His name is the same as that of a national soccer player, and his uniform number is the same as that of a basketball emperor. This is the story of Kim Min-jae (1m95cm, Korean Air), the ’20-year-old monster’ that appeared on the volleyball board.
Korean Air, the defending champion, is cruising toward its third consecutive victory, taking the lead this season as well. It is thanks to the national team members such as Han Seon-su, Jung Ji-seok, Kwak Seung-seok, and Lim Dong-hyuk, who have been working together for a long time. A new power has been added here. This is Kim Min-jae, a middle blocker in his second year as a high school graduate.
Kim Min-jae started all 24 games the team played. All personal records, such as 3rd place in fast attacks (62.0%) and 8th place in blocking 스포츠토토 (0.533 per set), were all ranked high. Although he makes frequent mistakes due to his lack of experience, he is active using his excellent flying ability. His birthday isn’t over and he’s still 19 years old by himself, but he’s passed his older brothers in the lead.
Kim Min-jae, whom I recently met at the Korean Air Gymnasium in Yongin, Gyeonggi-do, said, “I’ve never measured the height of my jumps. I’ve been doing various sports such as track and field since elementary school. I think I naturally developed my motor nerves and improved my jumping ability.”
Kim Min-jae was a hot topic from the time he joined. As a junior at Inhabu High School, he chose to go pro instead of going to college, and was nominated as the first pick in the second round. In volleyball, it is common to go to college rather than go straight to the pro after graduating from high school. Besides, he has the same name as soccer player Kim Min-jae (Napoli). Like defender Kim Min-jae (1m90cm), he has a good physique, and his main job is to block opponent attacks.
Kim Min-jae said, “I don’t really look for names on portal sites,” and added, “He’s on a level that I can’t compare to. I don’t know if he knows my name. It’s an honor to be compared just because we have the same name.” He continued, “He also watches highlight videos and game broadcasts. He plays for the national team, and I envy him playing overseas.”
The uniform number is another name for an athlete. The Korean Volleyball Federation has expanded the uniform number from this season to 99, which was limited to 20. Kim Min-jae, who used number 4 last year, changed to number 23 following Michael Jordan. Kim Min-jae, who was born in 2003, when Jordan retired for the third time with the Washington Wizards, said, “Of course, I have never seen Jordan play. But I have seen highlights on YouTube. I also looked for quotes.”
The reason Kim Min-jae made Jordan his idol was because of Korean Air coach Tommy Tilikhainen (Finland). Kim Min-jae explained, “The manager calls me MJ (Minjae), which is the same initial as Jordan. I naturally searched for Jordan, and since he is the best player, I changed my uniform number.” Some volleyball players wear basketball shoes, but Kim Min-jae does not wear ‘Air Jordan’. Kim Min-jae laughed, saying, “Our team sponsor brand.”
Kim Min-jae is late for volleyball. He wasn’t on the volleyball team until middle school. Kim Min-jae said, “I did my best in sports club activities. I did everything I could at school. I played basketball, soccer, flying disc, kabaddi, futsal, and volleyball. I also received an offer to become a kickboxer.”
He started playing volleyball in the third year of Bupyeong-dong Middle School, which he did not play as a player against the objection of his parents. He didn’t even know the names of seniors like Han Seon-soo and Jung Ji-seok. Kim Min-jae recalled, “I passed 1m90cm in my 3rd year of middle school. In Inhasa University High School, there were many friends like me who started playing volleyball for the first time. So I got along well with my classmates. It was fun to be able to play from the 1st grade.”
Although his volleyball career is short, coach Tillikainen took notice of Kim Min-jae’s potential. Coach Jang Kwang-gyun also helped him for his lack of basic skills. Min-jae Kim, who played in the final match of the regular season in his first year as a pro, scored 18 points. And he has been a starting player since the opening game this season. Kim Min-jae said, “(Han Seon-jun, Yoo Kwang-woo) help me a lot. The coach emphasizes ‘do it with confidence.’
The reaction of the fans to the appearance of a large middle blocker prospect who appeared after a long time is also hot. In the all-star fan vote, he proudly placed second in the men’s division. Kim Min-jae said, “It’s my second year as a pro, and I was very surprised that you gave me so much love. Thank you so much.” Senior Jeong Han-yong teased, “I checked the fan vote two or three times a day.” Kim Min-jae said, “After listening to the ceremony fans want through the club’s YouTube, we will show it at the All-Star Game (29th).”
Kim Min-jae tasted the joy of winning as soon as he joined. Kim Min-jae said, “Just talking about the championship game gives me goosebumps. (Last season) I didn’t play, but it was an indescribably great game. This time, of course, I want to play. I will contribute to Korean Air’s treble (cup, regular league, championship championship).”