Korea to College Park: Kim Travels Long Road

Gary Williams has compared Kim to Dirk Nowitzki.

When Maryland coach Gary Williams stepped out of his yellow Lamborghini Friday night, he raised a clenched fist—his trademark salute to the fans upon introduction.


Little did he know what his gesture meant to Jin Soo Kim.

You see, in Kim's native South Korea, athletes strike the same pose when having their picture taken. It means "go for it."

Kim--a 6-foot-9 junior forward at South Kent (Conn.) Prep--committed to Maryland Sunday morning, 36 hours after Williams unknowingly made his plea. It was Kim's first and last college visit.

"He was really impressed with the Comcast Center, the history of Maryland basketball, the whole coaching staff and Gary himself," said John Kim, Jin Soo's cousin who saw him through most of the recruiting process.

It took Williams just one look to offer Jin Soo a scholarship. He recently went to South Kent with assistant Chuck Driesell, a frequent visitor at the basketball powerhouse, and was wowed by Jin Soo's advanced shooting and ball handling ability, especially at his size. Kim said that Jin Soo claimed Williams compared him to NBA superstar Dirk Nowitzki.

The performance Jin Soo put on that day may have warranted the lofty comparison. He reportedly hit 17-of-20 three-pointers, showing off why he's one of the class' most intriguing, yet relatively unknown prospects. It won't be that way for long, though, as Jin Soo enters his second year on a national, talent-laden program.

"He's terrific. He's a 6-9 ‘three' and can also play the ‘two.' He can really shoot the ball and has great footwork – that's really what jumped out at Gary Williams," South Kent coach Raphael Chillious told TSR earlier this month.

"He's just a terrific shooter, long and athletic. He can guard ‘fours' who play face to the basket and some fours who play back to the basket."

The decision two years ago to attend South Kent came after an attempt to enroll Jin Soo at Montrose Christian didn't work out, John Kim said. Kim wanted Jin Soo to be close to his family, which resides in the D.C. area. During the process of trying to get Jin Soo into the Rockville school, current Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez, a senior at Montrose at the time, befriended Jin Soo because of the international roots the two shared. Vasquez knew what it was like to adjust to life in the states and, possessing an effervescent personality, wanted to help Jin Soo make the transition.

In the end, though, Kim said transcript issues kept Jin Soo from enrolling at the school. South Kent wasn't a bad second option, though, and Chillious was intent on landing Jin Soo.

"Everything worked out for the best," Kim said. "Chillious has done a lot of great things for his development."

That development, more precisely, has been in creating shots and ball handling. He was known mainly as a shooter in Korea--a skill, Kim said, that drew Reggie Miller comparisons from NBA scouts over the summer—and that remains his strength here in the states. That fact that Maryland doesn't have a pure shooter on its roster made Jin Soo all the more intriguing to Williams.

And vice versa.

"[Jin Soo] liked the fact that Maryland needs a shooter," Kim said. "With the shooters that came through the program, they benefited from the screens that they set and the big man can go in and out."

So it seemed Jin Soo and the Maryland program was compatible, at least on a basketball level. The focus then turned to his recruitment, an area where Kim became more than a cousin.

Jin Soo was originally in the 2008 class, but Kim and Jin Soo's parents in Korea decided it would be best to hold him back so that he could explore college possibilities in more detail. It also gave him more time to become acclimated to life in the states after spending all but the last four years in Korea. According to Kim, Jin Soo will become the first Korean-born Division I basketball player.

Kim, a 1999 Maryland graduate who is friends with Terrence Morris and Juan Dixon, told Jin Soo what Maryland's program had to offer. Any questions that Jin Soo had, Kim could answer, whether it was about basketball or life on campus. He was careful not to push Jin Soo towards Maryland, and stressed it was solely his decision.

Maryland's coaching staff, however, had no problem doing the pushing.

"Gary came out, saw him, offered him a scholarship on the spot and Jin Soo was real, real appreciative of that and so out of respect for that, Jin Soo wanted to visit Maryland first," Kim said. "Maryland did a great job selling. I didn't do much to be honest with you. Maryland did a great job. Chuck [Driesell], being the great recruiter that he is, went up to see him a lot."

Jin Soo, accompanied by Kim, toured the Maryland campus and sat front row for Maryland Madness on Friday night. He took in the team's practice Saturday and came away so impressed, he wanted to commit. Kim told him to think it over. He talked to his parents, slept on it, and verbally committed the next morning.

Jin Soo can't sign a letter of intent until next November, so the commitment up until then is non-binding. Unlike recent de-commit Terrence Jennings, a reneging isn't likely with Jin Soo.

"He's not going to back out of a commitment because that's the type of person he is. He's going to keep to his word," Kim said.

The professional leagues overseas are already calling, though. Jin Soo will hopefully return next summer to compete on Korea's national team. Kim said Jin Soo could play professionally in Korea right now as an 18 year old. He could "go for it."

"But that's not his choice," Kim said. "That's not what he wants to do right now. He came here for an education, for one, and two, to play Division I basketball."

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