The Japan Times will be featuring periodic interviews with players in the bj-league — Japan’s first professional basketball circuit — which has entered its third season. Tsubasa Yonamine of the Oita HeatDevils is the subject of this week’s profile.

News photoTsubasa Yonamine

Position: Guard
Age: 24
Ht: 173 cm.
Wt: 69 kg.
College: Nippon Sport Science Univ.
Hometown: Okinawa Prefecture.

Q: You had one of the best performances of your career in the last game against the Ryukyu Golden Kings on Dec. 2, scoring 21 points and dishing out eight assists, and overall you seem to have improved a lot this season. Can you explain what has changed for you since last year?

Yonamine: Yeah, last year I was trying to adjust to the team and trying to learn what kind of team Oita was. This year, I came in as I’d already adjusted. I was able to make it clear what I can do and what I cannot do last season.

What’s your impression of the partnership formed between the club president, Hirofumi Yano, and new co-owner, American Vince Rawl?

I don’t really know what’s going on inside (the ballclub), though what I can do is to just try to contribute to the team.

What makes Andy Ellis, the league’s leading scorer at 25.8 points per game, such a complete scorer, game in and game out?

Andy was already here last year and learned about Oita and its Japanese players. He mastered what kind of plays they do, and on the other hand we learned how Andy plays. He’s in a good condition right now, although he didn’t (play) in the preseason.

What are some trademarks you have noticed about HeatDevils coach Dai Oketani’s style of basketball? What does he consistently ask his players to do before, during and after games?

Defense. He also asks us to have smart and simple plays. No matter how bad we play, we always start with defense.

His philosophy is like, even if you can’t score, you just (don’t) yield to your opponent. And then, you lead it to your offense.

How do you summarize your role on the HeatDevils?

I’m not very tall. So I’d have to say my trait is to play with heart, such as diving for loose balls. I’m asked to exhibit plays that change the flow of a game. That’s something I’d like to show on the court.

Who is the most underrated player in the bj-league?

Cohey Aoki-san of the Tokyo Apache. He’s short as well. But he’s had a few 30-point games this season. I just feel he’s awesome.

Who’s the most exciting player to watch in the league?

Well, Osaka’s Mikey Marshall, who played for Oita last season. We played with him for a year, and he can do everything. He can do an alley-oop. He’s not very tall at 193 cm.

Which Japanese or NBA players did you consider role models or heroes while growing up?

In the NBA, Jason Kidd (of the New Jersey Nets). He’s relatively smaller (than most players) in the league but does great. I’ve wanted to become like that since my childhood.

In Japan, I’d name Sako-san (Kenichi of the JBL’s Aisin Sea Horses). He’s still playing and I have so much respect for him.

What are some words others have used to describe the way you play basketball?

They say I play hard on defense, and I’m a player to play with heart. When we played against Okinawa (Ryukyu Golden Kings) in our season opener, I was told by my senpai (elder person in the same organization, etc.) from my high school that the game changed all of sudden as I came in. And we came back from a 10-point deficit and went on to win it.

If you were the league’s commissioner for one day, what would you do?

That’s a tough one. Maybe play games against NBA teams, if possible. I know it’s difficult to set it up. But it would be interesting. Of course, there are gaps between us and them, though.

What’s been your biggest thrill, or most unforgettable game, as a basketball player? And what made it special?

Unforgettable. . . . When our captain, (Yukinori) Suzuki-san, took a day off for an injury against Saitama (Broncos) in January, I was the guy that was entrusted (to play) for him. And then we were able to win the game and me personally, I was 5-for-5 on my 3-pointers. Since the game, I started being used more.

When you are not playing basketball, how do you like to relax?

Fortunately, we’re in Beppu, where there are so many good onsen (hot springs). So going to onsen is it. I pretty much go everyday. We’re in good circumstances (laughs).

Staff writer Ed Odeven contributed to this article.

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