The Japan Times will be featuring periodic interviews with players in the bj-league — Japan’s first professional basketball circuit — which is in its second season. Yukinori Suzuki of the Oita HeatDevils is the subject of this week’s profile.
OITA HEATDEVILS PHOTO
Position: Point guard
Height: 181 cm
Weight: 70 kg
Hometown: Kanagawa Pref.
Q: Your team is in the fourth place at 16-12 in the standings through last weekend. How do you assess your season so far?
Suzuki: At the beginning of the season, we were like, we would win one and then lose the next, or lost two in a row (in a series). But as we played more games and the season wore on, we started winning in consecutive games and playing with our actual ability.
Q: Who is your favorite NBA player?
I don’t really watch the NBA, though, I like (Denver Nuggets guard Allen) Iverson. But it is more from a fan’s standpoint. I like to watch him and admire his abilities, particularly in scoring.
Q: What is the best compliment you’ve ever received from a coach, teammate or opponent?
Earlier this season, in a game against my ex-team Niigata (Albirex BB), my former coach (Masaya) Hirose told me, “You’ve become the most technical guard in bj.” I told him that he wouldn’t get any reward for saying that, though (laughs). But he was whom I previously played for and have so much respect, so I was pleased about it.
Q: How enjoyable is it to be a part of the bj-league during its infancy?
I had played in the (JBL) Super League, and have found the biggest difference (between it and the bj-league) is the entertaining aspect and the fact that there is no limit on the number of foreign players. It’s fun to match up with foreigners, which you don’t see often in the JBL. Also, the bj-league games are played in a home-and-away format and the boosters of the home teams get really enthusiastic in supporting them. That gives us an extra boost and motivation. I think it is totally different from corporate sports.
Q: What has Oita coach Dai Oketani done to help you become a better basketball player?
Not particularly (anything specific), but he trusts me. I have opportunities to consult with him, though. But I always try to become a better player, competing with wonderful guards like (Tsubasa) Yonamine and (Ryosuke) Mizumachi. As a result, I’d like to get better.
Q: Who is your favorite basketball player of all time? Why?
(JBL Aisin Sea Horses and Japan national guard Kenichi) Sako-san. When I was playing in the Super League, I couldn’t do anything against him. I remember when he body-faked, I couldn’t even foul him and then fell onto the floor. Yet, no matter which league I am playing in, I’d like to try to pursue and surpass players around me.
Q: In your own words, what characteristics define your style of play?
I’m not the kind of guy who aggressively attacks the basket. I’m more of a player who uses his brain, tries to find a space to take a shot and to control the game so his teammates can play smoothly.
Q: What has been your biggest thrill, your most unforgettable moment, on the basketball court?
I was thrilled when we won an intercollegiate tournament championship and also when I was selected in the Japan national team for the Universiade Games when I was in my junior year. Playing with (JBL’s Mitsubishi Melco Dolphins forward Atsushi) Ohno and (JBL’s Panasonic Super Kangaroos center Fumihiko) Aono, it became a great treasure for me, and it led to a confidence in me.
Q: What hobbies do you enjoy when you are not playing basketball?
I love to go to onsen (hot springs) and playing golf. For onsen, if you walk around randomly, you’ll find an onsen in Oita (laughs).
Q: Who is the most underrated player on your team?
It’s Yonamine. He’s great. He’s been playing at point guard, too, and has good vision on the court. Guard players tend to look closer at the beginning, but he can see further. He can also predict what kind of game it is going to be. He is a guy that cannot be missed from our team.
Q: Who is the exciting player in the bj-league to watch?
I’d say our player (big man) Andy Ellis and Osaka’s (Evessa) Lynn Washington. If I have to pick from players that I feel fun to match up with, (Toyama Grouses’) Nile Murry or (Osaka’s) Matt Lottich. (Niigata’s Makoto) Hasegawa is also great. He may have lost his play of his prime, but he is still good at battle tactics, and he is a clutch player and can drive the lane. I believe he is still a top-level player.