Basketball / B. League | B. LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Under-appreciated Kanamaru has spotlight-worthy skills

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Kosuke Kanamaru doesn’t receive as much media attention as elite Japanese stars in other pro sports leagues in his native country.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the SeaHorses Mikawa superstar doesn’t deserve fanfare and recognition by the sporting press.

Baseball and soccer standouts overshadow the stellar performances of the veteran sharpshooter and many of his basketball-playing peers. (In recent years, Tochigi Brex floor leader Yuta Tabuse, Niigata Albirex BB guard Kei Igarashi, the Takeuchi twins — big men Kosuke of the Brex and Joji of the Alvark Tokyo — and Chiba Jets speedy guard Yuki Togashi are among the most recognized Japanese players.)

But the 192-cm Kanamaru is consistently putting up numbers that will cement his reputation as one of the most gifted offensive performers in Japan pro basketball this century.

This season, he’s scoring 17.9 points a game, the sixth-highest average in the 18-team first division and No. 1 among all Japanese players.

Kanamaru’s shooting touch has been impressive, too. He’s first in the league in free-throw shooting percentage (93.1, converting 94 of 101 attempts). He’s third overall in 3-point shooting percentage (42.1, making 69 of 164 shots).

The 28-year-old is quietly having an excellent campaign for West Division-leading Mikawa (28-9) while press coverage of baseball training camps and the upcoming J. League season increases.

Kanamaru’s skills and consistency as a go-to scorer have not gone unnoticed around the league, even if he’s not featured on the nightly news highlight shows on a constant basis.

“I think he is one of the best shooters in the league,” Osaka Evessa coach Dai Oketani told The Japan Times this week. “He is tough. He has skills to score, but I think his first strength is composure.”

Nagoya Diamond Dolphins frontcourt star Justin Burrell described Kanamaru as a cerebral player.

“He is very good at reading defenses,” Burrell said of the Fukuoka Prefecture native. “Knowing when to make cuts, knowing when to come off screens, knowing when to bump and fade. He is also a solid shooter.”

Last Saturday’s performance against the visiting Levanga Hokkaido, when Kanamaru scored 25 points and drained 5 of 9 3s, was a prime example of the impact he makes for the SeaHorses. A day earlier, he had 33 points on 13-for-21 shooting. For some players, those are extraordinary statistics; for Kanamaru, those are routine numbers.

One key factor in Kanamaru’s success is the passing proficiency of 40-year-old teammate J.R. Sakuragi. The former UCLA and NBA player is the B. League leader in assists (4.13 per game).

In Kanamaru’s six pro seasons, he’s averaged at least 15.4 ppg every year. He broke into the JBL with the now-defunct Panasonic Trians in the 2011-12 season (15.7 ppg). He moved on to the then-Aisin SeaHorses for the first season (2013-14) of the re-branded circuit, the NBL. The next season, he scored a career-high 19.7 ppg.

In December 2013, Kanamaru revealed the SeaHorses had instructed him to be aggressive on offense, according to an article published in this newspaper. As Kanamaru put it: “I’m told that I should attack the basket when I have the ball in my hands.”

This aggressive mindset has paid off, but his ability to bury step-back jumpers and catch-and-shoot lasers from the perimeter keep opponents on their toes. In short, he’s a gifted scorer and dependable shooter, including 47.9 percent from inside the 3-point arc this season.

Milestones: Toyama post player Sam Willard accumulated both his 3,000th point and 3,000th rebound in regular-season games in Japan on Sunday against the Alvark.

Willard, a University of the Pacific alum, made his debut here during the 2012-13 bj-league season with the Sendai 89ers.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, Kawasaki Brave Thunders center Nick Fazekas became the first player in the B. League to score 1,000 points this season.

He’s the odds-on favorite to reach 2,000 points before anyone else. Fazekas leads the top flight in scoring (28.0 ppg).

Upcoming games: Here’s a rundown of the Saturday-Sunday matchups: Mikawa vs. Akita, Tochigi vs. Toyama, Shiga vs. Tokyo, Hokkaido vs. Yokohama, Shibuya vs. Kyoto, Niigata vs. Osaka, San-en vs. Nagoya and Ryukyu vs. Chiba.

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