The Japan Times will be featuring periodic interviews with players in the bj-league. The league’s fifth season began in October. Kenichi Takahashi of the Sendai 89ers is the subject of this week’s profile.
Ht: 181 cm
Wt: 76 kg
Hometown: Akita Prefecture
College: Tohoku Gakuin
Noteworthy: Takahashi is averaging 11.4 points per game for coach Honoo Hamaguchi’s club, which enters the weekend with a 10-6 record, including 8-2 at home.
Takahashi has done a solid job of taking care of the basketball and making good ball-handling decisions, as evidenced by his 66 assists and 26 turnovers. He’s made 41 of 48 free-throw attempts and knocked down 30 of 87 3-point shots. . . . In the three previous seasons with the 89ers, he averaged 8.1 points and 2.7 assists in 133 total games.
Do you think of yourself as more of a scorer or a passer? And are you more confident making a pass or taking a shot during a pressure-packed situation in a game?
My goal is to become a player who can both pass and score. I have to improve my decision making on whether I should shoot or pass depending on the defensive situation.
In clutch moments, each play is important. But you never succeed unless you challenge with confidence.
How valuable have playoff appearances in the past two years been for your team’s growth. Does coach Hamaguchi talk about these experiences during team meetings as a big step toward reaching the finals?
We learned how to play in the playoffs and how to make our mind-set (tougher), which was huge. But we still need to work to win the finals. Coach Hamaguchi tells us these past experiences will help us and we have to build on these experiences.
Looking back to the start of the bj-league in 2005, are you surprised that the league has been able to keep expanding this quickly — from six teams to eight, 10, 12, 13 and then to 16 next year?
When I came to this league, it was just an eight-team league, but now it has 13 clubs and continues expanding. By continuing this process, I hope basketball becomes a major sport in Japan.
What type of promotion is most important to attract new fans to the bj-league?
First of all, we need to let them know there is a pro basketball league named the bj-league in Japan. To do so, we need to promote our league through the major media (outlets) and let people want to come to the arenas and watch us play.
Sendai had a 6-0 record to start the season and continues to be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. (Note: The Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix, who are 12-2, are in first place.) So how do you feel the 89ers have played this season?
Yes, a 6-0 start is good, but the season is still young . . . and it’s significant how we play the rest of the way.
Looking back at the team’s 6-0 start, how do you feel you played? And looking ahead, what’s your focus for improvement?
I made a career-high in scoring (a 25-point game) during our 6-0 start and that gave me confidence, but the stats for points or assists are not important. How I play to help the team win is the No. 1 thing.
In your opinion, who is the best Japanese player in the bj-league? What characteristics make him a top player?
Tokyo Apache guard Cohey Aoki. He has scoring ability and techniques that make up for his (small) size, and he is very experienced. He is the same age as me, but I learn a lot from him.
What’s the best compliment you’ve received as a basketball player?
It’s been said my decision making is good. That is what you care a lot about and it is the ideal image of a player I want to be.
Who are your top basketball role models?
Steve Nash (the Phoenix Suns’ starting point guard and a two-time NBA MVP) is good at ball handling and the no-look pass. (Boston Celtics star) Ray Allen is one of the NBA’s best shooters. I learn a lot from those two.
Do you often watch NBA games during the season. And who’s your favorite team?
I watch as many games as possible to study, but I don’t have a favorite team.
What’s the best advice Coach Hamaguchi has given you to help you improve as a player?
He advises me on shots and shot selection. He also tells me to focus on the first shot of a game.
When you are not playing basketball, how do you enjoy your leisure time?
I spent my free time doing various things, such as staying at home, shopping for clothes and blogging.