‘Twin Towers’ looking to rise even higher

by Kaz Nagatsuka

While Japanese basketball may be floundering, there’s still some hope at the individual player level. This was demonstrated in the just wrapped-up All-Japan Championship (Emperor’s Cup) 2009 final.

The identical twin Takeuchi brothers — Kosuke of the Aisin Sea Horses and Joji of the Hitachi Sunrockers — are now among the most recognized players in the nation. Playing in just their second season in the Japan Basketball League, the brothers have been basketball celebrities since playing for Rakunan High School, Kyoto’s perennial powerhouse, where they won a national title.

But the 205-cm brothers, who were known as “The Twin Towers” during their high school days, aren’t getting attention just because of their height. Still just 23, Kosuke and Joji are steadily, if not rapidly, acquiring strong overall skills as well as confidence.

In the past, they tended to rely on scoring from the inside, taking advantage of their superior size.

Now they’ve obtained a soft shooting touch for big men, and often take — and make — shots from beyond the 3-point arc.

Also, their defensive ability plays an integral role in their games. For instance, Monday’s final, which the Sea Horses won 65-48, became a defensive-minded game as both clubs played hard-nosed defense and the brothers played effectively.

Fortunately, or ironically, Kosuke and Joji had to match up against each other for many minutes in the contest.

In the end, Kosuke left the court with a satisfied grin as his Sea Horses grabbed the title, and Joji walked off with a bitter smile.

“I was going to play defense as if I’m going to foul,” Kosuke said of his defense against his brother. “But I didn’t get called for fouls much and he seemed so frustrated.”

Aisin coach Kimikazu Suzuki complimented Kosuke for his stellar performance in the final, saying, “He did his job for us cleverly. He’s really grown up.”

Last summer, Kosuke and Joji both went to the United States to participate in a summer league looking to gain experience which would help them elevate their game to the next level.

One of the chief benefits Kosuke feels he received this year is that he’s gotten stronger mentally and can enter the game more psyched up.

“We (Aisin) played in the final (of the All-Japan Championship) last year, but I couldn’t do anything although we won the title,” Kosuke said. “That was so vexing for me, and I didn’t want to do that this year. So I could play pretty comfortably.

“I think I’m making progress. That I went to America during the summer has made me tougher mentally, too.”

Meanwhile, despite having made some key shots during Hitachi’s second-half rally, Joji felt a sense of guilt for not having led the Sunrockers to their first Emperor’s Cup title.

“I have to be the foundation for the team, otherwise we can’t win,” Joji said, hanging his head in disappointment. “At the end of the day, I was completely held and that made the whole team out of joint.”

Actually Joji outscored his brother 13-11 and had more blocked shots (three) than Kosuke (one). Kosuke, who is a big admirer of Boston Celtics star Kevin Garnett, had 13 rebounds and a 3-pointer, while Joji grabbed 10 boards and hit two 3-pointers. In addition, Joji’s talent is not short of Kosuke’s.

Joji, who is a fan of Cleveland Cavaliers big man Ben Wallace, was selected to the All-Japan Championship team along with Kosuke. Aisin’s Shinsuke Kashiwagi and J.R Sakuragi and Toyota Motors Alvark’s Takuma Watanabe were the other selections.

“Everybody knows that he’s the mainstay of this team, and he’s the guy who I want to play for 40 minutes,” Hitachi coach Shuji Ono said of Joji. “I hope he’s not a player that finishes within Japan but aims (to play) in front of the world. He went to the States before the season and gained experience. I want him not to forget the occasion and to be a player that can play his game no matter who he faces.”

The same sentiment could be expressed for Kosuke. After all, identical twins are remarkably similar — even if they play for different basketball teams.