Never a superstar, but always a hard-working, team-first player, shooting guard Jumpei Nakama has enjoyed popularity and the respect of his peers since the bj-league’s inception in 2005. He’s been a fan favorite throughout the country as the league has grown nonstop for nearly a decade.
As the league closes in on its 10th season in 2014-15, the number of players who’ve been in the league since day one is dwindling. With Nakama’s planned retirement at the conclusion of the Shiga Lakestars season, that fraternity will be even smaller.
The 31-year-old Hiroshima native announced earlier this week that this will be his final season, citing physical limitations after years of competitive basketball. He’s played in 41 games for the Lakestars (25-23 entering this weekend) and is averaging 5.3 points and more than 2.0 assists.
Nakama has suffered from knee and ankle injuries during his career, which have resulted in five surgeries.
Nakama thanked Shiga’s fans for their encouragement and passion for the game, the Kyoto Shimbun reported. He said he has grown to love Lake Biwa and the community in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture. As his career winds down, Nakama said he intends to “play with no regrets, doing his best until the end,” he was quoted as saying.
Saitama star John “Helicopter” Humphrey, Nakama’s longtime Apache teammate at the outset of the league through 2009, reacted to the news on Friday in an exclusive interview with The Japan Times.
“I can’t believe Jumpei, is going to retire so young,” said Humphrey, already a four-time bj-league scoring champion who’s closing in on his fifth title. “Jumpei is a great player and the league will miss him. I remember when we all were rookies, he wanted to guard me every day. He always wanted to get better. He always use to ask me to teach him moves. Then he used to use them on me.
“It was a honor to play along his side, and I wish him and his family nothing but the best.”
Another former original Apache teammate, Rizing Fukuoka guard Jun Nakanishi, also offered his thoughts on Nakama’s announcement.
“Knowing he’s still young (enough) to play the game, and he still has versatility and skills to play at the professional level, I was a little bit disappointed when I heard about his retirement, to be honest,” Nakanishi said Friday. “But at the same time, he’s my former teammate from the Apache and a close friend as well. I support his decision 100 percent.
“I know it wasn’t an easy decision to make for himself and his family, but he’s going to have a phenomenal second career after basketball because he’s such a great person and loved by others. For everything he has done in this league, I want to say thank you, Jumpei, and wish him the best.”
The 191-cm veteran had his best season in 2010-11 under ex-NBA bench boss Bob Hill. He averaged a career-high 11.6 points, including 74 3-pointers in 34 games (29 starts), shot 50 percent from inside the 3-point point arc and earned his lone selection to the All-Star team.
In a January 2011 interview with The Japan Times, Hill spoke glowingly about the big contributions Nakama was making for a team with title aspirations that had improved by leaps and bounds that January, February and March and was starting to hit its stride before the Great East Japan Earthquake.
“He’s hitting big shots now,” Hill said at the time, just days after Nakama scored a team-high 20 against Miyazaki. “He’s getting in great physical shape. His individual defense is so much better. So he’s playing really, really well. He deserves a lot of credit personally, and I’m proud of him.”
The Apache folded after that season, and Nakama had a long layoff (seven months) before his next regular-season game at a time when he was playing the best basketball of his career.
It was clear his confidence level was never higher, either. He thrived in Hill’s system.
After six seasons in an Apache uniform, including back-to-back championship runner-up finishes in 2007-08 and 2008-09, Nakama joined the Shimane Susanoo Magic for the 2011-12 campaign, appearing in all 52 games (23 starts) and scoring 5.7 ppg.
In his first season with Shiga, Nakama saw action in 48 games (46 starts) and scored 6.9 ppg, the second-best average of his pro career in 2012-13.
Guard Shohei Nakama, Jumpei’s younger brother, is in his fourth season with Shimane.