Basketball has found new legs in Japan. The sport’s recent growth in popularity has been carried by the Basketball Japan League (BJ League). The BJ League hit the ground running in 2005 and hasn’t let up since. Each year it’s expanded its reach and potential at a nearly unprecedented rate. Though it’s not a new sport in Japan, the BJ League is taking advantage of unclaimed fans and market and basketball is preparing to take off.
Fukuoka has its own powerful club in the mix, the Fukuoka Rizing are battling for yet another playoff appearance in the tough western division. Reigning league scoring champion Michael Parker captains an internationally talented team with players from America, Brazil, China, and of course Japan.
Basketball as an organized spectator sport has been in Japan for decades. The Japan Basketball League (JBL) has been playing games since 1967. It’s a “corporate” league with teams sponsored by major corporations. While not without talent, the JBL is about marketing first followed by basketball; players run up and down the court like moving billboards and little has been done to improve the level of competition.
There are eight teams in the JBL and another nine in the JBL2 (the B-talent level). Teams are restricted to having only a single foreigner on the court during the games. Up until this year the ruling basketball body, the Japan Basketball Association (JBA), had only allowed players from the JBL to tryout for the national team.
But basketball in Japan has been stagnant; by world standards Japan’s level of basketball has been next to nonexistent. The last time Japan sent a basketball team to the Olympics was the Montreal games in 1976. Basketball in Japan remains a background sport behind the long shadows of Yakyu, soccer, and sumo; even golf, volleyball, figure skating and marathons get more media coverage.
The absence of basketball isn’t the fault of the sport or Japan. Japan loves sports, but with basketball the JBL had become comfortable in its niche and role as a minor sport. Hoping to set about an evolution, the BJ League stepped onto the national stage.
2005 New Kids on the Block
Starting with six teams in the inaugural season, the BJ League has expanded at an average rate of two expansion teams every year. This season there are sixteen teams spread evenly into East and West divisions. Next season the rate doubles with four new teams joining from Iwate, Chiba, Nagano and Kanagawa prefectures. That’s more teams than Nippon Professional Baseball (12) and J. League soccer (18, first division). What’s more, those four expansion teams are the finalists out of a reported ten requests. There’s still growing demand. Cities want their own basketball team.
The ideas propelling the creation of Japan’s first independent professional basketball league were simple and remain relatively unchanged. Like Starbucks realizing people will shell out cash for cappuccinos, the BJ League is here today because of an untapped market and untapped resource. The pitch was simple. High level basketball competition will sell in Japan. Since Japan’s basketball level is low, bring in more foreign talent and let the public see what basketball at an advanced level looks like.
Their rate of expansion has confounded critics and the talent level has steadily increased. No longer viewed as the league where the JBL castoffs went to make a living; this summer the JBA announced that for the first time players from the BJ League were welcome to try out for the national team. How has the BJ League managed to expand while not diluting the talent throughout the league?
1. The BJ League allows for more foreign born players on the rosters and more on the court during games, thus increasing the talent level and depth.
2. There are more games, more teams, and more varieties of opponents.
3. The Japanese players have become better.
Most of the Americans and other imported talent are able to play at the NBA developmental league level. In any sport one of the quickest ways to improve is to play against players better than yourself. To keep up the Japanese players have really only one option and that’s to elevate their own game. And it has worked. And there’s a trickle down effect that goes all the way down to the kids on the dusty school grounds. The more competitive basketball in Japan is, the better the players in the BJ League will become. Better players means a stronger national team, more media coverage, more role models, and more kids picking up basketballs instead of baseball gloves and soccer spikes. All of which means stronger better basketball in the future.
These franchises have been selling like hot cakes. Basketball really is one of the most exciting sports to watch. You don’t need a huge venue to play games like in baseball and soccer. It’s fast paced and combines speed, power, grace, strategy and artistry when done right. Plus instead of representing companies, teams in the BJ League represent cities and prefectures. Even the pro-baseball teams in Japan have corporate labels plastered all over the place. But fans can go to the BJ League games and instead of cheering for team Toshiba or team Toyota, they’re chanting for Fukuoka or Oita, and deep down they’re cheering for themselves.
