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Hyunjung Lee is at the heart of South Korea’s Olympic hopes

The Davidson star is playing high stakes basketball over the summer as he tries to get his country to Tokyo.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 06 Atlantic 10 Tournament - Davidson vs VCU Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Hyunjung Lee’s most recent pair of games at Davidson had a lot on the line. The talented wing put in solid performances in March games against VCU and NC State, both of which were ended up being losses that knocked out the Wildcats out of the A-10 Tournament and NIT, respectively.

His next game, though in a different jersey, may have even more at stake.

The rising junior figures to play a big role for his native South Korea as it tries to end a drought that is older than him. The South Korea men’s basketball team has not made an Olympic appearance since Atlanta in 1996, but Lee is on the roster for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament as the country tries to book a spot in Toyko.

He enters the event in Kaunas, Lithuania coming off a quality sophomore season in Bob McKillop’s scoring machine.

Lee averaged 13.5 points per game and shot 44.2 percent from deep as the number two option in the country’s 20th most efficient offense. This followed a spot on the All-A-10 freshman team in 2019-20, and has been a part of the development McKillop envisioned when he found the exciting shooting prospect and, like he’s done with so many international players, convinced him to come to North Carolina.

The Olympics are also in Lee’s blood. His mother, Jeong A Seong, was a key figure on South Korea’s silver medal-winning women’s basketball team in 1984. And, as the Charlotte Observer notes, drew the tall task of guarding Cheryl Miller in the gold medal game in Los Angeles.

Her son might get a similarly massive assignment. Eight of the 12 spots for the Olympic tournament have already been filled, with the final four going to the winners of a quartet of six-team qualifying tournaments taking place in four different host cities around the world. South Korea is competing in the Kaunas tournament, where the stiffest competition figures to be the host country, led by Jonas Valančiūnas and Domantas Sabonis, as well as Slovenia and Luka Dončić.

To get the Lee-Dončić matchup, South Korea and Slovenia would need to advance out of their respective three-team groups. Good as Bones Hyland and Osun Osunniyi are — both of whom Lee saw plenty toward the end of the season — clashing with Dončić in a competitive setting would be a different animal, and the type of thing that could pay dividends for Davidson down the road.

Lee is the second youngest player on a South Korean team led by former Missouri star Ra Gun-ah who, while playing for the Tigers, was known as Ricardo Ratliffe. Over the past decade Gun-ah has been a three-time Korean Basketball League MVP and has become a naturalized South Korean citizen.

South Korea will be looking for offense like the below from Lee as he complements Gun-ah’s low post efficiency in a group that contains Lithuania and Venezuela.

Lee is the second youngest player on South Korea’s roster, but played a central role when the team last took the court in the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers in June. He scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a loss to a Philippines team that is also competing for a spot in the Olympics, playing in the Belgrade qualifying tournament. Other than Gun-ah and Lee, the only other South Korean to have NCAA experience is guard Lee Dae-sung, who played one season at Division II BYU-Hawaii in 2013.

The Davidson star seems primed to lead yet another competitive Wildcat team next season alongside senior forward Luka Brajkovic. Surely, he must hope that that season comes on the heels of a historic few weeks in Tokyo.

Lee and South Korea open their qualifying run against Venezuela on Wednesday at 12:30PM ET.