“I thought it was a challenge, and I was prepared to take the consequences, because that’s how you dream.”
Lee Dae-sung, a free agent in professional basketball, was unwavering in his decision to play overseas. In a phone interview with KBS, the word he mentioned most often was “dream,” not money. Lee, who became a free agent after the 2022-2023 season with Korea Gas Corporation, is currently one of the ‘unsigned players’. He is aiming to play in the Australian League.
“I gave up my FA contract to play in Australia…my club supports me”
Under the current FA system, once a player is announced as a free agent immediately after the end of the season, there is a 15-day period of voluntary negotiation between clubs and players. Players are free to negotiate and sign contracts with any club, including their original team.
If a player is not signed during this period, they will then have three days to receive an expression of interest. If a player receives an offer, they must sign a contract with one of the submitting clubs. If they don’t, they become a ‘refusal to sign’ and are ineligible to play in the KBL for five years. In effect, it’s a five-year ban.
Daegu KOGAS announced on April 20, during the FA’s voluntary negotiation period, that “Lee Dae-sung is challenging to go overseas after consulting with the club, so we did not sign a contract out of respect for the player’s wishes.” Lee thanked the club in an interview with KBS.
“KOGAS and two other clubs contacted 스포츠토토 me, but I told them politely, without asking for any money, that I wanted to go abroad. But even if you don’t sign a free agent contract, if a club makes an offer, you don’t have the option to refuse it, because if you don’t sign, you won’t be able to play for five years. That’s why KOGAS informed other clubs about my challenge to go abroad. They did my job for me.”
■ “For now, I’m willing to take various risks to go overseas”
For Lee to be truly free under the current system, no club would have to submit an offer sheet. But that’s not something he can choose to do, so he’s determined to accept all the consequences with the mindset of a “jinshin dai cheon myung.
“I have a child, I have a family, and I can’t just take a reckless challenge, but I believe that playing in a bigger league will give me a bigger return. Even if a club submits a letter of intent, I’m not going to sign a contract to go overseas, because if I do, I’ll be penalized (suspended), but I’ve been preparing to go overseas with the intention of taking that risk, because that’s how I can dream.”
■ Preparing to go to Australia…3 to 4 teams offered him a year ago, and he’s still trying. “There’s a price to pay for the challenge, but I won’t stop.”
Lee is looking for a team to play for through a local agent in Australia. A year ago, he received offers from three or four teams, including Perth, and he expects that to be possible because he proved his worth as the top domestic scorer in the KBL regular season last season. For now, he is thinking of Australia rather than Japan.
“Like Ryu Hyun-jin in baseball and Son Heung-min in soccer, I think Korean basketball needs to have players who challenge themselves in bigger leagues to be competitive, but in the current free agency system, I think there’s a price to pay, but I’m still going to challenge myself. Someone has to take a hit, so they can find a better way.”
Lee’s goal is not just for Australia, but also for his fellow Korean basketball juniors and peers. With the paths of big names like Choi Joon-yong, Oh Se-geun, and Yang Hong-seok now decided, all eyes are on Lee to see if there will be a KBL player who challenges the Australian league or if he will stay in the KBL.