In 2007 the BJ League’s expansion included the Ryukyu Golden Kings and the Fukuoka Rizing. John Neumann was brought in to coach the Rizing in their inaugural season. From the same mold as Bobby Knight, Neumann was coarse, loud, and at times vulgar during his tenure, but the man knew basketball. He shaped the team into a defensive machine focused on forcing turnovers and speeding up the game. Neumann took home BJ League Coach of the Year award for the ’07-’08 season as the Rizing reached the playoffs that year. The team would make their second playoff appearance the following season as well.
Ogawa Tadaharu was brought over from the Oita HeatDevils to replace Neumann for the ’09-’10 season. With a calmer approach and more hospitable atmosphere, the Rizing have blossomed into an offensive power house. Though they still consider themselves a defensively oriented team, the Rizing pushed a fast pace well coordinated offense to a 30-22 record in ’09-’10 lead by Michael Parker who lead the league in points per game (26.4) and steals per game (2.8). This year Parker is again topping a high scoring offense and the Rizing have a talented group of veterans, youngsters, foreigners, and Japanese players as they try to make it four playoff runs in a row with their eyes on the championship title.
The Rizing game plan is simple: Run. On offense they’re quick to attack, quick to pass, and if given the chance love a fast break. Defensively the concept is the same. Their goal is to make the other team try to match their speed and intensity. They want their opponents to try to keep up with them on both sides of the court. Most teams find that a tall order.
With only five returning players from last season, one of the focal points of the team this year was quickly improving teamwork and communication. Coach Ogawa said after twelve games into this season that, “Communication has improved, but continuing to improve it remains one of our chief concerns. The most important thing we focus on is staying mentally strong. We’ve had difficulties with ups and downs and running out of energy. When we lose the lead in a game the team’s energy can drop. It’s important for us to communicate and keep that from happening.”
At the center of the on and off court conversation is 28 year old guard Nakanishi Jun. In his second stint with the Rizing, Nakanishi serves as the team interpreter as well as an on court leader drawing from a wealth of experience. He’s a veteran of the BJ League with around 200 games for three different organizations to his resume.
Nakanishi returned to the Rizing after a year with three time BJ League champions the Osaka Evessa and was accompanied by talented and physically gifted point guard Nile Murray. Murray pushes the offense up the court and mixes quick hands with pure athleticism. A product out of TCU, Murray’s speed opens up opportunities to score quick buckets as well covers the entire court defensively.
Guard Takeno Akitomo is short enough to make Allen Iverson look tall, but outside the 3-point arc he’s got a quick release and sharpshooter’s eye. Brazilian center Thiago Cordeiro has a wingspan like a condor that he uses to clean the glass and block shots. Rookie P.R. Henderson brings some Tennessee muscle to the floor. While he’s often the biggest guy in the game, his size belies his quickness. He’s light on his feet with a fast first step and he has range that most other big men would envy. In his first pro season P.R. is regular contributor and has a high ceiling of potential. Forward Chen Haimo has been playing basketball for fifteen years in Japan. He was scouted out of high school, and is one of the most experienced players on the Rizing. Better yet, he’s become a naturalized Japanese citizen so he can play at any time without counting towards the foreign player cap.
And then of course there’s team captain Michael Parker. Parker joined the team their first season. He showed talent, but it was in his sophomore year that he flourished and he’s been a staple atop the league scoring chart ever since. A regular at the all star games, he says that he’s been told that the secret to his success is that he doesn’t over think things. He feels out the plays and the shots. Sounds something like a Jedi mind-trick, but it’s worked so far and there aren’t any signs that teams are figuring out how to stop him.
The Rizing are at team committed to winning. They’re not selfish, they run hard, they attack on both sides of the court, and they look like they’re enjoying themselves, which translates off the court and into the stands. If they can continue to play most of their games in the city then their crowds are going to swell. Right now they have a cult following, but winning and intense match-ups will equal growth in the attendance. They have enough talent to go all the way this season which would be just the right medicine after the Hawks collapse in the Climax Series.
How long have you been in Japan?
