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Akita veteran guard Hasegawa to retire after season

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

What has been expected for many months is now official: Makoto Hasegawa is set to retire after this season, the Akita Sakigake Shimpo and other media outlets reported on Tuesday, Hasegawa’s 42nd birthday.

The veteran point guard, who has only appeared in eight games and logged 32 minutes of court time this season, has been a well-known face in the bj-league since its inception in 2005.

He played for the Niigata Albirex BB from 2002, when it was in the JBL, until joining his home prefecture’s team in 2010, when it entered the bj-league. He has been a mentor for the team’s younger players, a playing manager and a key figure in bringing corporate sponsors on board for the Eastern Conference club.

Akita, 22-22 through Sunday, is aiming to earn a playoff spot for the third straight season.

Hasegawa has not played since a 5-minute appearance on Jan. 27. This season, he’s only attempted eight shots from the field, going 2-for-4 on 3-pointers and 3-for-4 on 2s.

In a news conference in Akita, Hasegawa admitted it’s time to give younger players more opportunities to compete. He said he no longer has the physical strength needed as a pro player.

A high-dribbling floor leader with a trademark busy goatee and a vocal presence on the court, Hasegawa had his best bj-league season in 2006-07, when he averaged 7.9 points in 37 games (29 starts), dished out 81 assists and collected 22 steals for Niigata. He plays a physical brand of ball — has been labeled a dirty player by some observers in recent years — but has not been afraid to mix it up, giving hard fouls and driving hard to the lane, barreling into whoever steps into his path.

Entering this season, he had played in 212 games in the bj-league (76 starts), averaging 5.1 points per game. In that span, he shot 33.2 percent on 3s (112-for-337), 49.2 percent from inside the arc and 83.4 percent at the free-throw line. His minutes have fluctuated over the years since he joined Niigata. He had 686 minutes of court time in 2006-07 and 582 in 2008-09, but only 114 minutes in 15 games in 2009-10 and 122 minutes in 2011-12 for Akita.

A popular presence in Japan basketball, Hasegawa played for the Matsushita Denki (Electric) Super Kangaroos, the Zexel Blue Winds and Isuzu Giga Cats before the bj-league was launched. As a JBL rookie in 1994, he was named the league MVP and Rookie of the Year for title-winning Matsushita Denki.

Hasegawa also played for the relaunched ABA’s San Diego WildFire in 2000-01, then went to Isuzu for one season before joining Niigata.

As predicted in The Japan Times before the Northern Happinets ever played a game, Hasegawa would go on to become a catalyst for the Tohoku franchise’s growth and widespread popularity in the region.

“I think he could become like (retired outfielder) Tsuyoshi Shinjo became . . . the driving force behind the success of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters to build roots in the local area,”a SportsNavi.com blogger was quoted as writing in the article.

Former Akita guard Sek Henry said that Hasegawa taught him a valuable lesson during his time with the team, focusing on the task ahead not on past miscues or accomplishments.

“(Hasegawa) tells me, ‘Forget about the last play and just move on,’” Henry said in a 2011 interview with this newspaper.

Before Kazuo Nakamura, now 72 years old, began coaching the Happinets in the 2011-12 campaign, Hasegawa described himself as a liaison of sorts between Nakamura and his teammates.

“I will be standing in between (coach and players). I have to always see the entire team. That is what I have to do,” he said in the fall of 2011.

And now the longtime hoop star, once described as “the best overall guard in Japan basketball history” by one hoop insider, will likely become a full-time executive with Akita, shifting his work load to the front office.

Jun Okayama, a longtime street basketball organizer, expressed his gratitude to Hasegawa for helping elevate Japanese basketball.

In an email Tuesday night, Okayama wrote, “Thank you very much for playing basketball for such a long time for Japan basketball and the community. I know that he played overseas as well. To play overseas, that made him tougher and stronger, mentally and physically. He came back to Japan with his knowledge and skills, then he shared it with players, the community, etc.

“It is really a treasure to have an experienced player around. … We must thank him (for bringing) Japanese basketball’s level up.”

League accolades: Jermaine Dixon of the Gunma Crane Thunders had back-to-back 33-point games against the visiting Niigata Albirex BB over the weekend, guiding the expansion team to a series sweep.

Dixon, a University of Pittsburgh product, is the Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP winner, it was revealed on Tuesday.

Dixon sank 14 of 16 free throws in the two games. He had eight assists, five rebounds and a steal in a 100-95 win on Saturday, followed by five boards, three assists and a steal along with all those points in the series finale, an 88-80 triumph for Gunma (12-32).

In 28 games, Dixon is averaging 16.8 points.

The league issued its March MVP honor to Oita HeatDevils guard Taishiro Shimizu.

In 10 March games, Shimizu scored exactly 200 points to average 20.0 per game. Most notably, he canned 8 of 17 3s in a 29-point outburst against the Saitama Broncos last Saturday.

Shimizu sank 40 of 88 3s (45.5 percent) and helped the HeatDevils (18-28) go 7-3 in March, including their current five-game winning streak.