As players get bigger, stronger and faster, it’s inevitable the world’s top athletes will need support from athletic trainers, strength coaches and therapists as they try to accomplish great feats.

Yusuke Nakayama is one the people the Cleveland Cavaliers’ players have turned to the past few years. As a member of the training staff, the native of Susono, Shizuoka Prefecture, recently contributed to the Cavaliers’ emotional run to the NBA title as an athletic trainer/performance scientist.

“It took me a few seconds to realize that the game was really over,” Nakayama, 33, said in an email to The Japan Times about the moment his team captured the title with a thrilling win over the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the NBA Finals on June 19.

Nakayama, however, didn’t get too caught up in celebration. He said winning the championship — or even games — isn’t the biggest goal he sets. Instead, he focuses on doing the best job he possibly can.

The Cavaliers advanced to the NBA Finals in each of the last two years, facing the same foe. But in its first attempt, Cleveland had to play with two of its best players, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, sidelined with injuries and fell to Golden State in six games.

“It was clear that the injuries and fatigue kept us from the championship the previous year,” Nakayama recalled. “So going to the postseason and even the Finals at full strength was the biggest goal for the performance team.

“The toughest part was the fact that we were already shorthanded to start the season with two guys coming back from surgeries. When you are shorthanded, the workload on the rest of the team increases.

“So it was a challenge to maintain the health of the active players while waiting for the return of those rehabbing players without rushing them.

“I think the performance team got the job done, including maintaining full strength (through) the last game of the season.”

Meanwhile, Nakayama, who received a doctorate in kinesiology/athletic training from Michigan State University in 2013, said that he’s aware of the current state of basketball in his native country.

He said that although he has not had enough time to pay close attention to Japanese basketball, he looks favorably upon the reforms that were brought into the sport recently, including the formation of the B. League, led by Japan Basketball Association president Saburo Kawabuchi.

“I’m very happy about and proud of the change(s) that Mr. Kawabuchi and his crew made,” he said. “As a Japanese who loves basketball, it would be an honor if I get to contribute to the development of Japanese basketball. Actually, it is one of my motivations to keep pushing myself to be a better clinician.”

Nakayama said that he eventually wants to have his own training facility in Japan.


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