Dec 26th will be the start of my 4th year.
Where were you before you joined the Rizing?
Well, my first year out of college I went to Austria and then I went to Ireland and then I played two years in the minor leagues in the USA in Bellingham Washington and then I played another summer league in Portland and then I came to Fukuoka.
Why come to Fukuoka?
Well to start out, they were the team that gave me the chance to come over. Other teams in other leagues gave me offers, but I was playing minor leagues in the United States and I thought wanted to stay. But when I got a couple good offers I figured that I’d try a different place and Japan was obviously where I wanted to go. So I figured I’d come here and then every year they’ve always made me good offers and very respectable deals so I might as well stay instead of try to change.
Why were you interested in Japan to begin with?
Well actually my mom met my dad in Japan in Okinawa. It was always a place I wanted to go. I always liked the culture. My mom taught me how to use chopsticks and she loved the culture too so it was something I always knew about. I always thought that playing basketball in Japan would be really cool.
What are the differences between Japanese basketball and American basketball?
The number one difference would be the physicalness of the game. In America we’re a lot more physical. There’s a lot more things you can do like bumping and hitting. In Japan it’s more of a finesse game. But in our game there’s three Americans on the floor and I basically always go up against Americans. I never really get to guard a Japanese player or go against them too much. For me it’s pretty much the same. Everyone here is pretty high level in basketball.
The game seems quicker here compared with the NBA.
In the States it’s a lot of slow downs. Power versus power. Here we try to run a lot, get moving. A lot of steals and quickness. In the States it’s more big guy versus big guy. Who’s the biggest? Who’s the strongest? Here whoever is the fastest can come across as a better player.
Do the referees speak any English?
Some of them speak English. Some of them are American. But basketball is a universal language. A foul’s a foul, a travel’s a travel. If you’re yelling at someone they know why, if you talk nice to someone they understand. I try to use very basic words and ask them questions. I’m the team captain so that’s also part of my job; to have a good communication with the referees. So if something happens I can ask them, “Well, why’d you call that, but then you didn’t call it here?” Just to make them aware of what’s going on.
Since coming to Japan has your basketball game changed at all?
It’s gotten better. I’ve gotten a lot better. I didn’t expect the league to be as good as it was when I first came. I saw some very good players and I wasn’t quite on that level. I was around that level, but I could tell that they were a little better than me. They gave me good goals to try to get better and better.
Is there any differences in training styles in Japan versus America?
Our conditioning coach is Japanese. What he’s done is taken some of the things we, the foreigner players, do like lifting weights, lifting for power, and some of the things he knows about like static weight where you do bridges and use resistance bands and added it together. We train as a team. We take a little bit from everything. But our warm ups and our stretching are definitely Japanese style.
How do you feel basketball is being received in Japan?
It’s growing. Obviously baseball is number one, but I love baseball too. I understand baseball, a lot of people think it’s boring, but you have to understand that it’s a situation game, you have to wait for certain situations to do things. I was pretty surprised to see that soccer is big here. I didn’t realize soccer was as big. But basketball is growing and as far as Fukuoka and basketball it’s getting better. We have a lot of people who come and we have a lot of very loyal fans. We have a lot of new people who come to watch and once we get them to come watch once they stay. Basketball is an exciting game and it’s easy to get fans once you get them to the gym. The trick is getting them to the gym.
How do you help promote the league?
We hold clinics at schools. We teach them a little bit. Play with them a little bit. We did a lot of clinics where we did training camp this year. Sometimes we’ll go to where they have games just to say, “Hi.” With the kids there’s a lot of mini-basket. Sometimes they’ll play before our games and we’ll watch them. Kids are important. They’re a lot of the main driving force. If the kids come to the games the parents come too.
What’s the Rizing game plan?
On offense we try to run the court a lot. Score a lot of points. We’re the number one offense in the league we average about 90 points per game. We try to run and get up a lot of shots. That’s our main strategy. On defense we try to trap. We try to speed the other team up to our pace. That’s basically our whole team strategy, to make the other team play as fast as we play. Most teams aren’t accustomed to playing that fast so mess up, turn it over, they always have a problem keeping up.
