The lack of a presence underneath the basket has been Japanese basketball’s everlasting issue. So Kenji Hasegawa, the current men’s national team head coach, looks more to his outside players than inside muscle, relying on their perimeter shooting to carry the offense.
That said, Keijuro “K.J.” Matsui, a sharpshooting guard, is one of the key men for Hayabusa Japan in the upcoming FIBA Asia Championship, which begins on Wednesday, in Changsha, China.
Matsui, a six-year veteran in the NBL, is required to come through in many aspects, driving in the lane, defensive plays, and showing leadership to guide the younger players on his club, the Toyota Alvark.
On the national team, Matsui’s role is a little different. He plays more like a pure shooter.
“We have other outside players that can drive in and shoot long ones on the national team,” Matsui, 29, said at Tokyo’s National Training Center on Wednesday. “So if those guys do things on their own, that spoils the team’s chemistry. In my case, shooting is something I’m good at, so if I do things differently and make mistakes, that takes the team’s momentum away. So I try to do what I’m good at.”
Matsui’s biggest weapon is his 3-point shooting.
“That’s what the team asks me to do,” said Matsui, who shot 43.2 and 40.8 percent from beyond the 3-point arc during the last two NBL seasons. “If I get open and make shots, that means we are playing good offense.”
Entering the continental tournament, fellow star shooter Kosuke Kanamaru, who plays for the NBL’s Aisin SeaHorses, has been hampered by foot and elbow injuries.
Asked if his role will be even bigger due to Kanamaru’s ailments, the 188-cm Matsui denied it, saying the team has other good players who can take shots from downtown. But Matsui’s polished shooting form, which comes from his ultra-quick release while utilizing screens, is unparalleled in Japan, and Hasegawa will largely depend on him in China.
In fact, while guys like Kanamaru said that it gets harder to launch shots at the international level, Matsui’s stance is opposite. He feels more comfortable taking shots against teams from other countries.
“In Japan, you know what your opponents are going to do and vice versa,” said Matsui, who played college ball at Columbia University (2005-09). “When you play at the international stage, of course they are going to scout you, but they haven’t matched up with you. So I feel like I can do well in international games.”
Matsui is no stranger to Asian competition himself, having competed in the last two Asia Championships, where Japan finished seventh (in 2011) and ninth (in 2013).
“I’ve already played against some of the players of other Asian countries, so I want to help our younger players with that experience,” Matsui said. “And we want to make it a third time’s charm, making it to the final four this time.”
The Asia Championship winner will receive an automatic berth in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, while the second-to-fourth-place finishers will advance to the final world qualifier for Rio.