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Fukuoka counting on veteran forward Kazuya Hatano for consistent work on boards

by Ed Odeven

Journeyman Kazuya “J.” Hatano was a steady contributor during the Osaka Evessa dynasty years.

The hard-working forward earned a trio of championship rings as part of the bj-league’s first powerhouse team under bench boss Kensaku Tennichi.

Nearly a decade later, Hatano is still collecting a paycheck for doing the same things: battling in front of the basket and competing for rebounds in the lane. No one claimed it’s an easy way to make a living.

At the recent Summer Super 8 Tournament in Macau, Hatano was No. 1 among all players in rebounds (11.3 per game).

Hatano, who turned 36 in April, remains true to his game.

Above all, the Macau adventure was a reminder of the top skill that he has showcased throughout his pro career, which began with the Evessa in 2005.

The Rizing Zephyr, meanwhile, went 0-3 in the tournament.

In a 68-62 defeat to the Guangzhou Long Lions on July 17, Hatano pulled down 10 rebounds.

A day later against the Seoul Samsung Thunders, the 192-cm frontcourt mainstay contributed eight points and 11 boards in Fukuoka’s 68-63 setback.

On July 19, Hatano notched a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds as the Rizing Zephyr fell 90-66 to Blackwater Elite, a squad from the Philippines.

Teams from China, Taiwan, the Philippines and South Korea also played in the six-day tournament.

In Sunday’s final, Guangzhou topped Seoul 78-72.

Hatano joined Fukuoka earlier this month after one season with the Shimane Susanoo Magic in which he averaged 4.3 points and 2.6 rebounds in 54 B. League games. Shimane dropped to the second division for the 2018-19 campaign.

The Rizing Zephyr earned promotion to the top flight.

When the Evessa were perennial visitors to Ariake Colosseum for the bj-league Final Four, Tennichi recognized that Hatano filled a vital role for his club.

“He’s always aggressive on the boards and he is a very good defensive player,” Tennichi told The Japan Times in a February 2007 interview. “He is kind of a defensive star for our team. That is a big part of his job for this team.”

It’s no shock, really, that Hatano’s career has lasted this long. Every coach wants hustle players on their roster.

After leaving the Evessa, Hatano had stints with the Saitama Broncos (2009-11), Shiga Lakestars (2011-12, 2015-16), Oita HeatDevils (2012, 2014-15), Shimane (2012-14, last season) and Ryukyu Golden Kings (2016-17).

A fan favorite throughout his career, Hatano has never been the focal point of TV highlight reels. But he’s always stayed busy, productive and relevant.

Just ask former Osaka and Gunma Crane Thunders head coach Ryan Blackwell.

“He’s one of the bigger, more athletic Japanese guys,” Blackwell told The Japan Times in December 2010. “He makes it a point to crash the boards on the offensive and defensive end.”

Hatano doesn’t need to deliver a long-winded message about his goals for the upcoming season. There won’t be any real surprises — but plenty of rebounds.

“I will do my best as expected so that I can respond firmly to expectations,” he said in a statement.

Fukuoka’s revamped lineup will also have newcomers in 22-year-old guard Shota Tsuyama, who began his pro career with the Golden Kings in 2015, and former bj-league MVP/shooting guard Masashi Joho, another ex-Evessa player and Hatano’s former teammate.

At this stage of Hatano’s career, he’s not expected to play major minutes every game. But even in overseas games more than two more before the regular season tips off, he proved again last week that he wants the opportunity to be a key contributor.

Name change

For the past two seasons, the third division included the Otsuka Corporation Alphas. Now the B3 team is called the Koshigaya Alphas.

The Alphas, led by head coach Kazuto Aono, are based in Koshigaya, Saitama Prefecture.