How does Ogawa’s coaching style differ from coach Neumann’s?
Ogawa was here last year. This is his second year. They have completely opposite coaching styles. Neumann was a very do it his way, yell at you, get in your face, bring out the best in you in a negative way. Ogawa’s completely opposite. Everything is positive, which works out because when he has something negative to say you really listen to it. It fits this team a little better. We’re winning a little more often now. Neumann definitely laid the foundation, basketball-wise for the team, but Ogawa’s taken that and molded it into the next level, I believe.
Who’s the most vocal player on the team, not including yourself?
The most vocal Japanese player on our team would have to be Kimi (Kimi Daisuke). He’s always talking and having fun. He’s very good at that. He tries to keep everybody loose.
As far as vocal leader on the court I have to say J (Nakanishi Jun), he’s one of our leaders because he speaks both English and Japanese. So he has to always be in the middle of everything. He has to stay focused and know what’s going on. And when he talks everyone knows to listen because either way he’s getting a message across; from us to them or them to us. I speak some Japanese and some of the Japanese players speak some English, but when you need to actually say something you go through him.
How have you handled communication issues on the court?
Well, you just try to use words that are familiar with you. So if someone is coming up to screen you on the right and you say, “Right, right, right,” and they still get hit by a screen, you have to figure out how to say right in Japanese. And at the same time that player needs to figure out that right means ‘right side.’ So you learn migi migi, and he learns right and then you can say either migi or right and he knows that’s what coming up.
What do you try to do on the court?
I like to try to get my teammates open. I feel like if I really want to score I can score at any time, but I like to get my teammates involved, because if your team’s involved then that’s when as a whole you’re playing better. Honestly, on the court I’m kind of the opposite of a lot of people. I try to not think about anything. I try to blank it out and just play off of reaction. I don’t sit there and say to myself, “I have to score this amount of points,” or “I have to score when I have the ball.” If I feel it then I’ll do it, but I try not to force it. Someone explained it to me why I can score so many points, it’s because I do it by feeling instead of willing myself to score points. If you try to will your way into scoring it’s too much pressure, if you do it by feeling it just sort of comes naturally.
Who were your favorite basketball players when you were growing up?
Of course Jordan. I grew up in the Jordan era so it has to be Jordan. When Penny Hardaway was young he was crazy good. Before he hurt his back and knee, a lot of people don’t remember that he was one of the best players.
Did you have any culture shock when you first came over?
A little bit, but I kind of knew what to expect just from my mom. But everybody was really respectful. It was really easy. I did have culture shock when I went to Europe though. It’s funny because you’d think a European culture is closer to American culture than Japanese culture is, but actually I prefer the Japanese culture over the European culture. In Europe they were very rude and I just notice here they’re people are more respectful. As an American you’re not used to people being that respectful so that’s why people have culture shock in Japan. It’s like, “Why is everyone so scared?” and it’s not that they’re scared, they’re just being respectful. Once you figure that out it’s pretty easy.
What do you like to do in Fukuoka?
I like to go out to eat regularly. Fukuoka has great very good food, very good seafood, very good…all types of different foods. From being here so long I know many restaurants. I like to go out to eat and I definitely like to go out and have a good time. There’s a great party scene here in Fukuoka. I always go out and have a good time.I’ll go see a movie, just normal stuff, nothing too extravagant, obviously shopping too.
What’s your favorite Japanese food?
Maybe the ramen, the Hakata-style ramen. I really enjoy that. Everywhere else I’ve been in Japan doesn’t really have it. It doesn’t taste the same, it’s not the same soup.
What can’t you eat here?
I’m not too much of a vegetable eater. So, some of the fried stuff with a lot of vegetables I won’t eat, but anything with meat, I’m good.
What about raw meat?
I’m a fan of sushi. I like salmon sushi, it’s my favorite. But I’ll eat the white fish…
I was thinking more along the lines of bashashi.
The raw horse? Oh, I’ve tried it…it’s not bad…
But you don’t have to eat it?
Exactly. I tried it to try it.
Who’s the shortest player in the league?
