TOKOROZAWA, Saitama Pref. — All he scored was two points that night. But he came out of the locker room heavily icing his feet and ankles as if he was a player who had scored 20.
The reality is, there is no easy basket for tiny Takehiko Shimura, who is not blessed with height. At only 160 cm, he is the second-shortest player in the bj-league (Saitama Broncos backup guard Atsushi Inagaki is the shortest at 158 cm).
Still, Shimura is entrusted with numerous responsibilities for his new club, the Sendai 89ers. Even if scoring isn’t his primary task on the court, he still plays a significant role.
Of course he wants to make jumpers whenever he steps onto the court. But even if his shooting touch isn’t there on a particular day, Shimura doesn’t hang his head in shame.
“There are days you can’t make shots,” Shimura said after his team’s 85-78 overtime win over the Broncos on Jan. 5. “But on defense, you can play consistently every time. So I’d like to be a player that can play well, regardless of his stat numbers.”
But Shimura, 25, hasn’t necessarily been able to play comfortably this season, because he’s still in the midst of getting adjusted to the bj-league. Shimura is averaging 5.7 points per game and has 26 steals through Sunday.
This past offseason, Shimura switched from the Japan Basketball League, where he played for the Toshiba Brave Thunders, to the bj-league, making a return to his hometown, Sendai.
Shimura, who joined the Tohoku team as its first-round draft pick last year, confessed that he was perplexed earlier in the season due to the different brand of ball played between the top hoop circuits in Japan.
“Simply, there was just one or two foreigners on the floor (in the JBL due to its rule) and over here (in the bj-league) it’s three or four and that causes more one-on-ones, and I couldn’t really adjust to those,” said Shimura, who led his teams to national championship titles at Sendai High School and Keio University.
“Also, there were other elements like the judges and the courts (the bj-league applies plastic-like panels on the Sport Court floor).
Shimura explained that there’s a faster tempo in the bj-league than in the JBL, but once a halfcourt offense is played the bj-league players tend to possess the ball longer.
“In the JBL, they keep moving to try to find open space using screens,” he said. “In the bj-league, they start with a one-on-one and the surrounding players move, adapting to it.”
Sendai coach Honoo Hamaguchi has big expectations for Shimura, who started the team’s first 13 games but came off the bench in the next nine entering last weekend’s play. He has split time at the point with Hikaru Kusaka, his longtime rival since childhood.
But Hamaguchi thinks there is so much room for Shimura to improve and encourages him to play better.
Case in point: Although Shimura appeared to be playing stingy defense on the opponent’s point guards in the above-mentioned contest against Saitama, Hamaguchi was quick to point out a few of his defensive mistakes.
“Yes, he was playing good defense, but he still takes gambles (on defense) and gives up easy points,” Hamaguchi said. “I think he’ll be able to eliminate those by gaining more experience.”
Shimura has no complaints about the fact that he needs more experience, knowing he’s making too many errors in the game for now.
One good sign is that a positive thinker like Shimura isn’t reluctant to cut down those failures every game.
“For now, even making mistakes leads to experience,” Shimura said with a grin. “In that respect, I’m enjoying that I’m struggling.”
Yet there is one department where Shimura is already in the top category: his voice. He speaks loudly, practically yelling to his teammates during the game.
“You have to have your voice bigger,” said Shimura, who modeled his style of player on former Charlotte Hornet Muggsy Bogues and ex-NBA player Earl Boykins (currently with Virtus Bologna).
“Especially when you’re on defense, you’ve got to talk out loud from behind. I’ve seen many kinds of levels of basketball, and realized that good players talk loudly. The NBA players speak a lot, too. I believe it’s part of their techniques.”
Now near the midpoint of the season, Shimura and the 89ers (11-13 for third place in the Eastern Conference) will try to gear up for a second consecutive playoff berth.
“We’d like to finish second so we can play at home (in the conference semifinal),” Shimura said.
He added that he appreciates the Sendai fans’ enthusiastic support for the team.
“They’re hot,” Shimura said. “There are no fans as unified as them. So we’d definitely like to play in front of the home crowd.”
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