Basketball star eyes King of the Rock, again
So Yi-chun had to pinch himself when he stepped off the ferry from San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf to the island that houses the notorious prison they called Alcatraz. “It was a dream come true,” says So. “I’d never been to America before and I always wanted to go, and the fact that I was there to play basketball made it even more exciting.”
In the shadows of the walls that once contained the likes of psychopathic gangster Al Capone, So last year represented Hong Kong and Macau in the finals of the international Red Bull King of the Rock series, which pits basketballers against each other in one-on-one match-ups over a frantic five minutes.
The 26-year-old, who suits up weekly as a small forward for Eagles in the local A1 league, was bundled out in the first round of last year’s world finals, losing to his American opponent by just two points. But he says the experience has made him even more determined to win through the final rounds of qualifying for this year’s event, which will be held on Saturday at a makeshift court on a barge positioned at the China Merchants Wharf in Kennedy Town.
The prize, again, is a trip to Alcatraz prison yard court for the final on September 22. There have been seven qualifying events in Hong Kong and Macau, and Saturday’s final field will feature 64 players – including So and under the watchful gaze of Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, the tournament’s official ambassador.
So says the event has helped lift both the skills of local players and the profile of the game here.
“What makes this competition exciting and interesting is that it’s all about yourself,” he says. “You have no teammates. Plus, you are taking on different opponents, sometimes bigger than you, sometimes smaller than you, so you have to constantly change your strategy. It makes you work on your all-round skills, and it provides pure excitement for the fans, too.”
The success of last year’s event – and no doubt the stories So brought back with him from the US – has boosted the number of players involved in the second edition, but So believes he is again up for the challenge.
“I have been practising constantly,” he says. “Every day I’ve been on the court for as long as I can. This year there are more of my friends playing, so that will make me relax more and also make it more fun.”