I think there’s a player with Sendai. He’s way small…
Coming to Japan and joining an expansion team in their first season, what were your expectations?
The weird thing was that I actually came in December, so they had played like twelve games before I came. I checked them out on the Internet and I saw some things. I thought that it looked like a pretty well organized league. I expected the players to be good, but not as good as they were. I didn’t realize how good the other teams would be because I was only in Europe where we only had two Americans in the game. But when I got here there was no limit of how many Americans could play. So we’d be playing four Americans and one Japanese guy. It was definitely a shock to me that some of them could be that good, but it made me want to get better.
But my expectations were, just make sure I get paid on time, and I’ll play the best I can.
When did they change the number of foreign players a team could play at a time?
Last year. And this year they added a new rule where in the second quarter it can only be two foreign players on the court and three Japanese players.
Why start a professional league at all with the JBL established for so long in Japan?
Well, the JBL is what you call a corporate league. What it is is corporations like Toyota feel it’s a marketing thing to have a basketball team. They just dump money into it. They don’t try to make money (through the team) they don’t try to do anything, they just play. The National team players come from the JBL, so there’s only one foreign player on the court because they want it to be a Japanese run league. The BJ League figured there was a niche there. Where if you could bring in really good Americans and have them playing against each other people would want to watch. And if you have them actually representing cities instead of companies people would get behind them. So they took that mold, kind of like the American sports franchises. And they took that mold and they tried it out and it worked really well. And when it started working really well, many cities wanted in. So it happens that so many cities want teams now, because they understand it’s actually their city’s team.
So you’re rooting “Go Fukuoka,” not “Go,” some company…
Exactly and that’s what brings you close with the fans.
How do they decide which cities get expansion teams?
People put in proposals. Just like any business model. They show where they’re gonna play, show their team logos and colors and how they would run it if they got it. They have to show that they have a certain amount of money because it does cost a lot at first before you get fans coming in, you have to have the money to get the players and all that.
How has the BJ League grown in your eyes?
It’s grown a lot. When I got here there were ten teams I believe, now there’s sixteen, next year there’s going to be twenty, so that’s doubled. I can tell the fan-base has gotten way bigger. Like at last year’s all-star game there was something like nine thousand people who sold out the game in Sendai. It was awesome. The year before that in Oita there was a huge amount of people, I can tell there’s a lot of following. TV and media has picked us up more. We had a media day in Tokyo and the true media people were there and the nationwide newspapers were there. We got front-page articles. I can tell that it’s really picking up.
How do you feel the BJ League has affected the talent level of Japanese players?
I think it’s gotten better. The only way to get better is to play against better competition. Most of the young players now after university, they look at the JBL, but they know if they really want to get good they should come to the BJ League. And that’s what they’ve been doing, so they’re getting better. And it shows the high school kids and the little kids a goal to get as good, because if you can get a Japanese player who can dominate the BJ League, I’m pretty sure he could at least go the NBA developmental league and play and do something good. I mean, and I’m talking about the Americans here, we can all go to the D-league and play pretty well. So if someone could come and dominate against us then he could also go there and play if given the chance.
The BJ League just creates an opportunity for them to get better.
How will the BJ League influence the national team?
Well, the reason why the national team isn’t good is because the big guys aren’t strong. They need to face against American big guys all the time. They’re playing against each other and it’s not helping them. Once a couple big guys come and play against us repetitively, week-after-week-after-week, they can’t help but get better. They won’t be outmatched physically and they won’t get overpowered. They’ll get used to it.
Any thoughts on a merger of the JBL and BJ League?
I heard about that. I don’t know how that would actually work because the two leagues are just so difference. I mean, there’s been eight teams in the JBL for so long, they change names but the owner groups stay the same. The BJ League’s expanding, going into new cities, getting new fans, having huge all-star games, and doing all this upper level stuff. The JBL is just kind of content with where they’re at. They’re the corporation league, they know what happens, they have their following. They’re good with that. So, I don’t know how a merger would work. Especially because the rules are so different. We play NBA rules and they play FIBA rules. That’s the first thing. And the second thing they play on hardwood and we play on Sport Court. The third thing is three Americans versus one American, I don’t know how that would work. It’s not like baseball where one team can have a designated hitter and one league can’t. That’s a rule we have to think about. If we have three foreign players and you have one on the court, we have the advantage.
