NEW YORK — Team update: Entering the final week of the regular season, the Columbia Lions, were 11-15 overall and 6-6 in the Ivy League, and had a chance to finish above .500 in conference play for the first time since the 1992-93 season. Matsui scored a career-high 19 points, including 5-for-8 on 3-pointers, against Dartmouth on Feb. 28.
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This will be a special weekend for me as the Lions play against Princeton and Pennsylvania at Levien Gym.
My parents are attending the last two games of my college career. They’ve visited me a couple of times in the last four years.
One of the best memories I have is when my parents and my grandmother visited in my freshman year. They came during the Ivy League season and they came to watch two home games, which were against Princeton and Penn.
In 2005, Penn was undefeated in the conference and Princeton was in second place in the conference at that time. We beat both teams by one or two points down the stretch. My family was very happy to witness those games, and it was the first time Columbia had done that in a long time.
One of my teammate’s parents told me after the game that my family should come to games every weekend so that Columbia can win for the rest of the season.
He even said, smiling, “They can stay in my house and it is not a problem at all.”
I was happy to hear a comment like that and surely my family felt good about it.
This weekend will be very similar, playing against Princeton and Penn at home with my parents coming to see them.
I want to hear comments like my teammate’s again after these games and finish my college career on a good note. And hey, there would be no better way to finish my career than by beating those two great programs at home in front of my parents.
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Off the top of my head, I don’t recall the nicest remarks that have been said or written about me as a basketball player. But one of my favorites is from SLAM Magazine when I was a senior at Montrose Christian School in Rockville, Md. I was lucky enough to be featured in the magazine, and the comment that my head coach, Stu Vetter, made affected me very much.
He said, “He is not a good Japanese player, he is simply a good player.”
People look at me as a good Asian basketball player because there aren’t many Asians playing at this level. I realized that my coach is treating me just like other good players.
Honestly, I can’t write a lot about this topic because when people write about me, they are more likely going to say how I came to the United States to play basketball or worked toward the dream with my father.
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Adjustments are a big part of college basketball.
In the Ivy League, we’ll face the same team only twice because we don’t have a conference tournament like other Division I leagues.
The first game is a lot easier to play against a particular opponent than the second game because they haven’t faced us and seen our tendencies and playing style. Even though an opposing team scouts our set plays and individual tendencies, it’s still hard to defend against because they don’t know exactly what to expect.
So the first game is just like another game. However, the rematch isn’t as easy as the first meeting. The set plays that worked in the first game aren’t necessarily going to work in the rematch because our opponent will make sure that it’ll not give up points on the same set play as before.
I do not change my style of play very much because if I change the style, then I will not be as good as before.
For example, against Harvard in the first meeting this season, I scored 15 points (all 3-pointers) in the first half and played very well.
In the second game, Harvard defended me very hard and almost so hard that my defender wouldn’t let me catch the ball easily. The set plays that worked in the first game didn’t work in the rematch, and I only scored six points in that game.
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It’s important for me to play the same style of basketball, but I need to make decisions based on what a defense gives. In retrospect, I should’ve looked to make more backdoor cuts if Harvard players were denying the ball so hard, or been able to use screens and create space between myself and my defender so that I can shoot.
In the last couple of conference games, I started driving the ball to the basket more by faking to shoot because no one in this conference will just leave me wide open to attempt open 3-point shots.
When I have a good mixture of both, then it’s tough to guard me because I can come off screens and shoot or drive to the basket.
(Entering this weekend, Matsui has made 166 3-pointers, including 44 as a senior. He’s third on Columbia’s all-time 3-point list (only 23 behind leader Matt Shannon, who played for the Lions from 1985-89).
In a recent interview, I was asked if my shooting mechanics have changed much since I played in high school. I really don’t think they have.
I’ve made small adjustments to make me a better shooter, using my own imagination and advice from coaches. That said, I think there are two big improvements that I’ve made from high school until now.
The first adjustment is the quickness of my shot release. As the competition gets harder, people will close out on me even quicker and I have to release my shots faster than before.
For example, when we play against Big East or ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) teams, the players are more athletic than at other universities and people will close out on me a lot quicker. What’s more, they are going to be bigger and taller, so that they can easily block my shots if I shoot too slowly.
That’s why I worked on not bringing the ball down when I catch it, which will slow down my shot release. I must be able to catch the ball and be ready to shoot it at any time in one swift, smooth motion.
The second point is the range of my shot. In my high school days, I was probably able to shoot a good percentage from the international line (6.25 meters) or the new NCAA 3-point line (6.32 meters). But to be a better shooter, I have to improve my shooting range so that I can shoot from anywhere when I am open.
Now, I can shoot a good percentage from the NBA line (7.32 meters from the basket) or even a little bit farther than that when I’m open.
This helps my game even more since my defender has to close out even farther to take away my shot. And this opens up my driving space to score.
I still have to work on the accuracy of my shooting, however, and be able to shoot coming off screens or off the dribble.
Indeed, I appreciate people complimenting my shooting, but I know I still can get better at other things to make me a better shooter.
Tokyo native K.J. Matsui is the first Japanese male to play Division I basketball in the United States. Now a senior, he is one of the nation’s best 3-point shooters.
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