KAWASAKI – Nick Fazekas is a big fella, and it certainly gives him an advantage playing basketball.
But that alone doesn’t make the 31-year-old one of the B. League’s exceptional players. His phenomenal shooting skills set him apart from others in the men’s top hoop circuit in Japan.
“That’s what they brought me here to do,” said the 210-cm Kawasaki Brave Thunders center, who captured the scoring title by averaging 27.1 points in 60 games during league’s inaugural regular season, after a home game at Todoroki Arena in late April. “That’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”
If you are a Brave Thunders fan, you must have noticed the variety of shots that he takes and makes by now. He is not just a guy who posts up near the basket. He occasionally hits floaters and hook shots, and can also knock down 3-pointers.
Fazekas, who was selected by the Dallas Mavericks with the 34th overall pick in the second round of the 2007 NBA Draft, revealed the secret that made him a better-shooting big.
“The thing is, when I was in middle school, and even my first year in high school, I was only about 6-foot-3 (190 cm),” said Fazekas, who is the B. League’s leading MVP candidate this season. “So I was like a 2 (shooting guard) or 3 (small forward). I was coming off double staggers and I was supposed to be the shooter. I was supposed to be playing on the outside.”
Between his freshman year and sophomore year in high school, Fazekas experienced a sudden growth spurt to about 208 cm. And in his junior year, his coach told him to start playing more around the paint, with an eye on his future career.
Here’s what Fazekas recalled his coach telling him: “Hey man, you’re just taller than everyone, we’re going to be playing you on the inside.”
“So when I was younger, I was always conscious of being able to shoot,” said Fazekas, who made 68 of 159 3-point attempts (42.8 percent) this season.
Fazekas said that sometimes bigger kids want to play smaller kids’ positions, and smaller guys want to play like bigs, but he “tried to play all the positions” growing up.
“I just tried always my best to continue to find my touch (for) my shooting and make sure that I’m not one-dimensional as a guy to just shoot inside the 3-point arc,” said Fazekas, who finished runner-up in rebounding (12.7), only trailing Tochigi Brex standout Ryan Rossiter (13.3).
Brave Thunders head coach Takuya Kita believes that Fazekas naturally had a knack for shooting from the beginning. But he has also seen the player put in the extra effort during daily practices.
“He had been in the NBA, where you see so many of them make shots, but he’s never neglected his routines. He always works hard,” said Kita, whose team enters the eight-team playoffs as the No. 1 seed (49-11 record). “I believe all the work he’s put in has paid off and made him a player that can shoot.”
Kita also noted that Fazekas has become a more versatile scorer than in his earlier years with the team.
Kita credits Fazekas’ cleverness and diligence, not only his athleticism, for making him a better player.
“When he doesn’t play well, getting slowed down by the opposing defense for example,” Kita said, “the following week, he works on it repeatedly, trying to do better against the defense he didn’t play well against. He doesn’t leave the gym quickly after our practice but works on his shooting routines and all that.
“He’s always practicing, thinking what kind of shots he should take against different defenses. I think it’s made him who he is now.”
Fazekas agrees that he has more variety to his shooting repertoire than when he first came to Japan in 2012.
“In this league, teams are good at scouting, they are good at trying to take away strengths,” said Fazekas, who was named the 2013-14 MVP in the now-disbanded NBL. “So obviously everyone thought my strength is going left and shooting my left hook (shot). So I was like, ‘Oh well, I’ve got to make a counter move to that.’ “
Fazekas’ work ethic is a legacy from his NBA days. Asked who he modeled himself after as a shooter, he said Dirk Nowitzki, a gifted 213-cm shooter, was one of the players that he tried to emulate.
“I was a teammate of his (on the Mavericks), so I was able to kind of see all the extra work that he put in,” said the University of Nevada alum, who also mentioned a pair of retired NBA big men with phenomenal shooting skills, Vladimir Radmanovic and Memet Okur. “And he actually started having me join him at night (to practice), so I would go at night with him, and we would shoot every once in a while.
“I think from then on, I kind of learned, and it was like, ‘Look, you don’t just learn to shoot or get better at shooting just by strictly practice time.’ You’ve got to put in your own time, you’ve got to put up a lot of extra shots. So in a shooting sense, I tried to model after him.”