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Tatsuya Ito is enjoying a solid rookie season for the Kyoto Hannaryz.

The steady point guard has showcased his scoring ability and excited fans with his passing acumen along the way. In Kyoto’s 74-72 road defeat to the Shiga Lakestars on Sunday, the 23-year-old contributed 13 points and a season-high 11 assists.

The Tokai University alum has started all 49 games he’s appeared in this season, helping the Hannaryz (31-20) clinch a playoff berth. Ito is averaging 8.7 points, 4.2 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 1.3 steals for longtime coach Honoo Hamaguchi’s club.

Blessed with youthful exuberance and a passion for the game, the 173-cm Ito has amassed 207 assists against 87 turnovers. He notched 10 assists against the SeaHorses Mikawa on Christmas Eve and Alvark Tokyo on Jan. 21.

On Feb. 1, 2017, the Hannaryz began making preparations for the upcoming season, announcing Ito’s acquisition.

“I will play with energy . . . and work hard so that I can become the power of the team as soon as possible,” Ito said at the time, according a team-issued news release.

Energy is a defining trait of his game. For instance, in a game in early March against the host Tochigi Brex, Ito, exhibiting alert defense, poked the ball away from Brex point guard Yuta Tabuse near halfcourt. He then sprinted toward the other end of the court, where he received the ball from a teammate and converted a stylish reverse layup.

Looking back on his collegiate career Ito told Basketball Spirits magazine in October that an injury setback — he fractured a bone in his right hand near the end of his senior season — helped him forge a strong mental focus.

Ito, a native of Chiba, went on to say that the success of the Hannaryz will also depend partly on his communication skills with the import players.

“In order to communicate with foreign nationals, I still need to have English skills. . .,” he told Basketball Spirits.

He added: “. . .I have to be able to transmit more words to control the game.”

With Ito playing a key role, the Hannaryz are focused on being a team “that does not give up until the end of the year,” he told the magazine.

As for his own offensive game, Ito summed it up this way, according to Basketball Spirits: “I like the outer corner shot, but I want to use the pick to make more use of it and to increase the pull, rather than making myself (take) an unreasonable drive.”

The magazine paraphrased Ito’s goals at this stage of his career by reporting his aim is to be “a guard trusted by all the team” but Basketball Spirits acknowledged that it’s “a heavy burden on the shoulders of a rookie, but a great challenge.”

The Hannaryz travel to face the Levanga Hokkaido (25-26) this weekend, and then have only seven games before the playoffs.

Kyoto had six consecutive winning seasons to close out the bj-league era, then slipped to 26-34 in the B. League’s inaugural campaign. With a revamped roster, including frontcourt newcomers Joshua Smith, Julian Mavunga and Yuya Nagayoshi, and the return of former Hannaryz guards Shun Watanuki and Masaharu Kataoka after stints elsewhere, the Hannaryz are back in their familiar place as a team with a mission to make some noise in the postseason.

And now, Ito, described as an “unyielding rookie” by Basketball Spirits, is a big part of those plans.

A look ahead

Here’s a look at this week’s other top-flight matchups, with all two-game series starting on Saturday: Mikawa vs. Shimane, Tochigi vs. Toyama, San-en vs. Kawasaki, Chiba vs. Nishinomiya, Osaka vs. Yokohama, Tokyo vs. Nagoya, Shiga vs. Shibuya and Niigata vs. Ryukyu.

Mixing things up

Isaac Butts usually doesn’t start games. Instead, he’s an important player off the bench for the SeaHorses.

Mikawa coach Kimikazu Suzuki mixed things up after his team’s 96-77 loss in the series opener last Saturday against the Chiba Jets Funabashi.

Butts got his fifth start in 51 games in the series finale. (But he had made three recent starts: on March 12 and 17, which were back-to-back games, and March 28.)

On Sunday, the veteran center explained the reason he was penciled in the starting lineup, recalling his coach’s message after the SeaHorses 102-84 bounce-back victory.

“He just said yesterday that Chiba showed their strengths, so today we need to come out and show our strengths and be more aggressive on the inside and rebound better and control the game a little more, so he put me in the lineup today,” Butts recounted.

The move paid off for the SeaHorses (42-9, top record in the top flight), who had their 17-game win streak stopped on Saturday.

The Appalachian State alum scored 16 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in 38-plus minutes in the SeaHorses’ 102-84 triumph at Funabashi Arena. He matched his second-highest rebounding total of the season (Nov. 19 against Yokohama), one shy of his top performance against Hokkaido on March 12.

Butts takes pride in being one of the league’s premier rebounders. He’s fourth overall with 10.0 boards per game.

Looking back on Sunday’s victory, he summed up his objectives this way: “We had to dominate on the glass and we had to control the tempo of the game.”

He went on: “I just knew that in order for us to win I had to rebound well today to keep Chiba from fast-breaking, and our guards were really aggressive shooting. So it was a good balance.

“If you are going to give them rebounds, they are going to fast-break, they like to run. So you’ve got to control the rebounds.”

With a dynamic double-double on the stat sheet, Butts exerted a lot of energy to leave his stamp on the game.

“It’s just whatever it takes for our team to win,” Butts told reporters. “If I need to play inside defense, if I need to rebound, whatever it takes, I’m here to win, so whatever the coach tells me he needs me to do, that’s what I’m going to do that day. So I feel like it was a good game for us. It showed us that we can compete with anybody. So that ‘s what it’s all about for us.”

In his younger days, Butts played left tackle on the offensive line. As a high school upperclassmen at Georgia Military College Prep, he began to consider basketball a better option than football for his future athletic pursuits.

“I always had good footwork and good hands,” Butts revealed. “As I got older and realized that I wasn’t the most athletic guy, I realized that I could position myself to be a good rebounder and that could take me a long way, so I’ve always focused on that in my game.”

As a pro, Butts said he believes the best demonstration of this skill was a 29-rebound performance during his rookie season (2012-13) with the Moncton Miracles in the National Basketball League of Canada.

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