For sports fans, the name “Kim Min-jae” conjures up images of South Korea’s national soccer team defense nucleus Kim Min-jae (27-Naples). But there is also a Kim Min-jae (20) in men’s volleyball. The middle blocker is an immensely talented player who started playing volleyball late in his freshman year at Inha University and earned his taegeuk within five years. We met him in Manama, Bahrain, where the 2023 Asian Men’s Volleyball Club Championship is being held.
An unconventional path to the pros
Kim’s start in volleyball was unusually late. “My mother was absolutely against sports,” he explains, although he was scouted for various sports in elementary school due to his good physical condition. “When I was in the third grade of middle school, I was playing volleyball in a sports club, and I was already 188 centimeters tall at the time. Inha University was looking for middle school students to play volleyball because there were too few players to compete, and I was selected. My mother also thought about my academic performance and didn’t object at that time,” he laughs.
His talent exploded, but the thin player pool at Inha University made it difficult for him to get into a prestigious volleyball program, as he had never won a national championship. In the 2021-2022 rookie draft, he was selected by Korean Air with the first pick in the second round and the eighth overall. “There was a lot of advice around me to go to college because of my short career, but if I couldn’t go to a prestigious university, I wanted to go straight to the pros,” Kim explains.
This turned out to be a godsend. Under the systematic management and training of a professional, Kim Min-jae’s skills improved dramatically. In his second year, in the 2022-2023 season, he quickly became a top middle blocker, ranking third in fastball (63.67%) and seventh in blocks (0.521 per set).
“Earning a spot on the national team” 메이저놀이터
Now, Kim will join the national team at the Jincheon Athletes’ Village. The team will compete at the 2023 Asian Volleyball Confederation (AVC) Challenger in Taiwan in July. The team is missing middle blockers Shin Young-seok (37-KEPCO) and Choi Min-ho (35-Hyundai Capital). Instead, Kim Min-jae, Kim Gyu-min (33-Korean Air), Kim Jun-woo (23-Samsung Fire), Park Joon-hyuk (26-Woori Card), and Lee Sang-hyun (24-Woori Card) were selected.
Kim Gyu-min is expected to take one of the starting middle blocker spots, while Kim Min-jae and others will compete for the other spot. “When I go to Jincheon, I want to practice like crazy to win the starting spot, because it means that I will be recognized. I’m excited to join the national team,” said Kim.
At the end of the interview, he talked about his soccer counterpart, Kim Min-jae. “I used to think, ‘I wonder if Kim Min-jae knows there’s a Kim Min-jae in volleyball,'” he said, adding, “I want to do my best so that I can be on an equal footing with him.”