The Aisin SeaHorses (24-2) are tied with the Toshiba Brave Thunders for the NBL’s best record through Sunday. That alone isn’t anything unusual for the powerhouse NBL team.
But if you look at the team’s personnel, you’ll notice the Aichi Prefecture-based club made some changes before the 2013-14 season. The biggest one was the summer acquisition of sharpshooter Kosuke Kanamaru.
The Japan national team guard/forward transferred from the Panasonic Trians, the predecessor of the Wakayama Trians. And the 24-year-old Kanamaru has quickly blossomed in his new environment, stepping up as the team’s main offensive force instead of veterans such as J.R. Sakuragi and Shinsuke Kashiwagi.
He leads the team with 16.5 points per game and currently ranks first in the league with 49.6 percent shooting (58-for-116) from beyond the 3-point arc.
But Kanamaru knows why he’s been that successful. He said that he doesn’t stand alone on the talent-filled SeaHorses squad.
“Our Aisin team can attack from anywhere on the floor,” Kanamaru said. “So it makes it difficult for our opponents to defend us. That’s what I was thinking when I was playing against this team. Now I get open more often, and that’s why I can make shots more effectively.”
Despite Kanamaru’s individual numbers, Aisin head coach Kimikazu Suzuki said that he thought the swingman didn’t really put up his best games earlier in the season.
“It feels like he’s finally adjusted to this team,” Suzuki said recently.
Kanamaru agreed with his boss that he was a little hesitant on his new team.
He said that he doesn’t have that feeling any more, and right now, his focus is to play as boldly as he can on the court.
“I’m told that I should attack the basket when I have the ball in my hands,” said Kanamaru, whose season-high is 32 points. “And if I don’t do that, it’s meaningless that I’m here.”
Asked about what his eyes were opened to after joining the SeaHorses, Kanamaru said that Aisin places a greater emphasis on the players’ autonomy in terms of their training and conditioning.
“At Panasonic, you follow the training programs that your conditioning coach makes, but at Aisin, you do it on your own,” the Fukuoka Prefecture native said. “You have to make your own training routines, which is good. But if you neglect it, you just get behind.”
Dealing with the longer season: It’s unclear how the longer season will affect performances in the weeks to come, especially toward the end of the campaign. NBL squads will play a 54-game regular season, an increase of 12 from the JBL’s final year in 2012-13.
Coaches are not considering it their top concern, but it seems that they have taken precautionary measures to prepare for the second half of the season.
For instance, Mitsubishi Electric Diamond Dolphins head coach Antonio Lang insisted that the work-like-a-dog ethic is a beauty in Japanese sports, but that dealing with the fatigue could sometimes be a factor in a championship run.
“This is a culture you work, you work, you work, which is good,” he said. “But when you have (many) games, you’ve got to give your guys rest.
“So what I usually do is, we’ve cut practice down by time. Probably by 15 to 30 minutes. But not by effort. We just go quicker in between. That’s the adjustment I’ve made.”
Lang, a former Duke University player, recalled what Mike Krzyzewski would do with the Blue Devils.
“Coach K does this at Duke,” said Lang. “The season gets longer, you don’t have to practice longer. You have to bring it down a little bit. So from this point on, we’ve got to give our guys a day here, a day there. Practice time, too. Time may not be as long, but intensity needs to be more.”
All-Star weekend: As the NBL All-Star Game will be played at Tokyo’s Ota City General Gymnasium on Sunday, there are some other intriguing events lined up before the night’s main event, which tips off at 7 p.m.
Arguably, the most interesting pre-All-Star Game attraction will be “3×3 Unplugged,” in which four teams will play a knockout tournament. The participating teams will consist of two NBL/NBDL squads and two from Somecity, one of the biggest 3×3 organizations in Japan.
Toyota Motors Alvark’s Yusuke Okada and Hyogo Storks’ William Knight are notable names that will represent the NBL/NBDL teams. For the Somecity teams, streetball stars Chihiro Ikeda, aka CHIHIRO, and Keita Suzuki, aka K-TA, will play.
Other scheduled events include the NBDL All-Star Game, slam dunk contest and 3-point contest, while the Japan women’s wheelchair team will play an intra-squad exhibition.