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Globetrotting Rick Rickert reaches end of the line after 15 seasons as pro player

by Ed Odeven

After a decade and a half as a globetrotting pro basketball player, Rick Rickert has decided that it’s time to begin the next phase of his life.

The 35-year-old’s retirement was made official last weekend. The Ibaraki Robots, for whom Rickert played the past two seasons, posted an announcement on their website on Saturday.

During his long, successful career, Rickert provided energy, interior muscle and a solid all-around game for five Japan pro basketball franchises: Kyoto Hannaryz, Osaka Evessa, Wakayama Trians, Chiba Jets and Ibaraki. He was a stabilizing force in the low post and an intelligent, fundamentally sound frontcourt leader.

In an exclusive interview with The Japan Times, the second-round pick (55th overall) of the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2003, reflected on his career and his overall impressions of basketball in Japan.

“I have had an amazing 15 years playing professionally around the world,” Rickert related via email from picturesque Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where he resides. “I am so thankful for all the seasons and experiences and the past seven years in Japan have been a gift for me and for my family. Calling Kyoto, Osaka, Wakayama, Chiba and Mito home will forever be places we visit. This may be the end of my playing career but certainly not the end of our time in Japan.

“What ultimately led to my decision to retire was timing, 15 years traveling has been wonderful but the fact that my daughter is getting older and we want to be back home in America played a large role that we knew would contribute to the right time to land back home in the (United) States. We love Japan and our time spent with many different teams throughout seven seasons but now our return to Japan will be when traveling.

“I have been playing at the top of my game for a while now and feel that I could physically continue at this high level for years to come but the time has come for me to turn the page and finish strong without injuries.”

The final season of Rickert’s pro career was solid. He averaged 16.2 points (No. 10 in B2) and 9.6 rebounds (third-best total). It was a typical season for him. Double-doubles were expected and usually delivered by the 211-cm Rickert.

Asked what were the biggest memories of his seven seasons in Japan, Rickert highlighted several things.

“Some of my biggest memories playing in Japan were making it to the Final Four at Ariake (Colosseum) with Kyoto back in 2012 and the championship series vs. Toshiba while playing for Wakayama in 2014,” Rickert told The Japan Times. “Japan basketball has amazing fans and support and I will always love those memories. One of my favorite recent memories is with the Ibaraki Robots when we went on a 17-game winning streak (starting in March), the team unity on that winning streak is a highlight for team sports. It was fun to see us improve from the first game throughout the season and peak at the end and finish strong. A great way to launch into the next season with momentum and community support.”

Indeed, the sport has gone through profound changes over the past decade. In 2005, the bj-league began with six teams and expanded nonstop until 2016. The merger of the bj-league and NBL (the JBL’s successor) into the current three-division B. League ushered in a new era of pro hoops here. Rickert saw these changes taking place, competing in the bj-league, NBL and B. League (second division).

“It has been a changing time for Japan basketball and it was an honor to be a piece of the growth,” Rickert commented. “The interest level in basketball throughout Japan has greatly increased and you can see the sport growing each season. I am proud to be a part of each league and to have been the key player for every organization.

“High-profile names in both coaching and playing aspects have helped raise the level of competition and I will closely be following the league this season and the coming years. The league changes and improvements have encouraged and strengthened the local Japanese players giving motivation to improve. I have been watching the basketball evolution since 2011 when I first arrived on the Japan basketball scene with Kyoto.”

Throughout the years, Rickert suited up for teams in Slovenia, Spain, Greece, Puerto Rico and New Zealand, plus the NBA Development League (now called the G League) and preseason stints with the T-Wolves and Detroit Pistons.

“I have played in almost every significant league in the world and really respect Japan and Japan basketball,” he stated.

Along the way, Rickert played for Bill Cartwright, the former starting center on the Chicago Bulls’ first three-peat while with the Evessa, and Zeljko Pavlicevic during his time on the Trians and Jets. Indeed, they are two big names in the world of global basketball, and Rickert admitted he’s been “fortunate to play with some great coaches over the years from American to Croatian to Japanese coaches.”

He went on: “All have had their own unique coaching styles with the basic principles of playing hard and together. Looking back it was a great experience in which I learned more about my craft and how to maximize my game. I will stay in close contact with my former coaches and teammates because although my years playing professionally have ended, the game itself and the relationships made each season last a lifetime. I thankfully have 15 seasons of teammates and coaches to take with me into the future.”

What does Rickert believe his legacy is in Japan basketball?

“I feel I made a real impact for the teams I have played for the past seven seasons,” he stated. “I left each team in a better position than when I got to the team. The teams will remember me as a hard worker who led by example. Not only did I lead in scoring and rebounding but I was able to be efficient with everything I did. I’m an example of how hard work can elevate your game. I had good relationships with each team and their communities. The fans were great and grew in numbers year after year.”

So who were the players that left the biggest impression on Rickert over the years?

“There have been many good imports over the years, but the best I competed against while in Japan was Nick Fazekas,” wrote Rickert of the Kawasaki Brave Thunders and Japan national team star. “Nick stood out over the rest because he was the toughest to guard.

“I’ve had the pleasure of playing against some of the best players in the world. The best player I have ever had to guard was LeBron James. LeBron is one of the best players of all time so you can imagine how difficult it was to keep him in check.

“The best Japanese player my teams played against was (SeaHorses Mikawa sharpshooter) Kosuke Kanamaru. He’s got a great ability to not only shoot the ball but slash and get back-door scoring opportunities. He’s one of the best 3-point shooters in our league.”

Rickert left the University of Minnesota after his sophomore season to declare for the 2003 NBA Draft. After being chosen by the T-Wolves, he landed in Slovenia. He found his niche as a steady go-to player overseas.

Rickert envisions a return to basketball in the future, working in coaching or management.

Or as he put it to conclude the interview: “I’ve always loved basketball and management and/or coaching would be a natural path for me. My options are wide open at this point and I’m looking forward to potential opportunities.”

New era in Yokohama

Guards Masayuki Kabaya and Kenji Yamada played instrumental roles in helping establish the Yokohama B-Corsairs as a bj-league force from the beginning. When the team was established in 2011, the backcourt duo provided key leadership and productivity, helping the team win a title in its second season.

They were the last links to the team’s 2012-13 championship on the roster. As of press time, Kabaya, who turned 36 on Monday, hasn’t re-signed with the B-Corsairs.

Yamada, meanwhile, has joined the Hiroshima Dragonflies, a second-division club. He turns 35 later this month.

On the move

After seven seasons with the Akita Northern Happinets, shooting guard Shigehiro Taguchi has joined the title-chasing Chiba Jets Funabashi.

The 184-cm Taguchi averaged 12.0 points in 60 games for Akita last season. He knocked down 42.7 percent of his 3-point shots, the fourth-best shooting accuracy from long range in B2.

The Happinets were promoted back to B1 after a 54-6 season in the second flight.

New boss

Don Beck, former bench boss of the Toyota Motors Alvark during the JBL era, is the new sideline boss for the Toyama Grouses, it was announced last weekend.

Beck spent the past three seasons as the head coach of the WJBL’s Toyota Motors Antelopes.

James Duncan, an ex-Rizing Fukuoka head coach, was added to Beck’s staff as an assistant.

Summer tournament

The Rizing Zephyr Fukuoka will participate in the upcoming Summer Super 8 tournament in Macau.

The event, scheduled to be held July 17-22, is also set to include two teams from China, two from South Korea, two from the Philippines and one from Taiwan. More details should be announced in the coming days.

Feedback

Contract the reporter: edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp