The Japan Times will be featuring periodic interviews with players in the bj-league — Japan’s first professional basketball circuit. Yu Okada of the Takamatsu Five Arrows is the subject of this week’s profile.
Position: Shooting guard
Ht: 184 cm; Wt: 70 kg
Hometown: Shiga Prefecture
Trademark: 100-plus 3-pointers in each of the Five Arrows’ two seasons.
Season stats: 14.2 points per game, 5.7 assists (No. 2 in the league), 53-for-164 3-pointers.
Having followed your career since Takamatsu joined the league, it’s nice to see that you’ve become a stronger passer this season. Has coach Motofumi Aoki asked you to become more of a passer this season? Has he challenged you to become a stronger all-around player on offense?
Nobody asked me to be stronger passer and nobody asked me to be an all-around player . . . but I want to do that.
Has one teammate given you the best competition in practice and pushed you to the max at both ends of the court?
Well, everybody practices so hard, so that is why I play hard, too. Everyone motivates me to play hard.
What goals did you set for yourself before the 2009-10 season? And do you feel you are on target to reach these goals?
I didn’t set any (particular) goals but I wanted to decide this season to keep shooting even if my team might lose a game by my shot.
I had more confidence last year, but this season my shooting touch sometimes is not good, so I’ve become a stronger passer.
Veteran teammate Isaac Sojourner said you can make a greater impact when you assert yourself as a passer because when this happens opponents will never know when you might shoot and when you might pass. Is this your mind-set on the court?
I have bad days and good days as a shooter. That’s why I’ve chosen to pass when I’ve had a bad day.
Looking back on Takamatsu’s first season, when the team advanced to the bj-league finals, how valuable was that experience for the team in setting future goals, working hard and staying focused on being a successful basketball team?
It was a good experience, and I felt the final was totally different than a regular-season game. A team either wins or loses. There is a lot to learn from it. . . . The first season was really valuable for me.
The Shiga Lakestars, who have a 9-11 record, have been a strong first-year club. In your opinion, what has made Bob Pierce’s team become instantly competitive?
It is because of those American players (forwards Ryan Rourke and Brayden Billbe, center Ray Schafer and shooting guard Bobby Nash). I didn’t know about them but since I played against them I know of their style. They are really hard workers and also Shiga doesn’t seem like a new team. The reason why is Takamichi Fujiwara, the captain, because of his experience. The team’s other players are affected in a good way by his leadership.
You are an excellent free-throw shooter (23-for-26, 86.5 percent). Based on that fact, would you like to get to the line on a more frequent basis like Tokyo Apache guard Cohey Aoki, the league’s king of free-throw shooting accuracy?
I would like to be aggressive but I don’t want to be fouled, so still I am aggressive and try to make a shot without being fouled.
How would you assess the the way two-time rebounding champion Gordon James, who joined the team after two seasons with the Saitama Broncos, and center George Leach have worked together in the frontcourt?
I think they play well together. First, him and George are always looking at the ball, so it is easy for me to pass for an assist and also George has size (210 cm) so it is easy to pass to him also.
George and Gordon (nicknamed “G”), they have good balance. They are not like the same type of player, so when George shoots, G can go rebound and when G shoots, George can go rebound. It’s a good balance.
Do you want to play for the Japan national team, something that no bj-league player has been permitted to do since the league was formed?
Yes, I want to play if I had a chance. The bj-league players should attend the tryouts. They should be allowed to (participate) in the tryouts.
When you are not playing basketball, how do you spend your leisure time?
I have a dog, a 4-month-old miniature dachsund, so I like to play with my dog. That makes me relax.
Michael Gardener, Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix’s flashy point guard, is the Circle K Sunkus Player of the Week, the bj-league announced on Tuesday.
Gardner notched his first triple-double of the season on Sunday, finishing with 42 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in a runaway victory over the Sendai 89ers. In the series opener, Gardener had 18 points and nine assists.
Gardener is the league’s No. 5 scorer (21.7 points per game) and is No. 1 in assists (7.6)
By sweeping Sendai, the Phoenix (10-10) moved into a tie with the Saitama Broncos for second place in the Eastern Conference standings.