The Japan Times will be featuring periodic interviews with players in the bj-league. The league’s fifth season began in October. Kimitake Sato of the Oita HeatDevils is the subject of this week’s profile.
Position: Guard; Age: 26
Ht: 186 cm; Wt: 84 kg
College: Niigata Institute of Technology
Noteworthy: Sato is averaging 7.6 points per game this season. Over the past 10 games (through March 21), he’s scored at a 9.4 ppg clip, including a 15-point outing and three straight 13-point performances. Sato is a 76.4 percent free-throw shooter and has collected 42 steals. . . . He’s appeared in 40 games (24 starts) for Oita, which took a four-game winning streak into its weekend series against the Ryukyu Golden Kings.
Are you confident you can score 10, 15 or 20 points in every game if the team needs more of a scoring punch?
Yes, I have confidence, but I also want to contribute to the team in other ways. It doesn’t matter if I just get points. I want to have a positive role on the team.
The HeatDevils (20-22) are fighting for a playoff spot, with the club currently two games behind the fourth-place Shiga Lakestars. What must Oita do to overtake Shiga and secure the Western Conference’s final playoff spot?
It starts with defense. We are winning when we play good defense, so defense is the key. And in order to overtake fourth place we have to have consistent defense in the game. . . .
(Note: Due to league rules, if two teams have identical records, the team with the higher point differential — average margin of points scored vs. points allowed — wins the tiebreaker. Therefore, Sato said, the HeatDevils understand the need to clamp down on defense for every game.)
First-year HeatDevils coach Brian Rowsom played in the NBA more than two decades ago. How has he used that experience, such as motivational stories, to provide strong advice for your team? Can you offer a few examples?
Well, coach has spoken about off-the-court things, like how he shared with his teammates or what he did in his spare time. That helps me because teamwork is important off the court and on the court, too. During practices, coach tells me to be more aggressive. I am an aggressive player, but still Coach Brian requires me to be more aggressive. That’s the kind of advice I get.
You’ve previously played under bench boss Masaya Hirose of Niigata and ex-Oita coach Tadaharu Ogawa last season. How would you compare Rowsom’s coaching style with your former coaches?
The difference between Coach Brian and the former JBL players/coaches is that the former JBL guys teach more basic basketball in terms of defense — more organized defense — and the Japanese coaches teach every single detail about how to stand.
Of course, Coach Brian teaches the players about defense, but he teaches more offense and more aggressive (tactics), more five-on-five and individual and team drills. Everything starts from one-on-one play and attacking the gap, breaking down one-on-one plays — beat the opponent first, that kind of stuff. Then, he says, if somebody comes to help, pass.
On defense, Coach Brian teaches us how to rotate and how to move.
What is your favorite type of shot to take? Is the shot from a typical spot on the floor or a certain angle?
I don’t have a specific spot, but I try to penetrate, get a foul and go to the foul line and shoot free throws. My free-throw shot is a high percentage, almost 80 percent. I like to go to the foul line first.
Secondly, when my teammates try to penetrate I try to move off the spot for them and then when I get the ball, it doesn’t matter where it is, I try to shoot a wide-open shot.
You wear jersey No. 23, the same number that Michael Jordan worse for most of his illustrious NBA career. Is he one of your favorite players?
He’s one of my heroes, of course. And the reason why I took No. 23 is because I started playing basketball after I watched Michael Jordan’s games.
Who are the most difficult players in the bj-league you have played defense against?
(Mahmoud) Abdul-Rauf of Kyoto, Takamatsu’s (Yu) Okada and Niigata’s (Yuichi) Ikeda; they are very smart players, so I have to read what they do every single time I play against them. It’s very difficult for me to guard them.
Who are the most exciting players in the bj-league? What makes them exciting?
Tokyo Apache guard Cohey Aoki and Kyoto point guard Naoto Takushi are exciting players.
I like Aoki because he is short, very short (167 cm), but he doesn’t get scared about big men and he has solid techniques and he is very smart.
As for Takushi, he has talent and he has a sense of timing for delivering a pass and shooting.
What are your most special memories as a basketball player?
The big moment for me was when I was in junior college, a two-year college, when I helped the team proceed to the all-college tournament, and I won one game. I’m from Niigata and a small college, so it was a big moment.
The second (biggest thrill) was becoming a professional player. When I was drafted by Niigata (in 2005), that was a great moment for me.
If you weren’t a basketball player, what type of job do you think you would have right now?
Maybe I would be a construction worker. I like to build. I am interested in building a house, or maybe I would be a salesman at a car dealer. I like cars. I learned about cars in college.
What are your hobbies? And what do you do to relax when you are not playing basketball?
Beppu is very famous for hot springs, so I go to hot springs and take baths to be relaxed. I also enjoy watching DVDs. I’ve recently watched the new “Transformers” DVD and “Gran Torino.”