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(LEAD) 'Cool Kiz on the Block' turns volleyball into eye-candy sport

All Headlines 18:27 March 02, 2016

(ATTN: UPDATES with more comments throughout; ADDS photo)
By Park Sojung

SEOUL, March 2 (Yonhap) -- "Cool Kiz on the Block," a KBS 2TV reality show, has elevated volleyball to a new height -- aesthetically.

Eight male celebrities have been recruited for Team Cool Kiz, and they include actors Oh Man-seok, Jo Dong-hyuk, Lee Jae-yoon and Japanese model Ryohei Otani.

Two of them -- Otani and rookie actor Hak Jin -- are former volleyball pros. Otani started volleyball in fourth grade and played for a professional team in Osaka, Japan, until college. Hak Jin has much the same history, having played professionally for 10 years until a knee injury forced him to quit.

Hand-picked by a former volleyball star, Kim Se-jin, they represent the best and the brightest volleyball players in Korean entertainment, producer Kim Hae-ryong said Wednesday.

"Besides Hak Jin and Ryohei, none of the team members have learned volleyball formally," he told reporters at KBS Sports World in Seoul. "It's a difficult sport for amateurs.... But I was blown away by their stamina after two matches."

Contrary to his initial concerns that the players may not be good enough, Kim said he's found the opposite to be true.

"We're having a hard time finding an equally competitive team in the country," he said.

At Wednesday's shoot, the Cool Kiz played against one of the nation's top junior volleyball teams from Gyeonghae Girls' Middle School in Jinju, North Gyeongsang Province.

When asked about the players' strengths individually, Kim noted that comedian Kang Ho-dong, a Cool Kiz fixture of three years, has retained his "athletic talent" despite what his heavy physique might suggest. Kang competed in "ssireum," or Korean wrestling, professionally in the 1980s and 90s.

Singer Jota will vie for a second Cool Kiz title after killing the men's 73 kg judo competition on the same program in December.

"I wonder what my life would've been like had I not done judo on 'Cool Kiz,'" Jota, whose popularity soared since the program's judo episodes last month, said. "I've been holding fan meetings in Japan and Korea since. I'll continue to try my best so as not to disappoint."

Competitive this team of celebrities may be, however, producer Kim said without former volleyball player and current coach Kim Se-jin's help, there would have been no Cool Kiz volleyball team.

"Koreans equate volleyball with Kim Se-jin so I asked him to be on the show. At first, he refused," the producer recalled. "We'd pestered him for three months. We told him if he didn't join us, we wouldn't create a volleyball team."

Eventually, coach Kim gave in, in what the producer believes was a move to promote volleyball in Korea.

"I think he had a mission to popularize volleyball in the country," he said. "He made a big decision to restore the sport's glory from the 1980s and 90s."

Kangnam, a Korean-Japanese member of the South Korean hip-hop group M.I.B., was brimming with confidence at the news conference, pointing to his intramural beach volleyball experience in Hawaii.

"I'm better (at volleyball) than you'd think," he said, adding he may be No. 1 or 2 after Hak Jin and Otani. "You can't play well if you're not confident."

Actor Oh, who proved his capabilities as both a sportsman and an entertainer in "Cool Kiz" last month, said he decided to stay on the program because he loves ball sports.

"I've always loved sports, especially ball sports," he said. "Volleyball is fun in that your team loses the moment you let the ball touch the floor. Someone has to save that ball and that requires many people to move at once."

Teamwork is another quality to look out for when watching volleyball, he added.

"Another limit in volleyball is that each player can't touch the ball more than once," he said. "So even if some players are good individually, other players have to be involved. The sport requires more teamwork than any other sport."

"Cool Kiz on the Block" airs on Tuesday at 11:10 p.m., South Korean time.

sojungpark@yna.co.kr
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