stay next season and the team is not expected to be very active in signing FA players.

KCC’s only concern at present is uncertainty over the presence of Ra Guna, the naturalized Korean player.

Ra (35 years old, 199cm) was a pivotal player in the recent playoffs. He had a remarkable performance in the finals, playing over 26 minutes per game across five games, and contributing to his team’s triumph with averages of 20.2 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.4 block shots.

Ra’s contract is set to expire and the KBL General Assembly is also due to discuss his status as a special naturalized player, due to uncertainty over his future involvement with the national team.

An unimpressive regular season in 2023-24 led to speculation that he was on the downslope due to his age. However, his surge in the Finals and reports that his family is content with life in Korea could point towards a longer spell in the country.  

How the KBL’s Free Agents market works

Players on the KBL’s Free Agent list can conduct voluntary negotiations with any of the 10 KBL teams, including their current team, for 15 days from May 7 to 21.

Players and teams can agree contracts during this period. Players that do not agree a new contract in this period can still be signed by teams, who have a window to send them a “letter of recruitment” from May 22 to 24.

If a player receives a letter of recruitment from multiple teams, he is free to choose any of them, regardless of the contract values offered.

If a player receives a letter of recruitment from a single team, he must sign a contract with that team.

FA players who have not signed a contract after May 24 have a chance to renegotiate with their current team from May 25 to 28.

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