Sakuragaoka Gakuen High School earned its first medal in the Winter Cup boys competition late last month.
The Aichi Prefecture school used a simple offensive strategy to accomplish that goal: Give the ball to scoring machine Keisei Tominaga.
It proved to be the proper plan. The senior shooting guard averaged 39.8 points in his team’s six games at the annual national high school tournament, which is officially called the All-Japan Championship.
Tominaga, who was selected to the all-tournament team, scored a tournament-high 46 points in his team’s 76-65 win over Teikyo Nagaoka of Niigata Prefecture in the third-place contest. In a 103-72 lopsided loss to eventual champ Fukuoka Daiichi High, Tominaga scored 37, including an eye-opening 31.
At one point, the 17-year-old knocked down three consecutive 3-pointers during the first half, silencing the crowd at Musashino Forest Sports Plaza.
Fukuoka Daiichi’s Seiji Furuhashi, one of the team’s top defenders, guarded Tominaga. After the game, he said that he was “praying” his opponent would slow down. But at the same time, he attempted to guard him the best he could, otherwise the offensive machine would hit buckets if he left him open.
Tominaga, who converted only 29.7 percent of his 3s at the tournament, is not a pure catch-and-shoot player. He creates his own shots, dribbling or using screens. So his percentage is deceiving. In fact, he nailed some 3s a few meters from beyond the arc. In other words, from NBA range.
The 185-cm player is not a pure shooter. He is a scorer who can slash and dunk.
Sakuragaoka head coach Satoru Ezaki noted that his team was able to make it as far as it did at the Winter Cup because of Tominaga. Unlike many other Japanese coaches that stress passing for all players, Ezaki instructs Tominaga not to focus on passing, but to always look for his shot.
“I want him to carry Hinomaru (Japanese flag) behind his back in the future,” Ezaki said of Tominaga and his exceptional scoring ability. “Our other players have had to make sacrifices for him, though. But he’s earned the right with results.”
While practicing, Tominaga said that he’s made as many as “92 or 93” out of 100 3-point attempts.
Last summer, Tominaga competed for Japan at the FIBA Under-18 Asian Championships in Thailand. He led the team with 19.3 points per game, guiding it to a fifth-place finish.
Torsten Loibl has served as Japan’s U-18 squad bench boss and been the head coach for other national squads for teenage groups. The German told the Japan Times in an email that he identified Tominaga “kind of accidentally” at one of the Japan Basketball Association tryout camps in November 2017.
Tominaga was overlooked until then because he was “small,” but his phenomenal skills opened Loibl’s eyes and the coach placed the diamond in the rough on the U-16 national squad right away.
“My first reaction: Wow!,” Loibl said of the first time he saw Tominaga. “Amazing shooting touch, excellent athletic abilities, positive attitude and growing potential. (He is the) best U-18 prospect we have at the moment.”
Though he thinks Tominaga still “plays wild from time to time,” Loibl likes Tominaga’s creativity in one-on-one situations, which is normally a weakness for Japanese players.
“In terms of shooting, Keisei is probably the best shooter in Asia in his age,” Loibl said. “You can’t find this kind of shooting touch in this age often, even in Europe.”
There are rumors that Tominaga is headed to the United States, to attend either a prep school or a university, after his high school graduation in March. Tominaga would not answer questions regarding his post-high school destination during the Winter Cup. Instead, he revealed that he eventually wants to be an NBA player and represent the national team at the Olympics.
“I’ve been using Steph Curry (of the Golden State Warriors) for his shooting range and (Houston Rockets star) James Harden’s step-back shooting as my references,” said Tominaga, whose father, Hiroyuki, is a former 211-cm center for the national team. His mother was an industrial league player in her younger years.
Loibl said that Tominaga’s outstanding shooting would make him “very attractive for NCAA teams or teams in Europe in the future” but “the NBA is a different story.”
“Keisei should think about his first steps before the third or fourth one,” Loibl said. “He needs to keep working hard on his game and strengthening his body to be ready for the much more physical game on the top level.”