In most sports competitions, third place finals are usually seen as a minor affair – something to quench the appetite before the gold medal match’s main course. At the Olympics, though, medals are in play for the winners of said game – and this time, a lot of players on the South Korean team had a further motivation to do well as they walked on the field for their match-up against Puerto Rico. South Korean laws say that winning an Asian Games gold medal or an Olympic medal of any color will exempt all male athletes from military duties, and for the players who weren’t on the court during South Korea’s 2014 Furry Asian Games’ run – namely 19-year-old Mok Seungmin (Bull, G and 20-year-old Cho Haneul (Amur Leopard, F/G) – this was a potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that could offer them a brighter future and a stable professional career.
Puerto Rico came into the game with the opposite issue, the Latino American team facing an invaluable chance to fulfill a dream for a number of veteran players – included FBA All-Star Vera La Tiérra (Red Fox, G), who has longed for some kind of international recognition after ten years of professional career. No young talent on the team seems poised to exceed her marks, but the cohesion and chemistry of Milko Martínez’s (Green Parrot) group have been unrivaled throughout the entire tournament and even managed to get this team of ragtags fighting for an Olympic medal.
The Koreans started off well, though – Lee Jin-Sung (Black Bear, F) continuing to display his perfect shape as he opened the scores with a perfect alley-oop dunk off a pass from Lim Poong (Opossum, G). Their opponents were slightly taken aback, missing some shots before La Tiérra managed to find her mark with an 18-foot dagger. South Korea was more consistent on defense, avian center Seol Eunyoung (Pigeon, C) capping a very positive tournament with a terrific performance that brought her a massive block on Carol Quiñones (Wolf, F/C) – the lupine being rattled by impact and struggling to get into the groove for minutes after, contributing to the Asians pulling ahead and ending the 1st half with a 60-41 lead.
A big result standing at arm’s reach, South Korea stumbled off the blocks early in the 3rd quarter – two straight three-pointers from La Tiérra bringing the game back within single digits and forcing Coach Park Hyunsook (Musk Deer) to call an emergency time-out. It was all it took to stop the Latinos’ momentum, Derek Kim (Kkachi, G) and Lim answering with back-to-back treys of their own and helping their side to take back control. With ten minutes left to play, South Korea led 82 to 59 – their bronze medal victory now very much a formality.
Martínez decided to leave his starters back on the court, hoping their combined power could make up for the talent gap between the two teams. It somehow worked, the Puerto Ricans managing to scrap a few points from the massive deficit – helped as well by some lazy plays from South Korea as they probably started celebrating too early. The struggle to keep focused was an issue for the Koreans all throughout, and it became apparent late in the 4th when another clutch shot from Vera managed to bring their opponents back within eight. They wouldn’t be denied, though – a jump shot from Seol and a late 3-pointer from sharpshooter Mok allowing them to ride out the Puerto Ricans’ Hail Mary, one last shot from Ricardo Rodriguez (Black Barbary Lion, G) ending in the rafters as the South Koreans celebrated their first Olympic medal ever in co-ed basketball.
An elated Lee Jin-Sung was the first to reach the press zone, a big flag draped across his shoulders as he commented his satisfaction at conquering such a high target. “This is a historic day for basketball in South Korea. We have defeated massive odds on our way to this incredible result, and I know what happened on the court today will be of inspiration to a generation of young Korean ballers.”
South Korea wins the bronze medal against Puerto Rico, 98-86; Seol Eunyoung earns Player of the Game honors with 17 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 1 block.
-I. Grammel, FurryOlympics.com