Keijuro Matsui isn’t quite like the rest of the 12 players on the Japan men’s national team for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade.
While his teammates are starters for their respective clubs, that is not the case for Matsui.
The 30-year-old shooting guard comes off the bench, providing a spark with his sharp shooting. Matsui is the sixth man for the Alvark Tokyo (formerly known as the Toyota Alvark), who previously played in the NBL and will compete in a new circuit, the B. League, this fall.
“Everybody else plays as a starter on his team,” Matsui said during a recent Team Japan practice in Tokyo. “But I come off the bench for Toyota. And on the national team, only five of us can be the starters and the rest have to come off the bench. That said, I know the role of coming off the bench better than anyone.”
Starting players have to stay focused from the tip-off. Bench players like Matsui, however, stay calm and try to observe the flow of the game from the sidelines early in each contest.
“I’m preparing myself, seeing how the game goes for about the first five minutes,” Matsui said. “And I’ll be ready to take the court after about five minutes. If my turn doesn’t come after five minutes, then I try not to lose the feeling by touching a ball.”
Matsui, who led the NBL in 3-point shooting percentage (44.8) in the 2015-16 season, admits people might think the starters are the best players. Nonetheless, he doesn’t obsess over the possibility of ever cracking the starting lineup.
“I always want to be a player that’s on the floor last,” Matsui said. “The five starting players aren’t necessarily used when the game’s on the line. I think the ones who are used when it matters most are the most reliable players, so I’m sticking to it.”
Matsui is confident that he will be a leader for Japan as one of the team’s veterans.
The Akatsuki Five will compete in the July 4-9 Olympic qualifiers competing for a spot at the Rio de Janeiro Games.
According to Matsui, the seniority system often found in Japanese culture sometimes hinders the necessary communication between players. The team’s age ranges from 21-year-old Yuta Watanabe to 35-year old Yuta Tabuse. Matsui, however, plans on being a facilitator on the team, having gotten an American influence from playing high school ball at Montrose Christian School, in Rockville, Maryland, and collegiately at Columbia University.
“Younger players often become hesitant to talk to older players,” said Matsui, who averaged 8.6 points and 46.5 percent from beyond the arc in last year’s FIBA Asia Championship. “So can (a 28-year-old Takatoshi) Furukawa say things to Joji (Takeuchi) and Kosuke (Takeuchi) (both of whom are 31 years old)? I don’t think so.
“But I say things to whomever whenever it’s necessary. When you become hesitant, you can’t communicate, like you can’t switch (on screens) when you want to switch. So I say things to our older players and sometimes our younger players say things to them through me.”
Japan will take on Latvia and the Czech Republic in the preliminary round of the Olympic qualifiers.