The Japan Times will be featuring periodic interviews with players and other individuals from the bj-league. Rizing Fukuoka guard Jun Nakanishi is the subject of this week’s profile.
Position: Guard; Age: 28
Ht: 180 cm; Wt: 76 kg
College: Santa Monica JC (Calif.)
Noteworthy: He’s one of the league’s most well-traveled players, having suited up for the Tokyo Apache (2005-07), Rizing Fukuoka (2007-08; suffered a major knee injury in 2007 that limited him to seven games that season), Osaka Evessa (2008-10) and Fukuoka again this season. Entering this season, Nakanishi had played in 177 bj-league games and made 183 steals. He was selected in the league’s inaugural draft in June 2005.
The Rizing are 8-4 entering this weekend’s series against the Miyazaki Shining Suns. He was a teammate of Rizing point guard Nile Murry last season at Osaka. This season, Nakanishi is averaging 8.7 points in 12 games (five starts). He’s serving his second stint as the Rizing’s team interpreter, a role he first had under ex-coach John Neumann.
As a teenager, Nakanishi relocated to Nebraska to study English and and later moved to Redondo Beach, Calif., where he said he was a high school teammate of Kyoto’s Wendell White and ex-Hamamatsu forward Adam Zahn. He first met Toshimitsu Kawachi, the future bj-league commissioner, at a Nike camp in the United States.
Are you happy with the team’s start to this season? And what do you think is the No. 1 thing Fukuoka needs to improve?
First of all, I am very happy with the team right now. Like you know, I played here before. . . . and then I got traded to Osaka.
I felt I’ve got unfinished business here and I want to show myself and the fans that I am 100 percent healthy.
I only played seven games in the first season and fans really couldn’t get a chance to see me, and I want to prove myself (this season). . . .
When I was in Osaka, we were a good defensive team, but we’re still not at that level on defense.
Offensively, (Michael) Parker, Nile and other Japanese guys like (Akitomo) Takeno and myself can score on the offensive end, but as you know, in basketball you win by playing defense. If we take care of our defense through the season, I think we can be OK.
In your own words, how would you describe your style of play? For example, some guys call themselves “hard workers” or “vocal leaders.”
I’m a leader. I describe myself as a leader. I’ve played in this league for a long time now. We’ve got young guys on this team and I’m a veteran now, so I’ve got to speak up and communicate with others and whenever I need to talk to them, I speak up and speak my mind. On the court, I try to be a leader.
My message: It’s important to work hard in practice. It doesn’t start in the game, everything starts in practice.
What’s the single most impressive thing you’ve been a part of since the league was established?
Last season, we went to the final. It was my first experience there. We had so many guys who could play on the team — Lynn (Washington), Nile, (David) Palmer. . . . We had good chemistry.
Even though we didn’t win the championship, it was the most impressive accomplishment I’ve had in my career. Also, Coach Ten (Kensaku Tennichi) had a lot of impact on me. He taught me a lot of things. Last year was great, one of the greatest years I’ve had in my basketball career.
What are some different things you’ve learned from the various coaches — Joe Bryant, John Neumann, Tennichi and Tadaharu Ogawa — you’ve played for in the bj-league?
• The first year I was young, very young, fresh out of college. . . . I thought everything was going to be good. (Tokyo) coach Bryant told me that you’ve got to earn everything you get. It’s not like somebody’s going to give it to you. You’ve got to go get it if you want it. He was pretty hard on me and I learned a lot of things from him.
• (About) Coach Neumann, man a lot of people think he’s pretty wild, but so far he’s the most experienced of the coaches (I’ve had) in the bj-league.
Sometimes, he’s a gambler on the court. But he knows a lot of stuff about basketball. He’s just amazing. I learned a lot of things from him as well. Unfortunately, I couldn’t play for him as much as I wanted to (due to the knee injury). But he always talked to me and (said) he always missed me playing for him.
• About Coach Ten, he doesn’t care about scoring or assists. Those are things that show up in the stats, but you’ve got to do the simple things in order to play on the court. He’s really hard on Japanese guys, but you’ve got to be really focused on what he wants you to do.
I was really focused on rebounding and running the court and I did those things, and that’s why I think I had two good years in Osaka.
• About Coach Ogawa, one thing he expects me to do is be a leader on this team. He wants me to lead the guys by setting an example. While being his translator, he comes and talks to me first and between all the players.
How did you first become involved in basketball as a youngster?
I have an older brother five years older than me and he started playing in middle school. When he came home (from school), he use to watch NBA tapes and that’s how I got into basketball. I used to watch Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls tapes all the time.
And we had a basketball hoop in the parking lot in the back of the apartment building in Setagaya Ward, where I grew up.
Later, as a junior high school student, I had a chance to attend a Michael Jordan camp in California and I really liked it and I really liked how the coaches coached the kids, and I thought playing basketball is the way for me.
After you retire as a player, would you like to remain in basketball as a coach or perhaps in some other capacity?
I love basketball and it’s my life and even after retirement I want to get involved in a job that’s related to basketball. . . . I could be a coach, I could be a translator, I could work in management or maybe as an agent.
What do you believe is the most important thing the bj-league needs to change or do better in order to gain a greater following in the media and also to attract more fans?
The bottom line is we’ve just got to get better performance-wise. The basketball level is just not there yet.
You know how in baseball and soccer, Japan can play at the world competition level, but in basketball we can’t even go to the Olympics. So as an individual player I’ve got to get better and the whole league’s got to get better. And if the whole league’s going to get better and if the national team is going to compete at the world level, then there’s going to be more media interest.
We don’t have that cycle yet: more fans to come to the game, more media involved, good performance, good level of basketball.