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Holm on the rebound with Sendai after tough year

by Ed Odeven

The Japan Times will be featuring periodic interviews with players in the bj-league — Japan’s first professional basketball circuit — which began its fourth season in October. Chris Holm of the Sendai 89ers is the subject of this week’s profile.

Position: Center
Age: 24
Ht: 212 cm
Wt: 120 kg
Hometown: Henderson, Nev.
Colleges: Rhode Island (2002-04), Vermont (2004-07)
Noteworthy statistics: Holm is the bj-league’s leading rebounder (16.0 per game) and is averaging 15.5 points per game. He pulled down 30 boards on Feb. 1 (tying Ryukyu Golden Kings big man Jeff Newton for the league’s highest single-game total this season.) He has a league-high 34 double-doubles in the season’s first 40 games; two-time league MVP Lynn Washington of the Osaka Evessa has 33.

Indeed, you are having an excellent season for the 89ers. Did you feel you would be an impact-maker when you first put on an 89ers uniform or did you have some doubts about how much you would contribute?

Honestly, when I first signed my main goal was just to play as well as I could. Last year, I bounced around from team to team (Spain, Mexico and Bosnia leagues) and it was hard for me to find a home, so to speak . . . so I wanted to make sure I played as well as I could and stay on the team for one year.

But I definitely didn’t feel I would be as effective as I’ve been this year.

If you were commissioner for one day, tell me something you’d like to change about the bj-league?

I would definitely try to (increase fan support), but this doesn’t really affect us in Sendai. You’ve got fans throughout the league, and we get close to a sell out at a lot of games, and then you go to other cities and they struggle to get fans. Definitely, I would try to focus on getting more of a fan base. . . . It’s a lot more exciting to play in front of a packed house than an empty arena.

What are your thoughts on the league’s back-to-back games? Do you like this scheduling format?

I definitely like the back-to-back games. If you have a bad game on Saturday instead of having to wait a whole week to play, you have a chance to redeem yourself the next day.

You love basketball and you love working on your game, so the biggest thrill is playing the game. . . . Sometimes in Europe you’ve got to wait longer than a week (to play). You had to wait up to two weeks in the Adriatic League sometimes.

Who are two or three top Japanese players in this league in your opinion? And what have they done to grab your attention?

(Point guard) Cohey (Aoki) from Tokyo is very good. . . . He is someone we always have to worry about. If you leave him open, he’ll make it.

Naoto Takushi, the point guard from (the Golden Kings), I really like him on and off the court. The second game we played him, he had 18 points in the first half. He’s a very good player.

Imagine for a moment that you are a game-show contestant, and you had a chance to win the grand prize by answering one final question in 15 seconds. Here’s the question: What words or phrases would you use to describe the playing style of Sun Ming Ming, the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix’s 236-cm center?

Big (laughs), hits hard, surprising — he can do a lot more things than people think — friendly, obstacle.

(This reporter jokes with Holm that he’s won a grand prize for his articulate, rapid-fire responses.)

Speaking of Sun Ming Ming, what’s it like to go up against a guy who makes you appear to be an average-size

guy in comparison?

I really can’t put into words the frustration when I play the guy. I’m a big guy. OK, I’m not the tallest, the strongest or the biggest, but I always used my size and strength to make up for being a little slower. But he’s so much bigger it’s ridiculous.

It doesn’t matter what you do, he’s honestly there. I make a cut to the basket and he’s always there. It’s impossible to get around him. It’s so frustrating.

How do you relax off the court in Japan?

Well, actually this has been one of the great team experiences for me. The guys hang out and have fun; we’ll go to dinner, we’ll go to the hot springs all the time, me and (forward) Joe Barber and a couple of the Japanese guys.

We have Mondays off, so pretty much every Monday we’ll have a video game tournament. We play soccer, a FIFA tournament game. You can pick any country, but I always lose. I’m always Brazil and it still doesn’t help.

Who is the most underrated player on the 89ers? And what do you think makes him an effective player?

Guard Kenichi Takahashi, he’s a very good player. He shoots the ball very well. He’s got a really good floater.

He doesn’t drive much in the games, but (sometimes) he’ll go down the middle and throw up a floater. He’s also one of the best passers I’ve played with. The guy is the king of the no-look pass.

Basically, we have a joke: If Ken is looking at you, you are not getting the ball. If he’s not looking at you, you better get your hands ready.

You are closing in on winning the rebounding title this season. What does that accomplishment mean to you?

I always take rebounding as a personal goal of mine. Every time we go into a game, I always take it personally, and to get that, especially with the talented guys in the league, that would be special. . . .

I just missed it in college. This is my first chance to get it. It will definitely be a big accomplishment for me.

(Editor’s note: As a college senior in 2006-07, he was No. 2 among NCAA Division I players in rebounding average at 12.2 per game. University of Arkansas-Little Rock’s Rashad Jones-Jennings won the title with a 13.1 average.)

In your opinion, what are 89ers floor boss Honoo Hamaguchi’s strengths as a coach? Does his coaching style differ from that of your coaches in high school and college?

One thing I like about him is he runs a very American style game, motion style offense, really simple not too complicated. Motion offense benefits my style of play. It helps me playing for a coach like that.

For the most part, he realizes we are adults and we are here to play and that’s the one thing we have in common.

He doesn’t try to overcontrol his players in the game. He knows who was brought in, why they are here and let’s them go do it.