Not long after the hard-fought battle wrapped up, Shinsuke Kashiwagi choked back with tears on the floor in front of the jam-packed 2,700 spectators.
“At the moment the game was over, I was so pleased,” the 26-year-old Kashiwagi said shyly after his Aisin Sea Horses defeated the defending All-Japan Championship (Emperor’s Cup) king Toyota Alvark 85-82 on Monday.
“I don’t know if I call it responsibility, but I’ve been asked to be the starter (at point guard) in the last one year, and we’ve now won this Emperor’s Cup. . . .I think it was tears that came from relief.”
Kashiwagi’s name is now really renown among Japanese hoop fans. But he hasn’t necessarily been a star since he started playing in the Japan Basketball League in 2004.
He was a backup to the popular Kei Igarashi on the Hitachi Sunrockers, and the same was true on the Japan national team.
The Hokkaido native moved to powerhouse Aisin before the 2006-07 season, looking to develop himself. But on his new club, there was veteran Kenichi Sako, arguably the best player this country has ever had.
Yet Kashiwagi has constantly — and rapidly — continued to grow as a point guard. Sometimes by battling those counterparts on the same teams, sometimes by absorbing techniques and mental strength from them, Kashiwagi is widely recognized as one of the top point guards in Japan.
No only offensively, but Kashiwagi has also elevated his defensive skills since joining Aisin. In particular, his ball-hawking ability has escalated and his name is always near the top of the steal leaders.
Kashiwagi, who currently ranks third in that department (2.37 per game) in the regular season, had a game-high four in Monday’s game.
As for being or becoming the best player, Kashiwagi said: “Well, I’m not aware of that too much. But somewhere in myself, there is me that plays the game, thinking I want to be like that.”
Sako, who often stands on the court at the same time when head coach Kimikazu Suzuki applies a two-point guard scheme, is impressed by Kashiwagi’s growth as a point guard.
“I have so much trust in Shinsuke,” the 37-year-old Sako said. “I think he’s the No. 1 point guard in Japan. I’ve seen him feeling responsibilities to the team and being really patient.
“I think he now knows how hard it is to win, but I think through this experience, there will be a new Shinsuke coming out.”