What would you like to see in the future?
I would like to see the BJ League keep expanding. Maybe stopping at about twenty-four teams and then having four divisions of six teams. And then I would like to see it just keep going where it’s going. Maybe more sponsorship, more people getting sponsorships. They’re doing really well. It’s only the sixth year of the league and people know about it. It’s very reputable. People always get paid. That’s something you really worry about whenever you go overseas, getting paid on time. In this league you don’t have to worry about that. For Fukuoka: This year we’re basically playing all of our games in the city. Our first three years we weren’t really in the city. So we’re not a real big fixture here yet. But we’re getting there. People know our name, but they don’t really know much about us or want to come to our games because we haven’t played here in three years. Now, with us playing all our games in the city, it’s picking up every game. Lately we’ve been playing Thursday-Friday, but it’s gonna change to Saturday and Sunday so that will be a big help also. And we’re winning so that’s a help also. It’s picking up in Fukuoka and for the league, it’s expanding and some people don’t like that, but I do. It’s smart, get a lot of teams, get a lot of cities, and just keep it moving.
How has the season been so far? (as of 11/30)
We’re doing very well. The West is a tough division, it’s the best. I think there’s maybe one really tough team in the East and then the rest of the strong teams are in the West, maybe five or six really strong teams. We started out splitting with the number one team in the league. We’ve beaten good teams, lost to some good teams, had a lot of close games which we’ve won and lost. In basketball that’s all you can ask for, just playing close and hard and then you can hit your stride and win a bunch of games in a row; as a good basketball team. And I think that’s what’s happening. We’re really talented, really good, really smart as a team. We’re still coming together. We haven’t played that much together. We have a lot of experience on the team, but we haven’t played that much together. The fan support has been good. It helps it a lot.
How many players are new to the team?
Let’s see, well, this year we only returned five players and we have eleven, so six new players. But out of those six two players have played for Fukuoka before.
Thanks for sitting down with us. Any comment for our readers?
I hope you come out and see us. I really like the magazine. I think it’s really cool that they tell you things to do and stuff to see. It’s good to have the support of FN. I’m happy to be in it.
INTERVIEW: PR, Nile, Chen Thiago
Where are you from?
Chen: I come from Shanghai, China.
Thiago: I come from Brazil, I lived in San Paulo for two years before I moved to the States.
Where did you play prior to joining the Rizing?
PR: I played at the University of Memphis. This is my first year out of college so this is my first year playing professionally.
Nile: I graduated from TCU in 2006. My first team I played for professionally was the Toyama Grouses. Then the next year I went to Europe and played in Hungary. Last season I was in Osaka.
Thiago: Right after college I went for two months in Africa, but Fukuoka was my first contract job.
How long have you been in Japan?
PR: Not even a year. Three or four months.
Chen: Fifteen years of playing basketball.
Thiago: One year and one month.
Did you ever visit Japan before coming over?
PR: No. I’d been to China. Two years ago I played against the national team.
Thiago: No. This is my first time in Asia.
PR: I had a couple of options. I had Poland, Romania, and Japan. It came down to Japan and Poland. For some reason I just picked Japan… they were offering the most money.
Nile: I had been here before. I knew the league. When I decided to come back to Japan I went and played for Osaka. They had just won the championship the year before and I knew a couple of the guys on the team. They were talking to me about coming and playing with them, saying we could maybe win a championship. I felt it was a good opportunity. That’s why I came back to Japan.
Chen: A coach from a high school in Japan came to Shanghai and watched my game. I was recruited to play in Japan.
Thiago: I had an agent. He told me about some offers in Europe, Australia, and here in Japan. I talked with him, went over the goods and bads of each team, and we decided Fukuoka would be the best fit for me.
