It can't be easy for a 7'4", 325-pound teenager to hide out in
L.A., but Ha Seung-Jin has succeeded. For the last month the
18-year-old South Korean--nicknamed Ha-quille O'Neal--has been
lying low there, readying himself, under the auspices of SFX
Sports agency, for the NBA draft in June. "He's a surefire
first-round pick," says former Bulls center Will Perdue, an SFX
client who's been working Ha out at UCLA. "As the saying goes,
You can't teach height."
Scouts aren't allowed to contact Ha until he declares himself
eligible for the draft, but SI got a peek last week. A tree trunk
of a guy with teeth that jut out like Austin Powers's, Ha is
basketball's International Man of Mystery. He became a semilegend
in the Far East by leading Samil Commerce High to 22 straight
wins and four tournament titles. Ha has a thicker upper body than
7'6", 310-pound Rockets center Yao Ming, whom he faced in
September at the Asian Basketball Championships. Ha got four
quick points but committed four fouls in four minutes and sat the
rest of the game. Afterward, Yao shook his hand and said, "See
you in the NBA."
Living in an apartment near UCLA with his father, Ha
Dong-Ki--who's 6'8'' and a former Korean national team center--Ha
does drills each morning, lifts weights each afternoon and finds
competition where he can. "The kid is huge!" reports 6'10",
240-pound Nets forward Eddie Griffin, also an SFX client, who
faced him in a pickup game last month. "He's harder to move than
a house." He's also only slightly faster than one. Says an NBA
scout who saw Ha in Asia, "He's got a soft touch and nice post-up
moves, but he's a project and desperately needs conditioning."
Conditioning is a foreign concept in Korean hoops. "We want him
to improve his strength and stamina before we show him to
anybody," says agent John Kim. "The hope is he'll make a splash
at the predraft camp in May."
Until then Ha will be hanging in L.A.'s Koreatown (where he signs
autographs SEOUL BROTHER); playing with his pet turtles, Neo and
Tobi; and learning English. So far he has two phrases down:
"Damn, you're fine" and "You're really hot." He also has an
interpreter, through whom he told SI on Friday, "I want to be the
first Korean in the NBA."
COLOR PHOTO: AFP/GETTY IMAGES BIG EAST The 7'4" Ha's high school exploits made him famous across Asia.