Hokuriku High captures All-Japan basketball title

by Kaz Nagatsuka

After the game-ending buzzer, every single Hokuriku High School player raised his arms high in the air, and other teammates trotted onto the floor with huge smiles and tears on their faces.

Not surprisingly, the school had waited for this moment long enough.

The Hokuriku boys basketball team earned its first title at the All-Japan High School Basketball Tournament with a 68-60 victory over Fukuoka Daiichi High School in Wednesday afternoon’s final.

The Fukui Prefecture school had advanced to the final on seven occasions, but finished runnerup every time.

“We’d lost seven times, but it’s a blessing we won on our eighth try,” Hokuriku head coach Shigetoshi Hisai said after the game at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

Fukuoka Daiichi, the 2005 champion, finished runnerup for the fourth consecutive tournament.

Hokuriku’s twin towers, Kengo Nomoto and Chinese Liu Meng Tao, led the team with 16 points apiece and also grabbed 12 and 14 rebounds, respectively.

Guards Tsukasa Tano and Taku Bando had 13- and 12-point games.

“We’ve finished as runnerup seven times,” said Hokuriku captain and point guard Yoshiaki Fujinaga, who made five steals.

“We’ve come all the way here with our Hokuriku tradition on our backs. I’m extremely happy.”

Nomoto said: “We never won in this tournament, so we wanted to win no matter how the game would be.”

Hokuriku seized the momentum early in the second quarter. Two quick scores by Fujinaga off steals and a couple of 3-pointers by Tano and Bando, extended the lead to 18 points.

Fukuoka Daiichi rallied back in the second half, using zone and full-court defenses to slow down Hokuriku’s speed, and once trimmed the lead to four with about 6 minutes left in the final period. But the Fukuoka team didn’t get any closer the rest of the game.

In addition to Hokuriku’s well-balanced offensive attack, its defensive scheme worked effectively as well. Hokuriku succeeded in containing Fukuoka Daiichi’s ace scorers Emmanuelle Nagashima and Gueye Malick, a Senegalese forward.

Hisai said that his plan was for his charges to be especially aware of Nagashima, who scored 25 in the semifinals against Funabashi Municipal High School.

“I told the players to guard him with two or three guys, not just with one,” Hisai said. “So we could make him take tough shots. If he was still going to sink shots, then there was nothing we could do.”

Nagashima, a 185-cm shooting guard, finished with 11 points. The senior was held to two points in the first half, although he had nine in the final quarter. Malick had four points and 15 boards. Daiichi point guard Ryotaro Honma had 17 points.

Putting his head down, Nagashima blamed himself for the loss.

“I should’ve played more like the ace player,” said Nagashima, who was born to a Ghanaian father and a Japanese mother.

“We’ve played exhibition games with Hokuriku, but I never thought that they are a stronger team than us at all. As a matter of fact, Daiichi is stronger by far.

“I didn’t lose to the opponent, but I lost to myself. I take the blame.”

Nagashima will enroll at Tochigi Prefecture’s Hakuoh University next spring, seeking a chance to play abroad, including the United States, through tryouts.

In the third-place game, Tokyo’s Keihoku High School, which had three players with 20 or more points, edged Funabashi Municipal 92-91.

In the tournament-ending closing ceremony, Taro Aso, the former prime minister and current Japan Basketball Association chairman, spoke about the sport’s future.

“The JBA is working on merging the JBL and bj-league to form a new top league within three years,” Aso said. “I imagine that it’s going to have players from this group. We hope that those player can provide hopes and dreams to the citizens.”