The Japan Times features periodic interviews with players in the bj-league. Josh Peppers of the Iwate Big Bulls is the subject of this week’s profile.
Ht: 200 cm
Wt: 92 kg
Hometown: Memphis, Tennessee
College: Central Florida
Noteworthy: Since 2007, Peppers has played for five bj-league franchises (Rizing Fukuoka, Sendai 89ers, Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix, Shiga Lakestars and Iwate, which he joined this fall after a second stint with Fukuoka last season). . . . Peppers is averaging 12.3 points in 44 games. He is one of the top backup players for the Big Bulls, who are 32-12 through Sunday, including 18-6 at home. An efficient scorer, Peppers has maximized his minutes for Iwate; his offensive output is coming from 20.2 minutes a game. . . . That’s been one of the trademarks of his hoops career. Exhibit A: In his first game for UCF as a freshman, Peppers scored 11 points in 23 minutes.
This reporter’s April 2008 feature on the then-expansion Rizing before their playoff showdown against the Takamatsu Five Arrows noted, “. . . Peppers, who turned 23 in April, scored 22.2 ppg, the No. 2 scorer in the league despite playing with an injured ankle for the past 1½ months.”
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Indeed, the Iwate Big Bulls are one of the elite teams in the bj-league this season, building off the success that coach Dai Oketani oversaw in 2012-13 in the Tohoku franchise’s second season. What do you view as defining characteristics of your team?
Defense. . . Defense. . . Defense. . . Coach Dai is a very defensive-minded coach. His style of coaching starts from the defensive end, strategizing ways to shut down other teams’ strengths, and expose their weaknesses. Building from the momentum we gain on the defensive end, we execute our offense with a great sense of awareness of each other on the court. Making the game easy by doing the hardest thing in the game, which are the simple things. Being simple can be one of the most challenging things for some teams.
Which defenders pose the greatest challenges to you on a regular basis in this league at the present time and over the years?
There are a few good defenders that come to mind in this league, but a couple players stand out. (Ryukyu star and reigning regular-season MVP) Anthony (McHenry), and my current teammate Lawrence (Blackledge). And (former bj-league star) Mikey Marshall, are all problems defensively at the guard position. It takes more than just a regular effort to outwit those players.
If given a magic wand, what would be the first thing you’d like to change about the bj-league, e.g. something to improve?
Simple, constancy. It’s hard for fans to keep up with the constant changing of players, rules and teams. I would also change the playoff format. I think the overtime-type third game (aka the mini-game) is not a realistic way to judge a series. Momentum changes from quarter to quarter, and just because you won the first and the second doesn’t mean that you have won the game. In the third game you only have 10 minutes, it’s not enough time in my opinion. I believe that there should be a best-of-three series.
For you, what are top basketball memories from: A) high school; B) college; and C) in the pros?
In high school, breaking the all-time scoring record for my high school (Whitehaven) was surreal.
I would have to say the best memory would have to be from college (University of Central Florida), winning the (2003-04 Atlantic Sun) Conference championship to advance to the Big dance. (Reporter’s note: UCF fell to Pittsburgh in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.)
It was surreal considering our school was predicted to not even have a chance. It was such a great accomplishment for the school. (Takamatsu Five Arrows standout) Dexter Lyons was also part of that team.
Since being a pro, my best memory was from the first season, needing to win six consecutive games at the end of the season to qualify for playoffs, and we did so. Seemed like mission impossible, but we stayed together made it happen.
What’s the best compliment you’ve received from a teammate, opponent, your own coach or an opposing coach about Josh Peppers the basketball player?
That I was one of the most underrated players in the league. Being one of the league’s underdogs has always pushed me to become a better player. I have been around for quite sometime now and I’m sure most people know why. You don’t need awards and statuses to prove yourself. It shows through hard work and comment to your craft.
At what age or perhaps game/series of games did you recognize you were a gifted basketball player with the potential to be a professional player? What details do you recall about that discovery?
In high school, my freshman year I was considered best of the preps in the Memphis metro area — but also in the Tennessee rankings as well. I was probably the only freshman on the list and was ranked in the top 5. It kind of hit me then that I had a gift that could take me places.
You have played for a handful of bj-league teams — Fukuoka (twice), Sendai, Hamamatsu, Shiga, and now Iwate. For each of those teams, you have been a quality scorer, energetic defender and team leader. How do you sum up those qualities in your own words, as in how you view your role?
The biggest thing for me is being able to adapt to any situation. Players can ether add to a situation providing positive energy for a team or do too much, taking away from what’s best for the team, and becoming INDIVIDUAL superstars. That’s been my main focus, knowing what I’m capable of, I try to do what’s needed, and not be selfish. I love winning so by all means, and under any circumstance, I will do whatever it takes to do so.
Did the fact that former NBA player John Neumann, your first former Fukuoka coach, is from Memphis greatly influence your decision to come to Japan in 2007? Where else were you considering going at that time?
Yeah, it had a lot to do with it. Being able to relate and understand each other was key for me. I had many other options leaving college in other countries, but coming to Japan just seemed like the right fit. I heard only great things about the league and wanted to be a part of it. It paid off in the long run and I’m happy with my decision. Coach Neumann had been all over the world and gave real advice for me to transition into the professional world.
Shifting the focus back to Iwate . . . You’ve seen Big Bulls coach Dai Oketani’s success over the years, including his two title-winning Ryukyu teams. Now, playing for him for the first time, what stands out most about the way he leads the team, makes adjustments, challenges his players and expects excellence?
What sets Coach Dai away from a lot of coaches I have played for is that he is still a student of the game, his focus is primarily on the defensive end, with unlimited possibilities on the offensive gives us players a chance to do what we do best for the betterment of the team. Aggressive, controlled play, on both ends. A high level of basketball is always expected from coach and he pushes his teams to be No. 1 and is satisfied with nothing less. It explains his success and shows that he is hands-down one of the best coaches in this league.
The fact you’ve played for five Japanese teams, one can point out, is a fact that your overall talents are recognized here. That said, do you feel you’ve been somewhat overlooked in the league’s pantheon of stars?
Not really. The fact that I’m still here after so many years shows. I don’t concern myself with the labels that media places on players. People who know and watch the game know what I’m capable of doing.
Off the court, how do you like to enjoy your leisure time in Japan?
Of the court, I enjoy spending time with my teammates, making the most of my time here in Japan. I love fishing, so if I have a chance I’m always looking for somewhere to do so. Recently, I have been trying expanding my taste for different foods here in Japan, so I like going to new restaurants and trying different Japanese food.
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Editor’s note: Archived stories in this long-running interview series can be found here: www.japantimes.co.jp/sports/column/one-on-one-with/