Nile: It just happened. At the end of the season Osaka kind of broke up the team that we had had for the past few years. As you can see we have a few players on the team now that played for Osaka as well. I was talking to Jun (Nakanishi) to figure out where he was going to go play, and he said he was coming to Fukuoka. I felt it would be good to get on a team that would have somebody that I know. And then I talked to Mike (Parker) a little bit and he said, “Come on over, we’re looking forward to having you.” So I decided to come.
Did you know anyone playing in Japan before you came?
PR: I had heard of a couple of my ex-teammates who had played at the University of Memphis with me. A couple of years ago three players from Memphis came over here and I heard about it.
How has it been so far?
PR: It’s okay. Still getting used to it, but otherwise it’s good.
Thiago: I have enjoyed being in Japan because Fukuoka is a nice city. It’s a big city, but you don’t have the lows of a big city. It’s clean, no crime. People are really nice over here. We always have a fun. We have a nice team. It’s a lot of fun being in Fukuoka.
What kind of culture shock have you experienced?
PR: Food. I don’t eat any Japanese food. I try to eat a lot of American food, like chicken. I go to Trial a lot. I get stuff that seems normal, that’s familiar to me.
Nile: Octopus, takoyaki is alright, but just octopus… I can’t do the raw chicken either. That’s not good. I don’t think that’s good for anybody.
Thiago: I don’t think I had any culture shock, because I’ve been to so many places. In the States I lived in three different areas: Kansas, Arkansas, and Ohio. I’ve been to Africa and many countries in South America. I had a lot of experience with a lot of cultures so I knew what it was like.
One of the things I like about basketball is that it provides this opportunity to me. I can travel the world and play basketball, that’s awesome.
What about Japan do you like?
Nile: I like the people. These are some of the nicest people I’ve been around. Especially coming from the States. People here are polite.
Definitely like the food. Definitely like hanging out with my teammates, it’s probably the best thing. We have something in common so we all get along. These guys are pretty funny. When we go out we have a good time.
I like Yakiniku, that’s my favorite food. Me being from Texas, I love BBQ. You take meat and rice and throw that all together and I’m a happy guy.
What do you do in your free time in Fukuoka?
PR: Sleep, Skype my son, practice, and sleep.
Nile: Besides basketball, sometimes I’ll go out into the city. I’m still trying to figure out my way around because we’ve been on the road a lot. I’ve been doing little stuff, just trying to get prepared. My family is coming in a couple of days, so I’ve been doing a lot of shopping, going to different stores, and checking things out. I still have to do some Christmas shopping.
I do plan on seeing more of the city.
Chen: I go shopping with my friends. I like to watch movies. I’ve been in Fukuoka only three months. I want to meet more people.
Thiago: We’ve been playing and practicing hard. It’s a long season. I do like to rest a lot, watch movies. When I’m not too tired I like to go to Round 1, play some bowling, ping pong, hang out with friends.
What do you try to do on the court?
PR: First I like to work in the post. Like fifteen foot jumpers, I like that. A lot of people don’t realize how quick I am because of my size. When I first came over here I had a lot of weight on me. As the season goes on I’m dropping weight and I’m getting quicker and quicker and my game is coming back to me. So yeah, I like to work around in the inside paint. I can shoot, I can do whatever I need to do.
Nile: Me being the point guard, I try to run the show. I try to get guys the ball. It’s probably been a real blessing for me playing with Michael Parker because he can score so easily. His game, people still haven’t figured him out yet. We got a good group of talent. A lot of guys I’ve played with before or that I played against so I kind of know their game.
When I’m out there I feel like I’m in control. It’s my show to make things happen.
Chen: When I play, I want get points. I’m now Japanese, so I can play in the game whenever.
Tiago: Since I started playing basketball I’ve always been a defensive player. I always was a leading scorer anyway so when I went into games I always wanted to help on defense first. With that in mind I always looked to get stops, block shots, boxing out, stuff like that. As the years went on I learned more on offense too, I started to get more effective on offense. I’m always posting up, I can shoot. I don’t like to plan things out. I like to feel. When I get the ball if I feel like I can cut I’ll cut, shoot and I’ll shoot. I always get the feeling of what I need to do.
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by Matt Schuellein
Originally published in Fukuoka Now magazine (fn145, Jan. 2011)