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. Matt Garrison of the Niigata Albirex BB is the subject of this week’s profile.
NIIGATA ALBIREX PHOTO
Ht: 203 cm;
Wt: 104 kg
Hometown: Billings, Mont.
Q: Based on what your team accomplished last year, finishing as the league runnerup, how would you rate the Albirex’s performance so far this season?
Garrison: I think we have gotten better, but the whole league has gotten better. That’s why we are tied for third place. (Now) we have to raise (our performance) to the next level.
What do you feel has been Niigata’s biggest weakness this season? And what are the team’s strengths?
Oh, our minuses: Probably just keeping guys in front of us and turning the ball over.
Rebounding is one of our strengths. (Also) one of our biggest strengths is we just know each other well. . .We mesh well.
I’ve been here three years. (Center) Nick (Davis) has been here three years. Everyone’s like a family — the players, the coach, the fans. That to me is most important. It brings out a trust, and that is good.
What aspect of your game are you trying to improve the most this season?
One-on-one defense. I’m not very good at closing out . . . boxing out and taking care of the ball (sometimes). Little things.
I’m always just trying to get better.
How has Coach Masaya Hirose helped you as a player feel that you fit in on this team?
On the court, he always puts me in a position to use my strengths. He doesn’t want me to do things I can’t do. I know exactly what my role is with this team.
Off the court, he speaks pretty good English. We spend time with each other. We just spend a lot of time talking. We go out to dinner. We (chat) before practice for 10 to 15 minutes. We talk about life and hoops.
Have there been many difficulties with the language barrier for you in Japan?
When I got here, I had to learn how to use proper words. (he laughs) Example: procrastinate. I had to think of other words, different words, to say the same thing, because when I got here I knew so much slang in L.A.
(Now, Garrison says, he speaks what he calls Jinglish, his own fusion of Japanese and English around his coach and teammates.)
Who were your basketball heroes when you were growing up? Which players are your favorites today?
My dad was my hero growing up; and (among NBA players) Charles Barkley. I liked his approach, his demeanor. He had a lot of fun on the court.
(Ex-Washington Redskins running back John Riggins also made a positive impression on Garrison in his formative years.)
I loved that guy because he was all-out! He never had any excuses. He maximized his talent . . . I can respect a guy like that. I admire guys with talent who work hard in (developing) their talent.
(Our conversation quickly turned to Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Garnett.)
He’s 7-1 (211 cm). He does everything. He’s extremely talented and has extreme God-given ability, and he doesn’t waste that talent.
There’s no one that can stop him one-on-one. He’s just unstoppable.
Which athlete reminds Garrison of his athletic persona?
I’ve maximized my opportunities in basketball. There are 1,000 guys more talented, but I work harder than them and play harder than them.
(Garrison attended NAIA school Biola University in Southern California from 1995-97. His originally plan after high school was to spend four years at Montana State, but an injury ended those plans to be a Division I star. Every day, Garrison said, he is grateful to be a professional basketball player.)
In your own words, what characteristics describe you as a player?
I’m an all-around kind of player. I can score a little bit. I can rebound a little bit. I can pass a little bit. I can do everything . . just a little bit. (laughs)
During the basketball season, what do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
I love people. Going out to dinner, the movies, the aquarium, shopping, as long as it involves people, that’s really what I enjoy doing. I go out with my wife and teammates.
This year, my wife, Le Nej, is here, her first year here. (She was working on a master’s degree in California before this season.)
Now I’m spending a lot of time with her and friends.
Who is the best Japanese player in the bj-league?
(Small forward Masashi) Joho from Osaka, he’s the player that I like the best right now. He’s real consistent. He hits shots. He rebounds. He’s not scared out there.
I give him the MVP nod right now for Japanese players. Also, (Saitama Broncos guard Taishiro) Shimizu, he’s tough. I like his game.
And, finally, which bj-league player is the toughest matchup for you at both ends of the floor?
(Osaka Evessa power forward) Lynn Washington. Playing against Washington has been a big challenge. He can embarrass you if you don’t come to play.
But I’ve had some of my best games against him.