'Not scary' - North, South Koreans bond over basketball

The success of a joint Korean basketball team showed the two sides of the divided peninsula can work together, a South Korean player said Sunday, saying she'd realised North Koreans aren't "scary" after all.

Kim Han-byul -- who was born Kimberly Roberson to a Korean mother and an American father in Indiana -- was speaking after Unified Korea thrashed Thailand 106-63 to set up a semi-final clash with Taiwan at the Asian Games on Thursday.

She said there had been hurdles to overcome when the women's team got together, but they were now aiming for the podium.

"Our aim is to get a medal. We only got together for a short time so that was an obstacle; you need to build a chemistry in sport. There is a little language barrier, like the dialect is different," Kim told reporters.

"But anything can happen. Peace on the court, peace everywhere," she said with a smile.

The highly symbolic all-Korean squad are also fielding united teams in canoeing and rowing at the Asian Games, in the latest sign of thawing relations on the troubled peninsula.

They won an Asian Games gold medal together for the first time in their history on Sunday, with victory in the women's 500 metres dragon boating.

- 'Normal girl talk' -

Describing the joint squad as a "huge deal", Kim said her perceptions have changed while sharing a locker room with the North Koreans.

"The people on both sides are the same. They are not scary or anything like portrayed on the internet," she said.

"We have been focusing on just the basketball bit. But yeah, it's been the normal girl talk with them. Food is also common between us."

Her North Korean team-mates had been showing her pictures of their country, she added. "They were beautiful."

Head coach Lee Moon-kyu said communication between the athletes, who include recently-arrived Las Vegas Aces player Jisu Park, has improved since their loss to Taiwan in the early stages.

"After the game (with) Taiwan the players communication has got better and they have improved their passing ability and they are becoming faster," said Lee.

A few hundred Korean fans -- many sporting T-shirts bearing the unified Korean flag -- cheered on the team.

Younghoon Ju, a 30-year-old software engineer from South Korea, told AFP a Unified Korean team was important for both the Koreas.

"I heard they just had two weeks to practise before the Games, and here they are making it into the semi-finals. I am impressed," he said.

"In this kind of sports events having a united team will be meaningful for both our countries."