(Asiad) Ex-NBA player for Jordan recalls ‘wonderful’ teammates in S. Korean league

Former NBA player Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has had a globe-trotting career since last playing in the world's top basketball league in 2021, a journey that includes a short stint in South Korea.

His departure from the KCC Egis in the Korean Basketball League (KBL) in February this year was anything but amicable, but some eight months after the Egis cut him, Hollis-Jefferson still has fond memories of his "wonderful" teammates.

"My KBL experience ... my teammates were wonderful. My teammates like (All-Star guard) Heo Ung, those guys were amazing. I appreciate them," Hollis-Jefferson told Yonhap News Agency on Saturday in Hangzhou, China, where he is representing his adopted nation, Jordan. Born in Chester, Pennsylvania, Hollis-Jefferson became naturalized as a Jordanian citizen this summer.

During his short stay in South Korea, Hollis-Jefferson became quick friends with his U.S.-born, naturalized Korean teammate, Ricardo Ratliffe. Ratliffe plays under his Korean name, Ra Gun-a, in the KBL, and he is representing South Korea in Hangzhou too.

"Ricardo was like a best friend to me. His family, they helped me a lot," Hollis-Jefferson said. "The translator helped me a lot. They were wonderful from top to bottom, and I appreciate those guys."

Hollis-Jefferson's most recent NBA game came in May 2021 for the Portland Trail Blazers, the team that drafted him in the first round out of the University of Arizona in 2015, only to trade him the same day to the Brooklyn Nets.

Hollis-Jefferson played 234 games over four seasons with the Nets. After a season with the Toronto Raptors and a cup of coffee with the Blazers, Hollis-Jefferson began taking his talent around the world.

He made a stop in Turkey in the fall of 2021 and relocated to Puerto Rico in the spring of 2022. Then came the Egis, starting in September 2022.

Hollis-Jefferson was cut in February 2023, after appearing in only 38 games. He averaged 10.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and one assist per game, not close to what the Egis had expected from the forward just a few years removed from seeing regular NBA action.

The Egis even accused Hollis-Jefferson of dogging it in some games. In one of his last games in the KBL, amid rumors of a running feud with head coach Chun Chang-jin, Hollis-Jefferson did not attempt a field goal.

Hollis-Jefferson did not touch upon those claims, only saying: "The basketball (in the KBL), it was physical. It was a different game, so I appreciate it."

After the KBL came the Philippines. But Hollis-Jefferson's career took another intriguing twist this summer with his naturalization.

And with the former first-round NBA draft pick leading the charge, Jordan has jumped out to a 3-0 start. Jordan booked one of the four automatic spots in the quarterfinals and awaits the winner of a qualification game between Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong.

He helped Jordan beat the Philippines 87-62 Saturday with a team-high 24 points and nine assists. Hollis-Jefferson even drew "M-V-P!" chants from basketball-crazed Chinese fans in the stands at Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Gymnasium.

Through Saturday, he ranked third in the tournament with 20.3 points per game.

While Jordan is cruising through the competition in Hangzhou so far, South Korea has a rocky path ahead. South Korea has to beat Bahrain on Monday just to reach the quarterfinals, where the defending champion China awaits.

Jordan and South Korea can only meet in the semifinals if South Korea can somehow beat the host nation. In the meantime, Hollis-Jefferson has stayed in touch with Ratliffe since both arrived in Hangzhou for the Asian Games.

"We talk every day. We talk about everything," Hollis-Jefferson said. "We talk about life, we talk about our families, we talk about basketball."

He then added with a quick smile, "I tell him I look better than him."

Hollis-Jefferson wears No. 24 in honor of his favorite athlete, the late Kobe Bryant. Hollis-Jefferson even has an uncanny resemblance to the Los Angeles Lakers legend, from his haircut and armband to his footwork and free throw routine. He is essentially the left-handed version of the man many referred to as Kobe.

"It's an honor to be compared to my favorite athlete, one of the best to ever play the game," Hollis-Jefferson said. "But at the end of the day, Kobe was Kobe, an amazing man like no one else. So to be compared to that, I feel extremely humbled and honored. But I'm going to just continue to work and to block out the noise."

As for a potential return to the NBA, the 28-year-old said, "Maybe if any option presents itself, that's the goal. So we'll see."

Source: Yonhap News Agency