Togashi shining for Japan after Summer League success

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Asked if he’s gotten noticed by ordinary people on the street more often than before, point guard Yuki Togashi replied with a mild smile, saying, “Not so much.”

Well, it’s kind of understandable. Standing only 167 cm, Togashi doesn’t have an imposing physique that stands out in the street like a lot of taller basketball players do.

At his height it may even be difficult for some to believe he actually is a basketball player.

But the truth is that Togashi’s name has been a hot one lately after he played for the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League and created some “Toga Mania” with his swift, flashy style of play.

After returning from Nevada, Togashi put on the Hinomaru uniform as the youngest player on the Hayabusa Japan men’s national squad for the ongoing William Jones Cup in Taiwan.

Japan has played three games in the Jones Cup, going 0-3, through Monday. Togashi started in the first two games (he didn’t play in Monday’s third game) and led the team in points scored (14 points and 16 points) and assists (five apiece) in both contests.

The 21-year-old Togashi played for the national team three years ago when he was at Montrose Christian High School in Maryland, but he is a different and more developed player now and carries a greater more burden on his shoulders.

“I didn’t know what to expect being in high school and I was just there doing things three years ago,” Togashi said at a national team training camp in Tokyo prior to the annual Jones Cup, in which Japan uses mostly younger players.

“But this time, I’m here with a sense of responsibility.”

Interestingly, Togashi, a Niigata Prefecture native, said that he needed a little time to adjust himself to cope with Japanese big men, because since he was in high school, he had always played alongside bigger Americans.

That was also the case as he played for the bj-league’s Akita Northern Happinets the past two seasons, because the Tohoku team had Americans playing inside.

“Since my freshman year in high school, I’ve never played a game with Japanese inside players,” said Togashi, who led the bj-league with 7.9 assists per game and guided the club to the championship game last season. “So it’s kind of difficult. I’ll have to understand Japanese players.”

Togashi acknowledged that his weakness is his defense because of his size and that’s something he had to work on. At the same time, he wanted to showcase the positives, such as his blazing speed and great agility, in his offensive game, making up for his vulnerable points on defense.

“It’s the same as when I was in the States, though,” Togashi said. “I want to take advantage of my speed when I’m out there.”

Japan head coach Kenji Hasegawa was no exception. Like a lot of Japanese hoop fans, the floor supervisor had high expectations for Togashi. Hasegawa, who took the helm in the spring, insisted that the young point guard would be one of the key players for the national team, which has had dismal results at international tournaments in recent years, going forward.

Hasegawa especially praised Togashi’s court vision, which could always give the team more offensive options to threaten its opponents.

“(Togashi) sees things better,” Hasegawa said. “Not only he can attack the basket, he can also make passes to his teammates. And that makes the team settled, because everybody knows he always sees you and you don’t have to take unnecessary actions.”

What’s good about Togashi is that he is still so young and still has enormous room to grow as a player. As much as he sets his goal to play in the NBA, being one of the core players for Japan at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is another big target for him.

“I want to play (in the Olympics) being the main point guard for Japan,” said Togashi, who averaged 4.0 points in four games played in the Summer League last month.