While he may not be officially listed as such, veteran point guard Shinsuke Kashiwagi is a de facto player/coach for the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins.
Before this season, the 35-year-old moved to the club in search of a new challenge after playing for the powerhouse SeaHorses Mikawa for 12 seasons.
His goal now is to turn the B. League Central Division franchise into a championship contender like the SeaHorses.
“I would’ve stayed in Mikawa if I wanted to win a championship more easily,” Kashiwagi said earlier this season. “But I thought I would gain new pleasure and motivation by coming to Nagoya.”
His new motivation stems from the potential of the Dolphins, who have a number of young Japanese players who are raw but have room to develop. Kashiwagi feels his job is to make sure those young talents blossom as basketball players and contribute to making the team more competitive.
“I really feel this team is going to be stronger,” Kashiwagi said. “But to be honest, (the young players) don’t know what it takes to win yet. I would like to teach them and feel motivated to be part of the process of getting better. And I’m enjoying the whole thing.”
Kashiwagi knows every game has its ups and downs, and said the Dolphins’ younger players need to learn to be patient while trying to play through the bad stretches.
He added that his SeaHorses teammates were seasoned veterans who he didn’t have to advise much, but the situation is different with his new team.
“(That we can’t play patiently) is our weakness and we’ve got to change that,” said Kashiwagi, who helped the SeaHorses win four league championships during his stint. “We’re still playing individual basketball and have got to play more like a team.”
Maybe it will take a little while for Nagoya to become a perennial winner. It had gotten off to a 2-5 start to the season through Saturday’s games.
But the Hokkaido native feels the younger players should not be afraid of making errors, because just teaching them verbally is not going to help their development, as gaining experience and learning through mistakes are the most effective way to get better.
“Teach them and let them do things first,” Kashiwagi said, when asked how he’d develop his younger teammates. “They keep making mistakes and that’s how they learn. Based on my own past experience, making mistakes will lead to you gain experience. I have made so many errors myself. So I let them play, while providing some advice, and then let them figure out why they made mistakes and lost games. You take steps forward like that.”
Nagoya’s first-year head coach, Shingo Kajiyama, places his full trust in Kashiwagi, saying the player’s knack for the game is unparalleled in the country.
“As much as he has skills, I’ve been impressed with his feel for the game, like his defensive reads and all that. Offensively, he can calm his teammates down (with his leadership),” Kajiyama said of Kashiwagi. “And our younger players can learn just by watching him.”
Diamond Dolphins captain and American Justin Burrell also appreciates the fact Kashiwagi has served as a sidekick for him and a Japanese leader.
“His leadership and wisdom on the court has really been big for us,” the 204-cm forward/center said.
Kashiwagi won the MVP awards in the regular season and postseason of the 2007-08 JBL campaign and used to be a regular national team guard. Despite his past individual accolades and achievements, Kashiwagi, who now comes off the bench, is not concerned about how long he’s on the floor these days.
“I leave it to head coach Kajiyama completely,” said Kashiwagi, who has averaged 3.5 points, 2.2 assists and 1.2 steals. “I’ll play when I’m asked to, and I’m not going to say, ‘let me play, let me play.’ But when I am on the court, I’ll try to make sure I do my job. Whether I’m out there for more minutes or fewer minutes doesn’t matter and I just focus on preparing myself as well as possible.”
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