Basketball / B. League | B. LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Rookie guard Yuta Okada is shining bright for SeaHorses

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

As the regular season winds down, SeaHorses Mikawa rookie guard Yuta Okada continues to demonstrate impressive skills and an exciting all-around game.

In short, Okada has established himself as a future star for coach Kimikazu Suzuki’s club.

For teammates, fans and foes alike, the 20-year-old combo guard is providing a glimpse of the future, especially in the past several weeks.

Before the season began, Okada declared that he wanted to play aggressively. In a team-issued news release, Okada said, “I would like to do my best to contribute to the team.”

So far, so good.

The 189-cm Okada, a Takushoku University alum, is averaging 9.0 points and 1.6 assists in 25 games, making five starts (all in the last five games). He’s shooting 41.8 percent from 3-point range, giving the club another key perimeter option along with mainstay Kosuke Kanamaru, who had 33 points in an 83-69 victory over the visiting San-en NeoPhoenix on Wednesday.

Against the NeoPhoenix, Okada put 22 points on the board on 9-for-18 shooting and dished out seven assists. Before the midweek clash, he had 18, 15, 19 and 21 points in his first four starts. He’s demonstrated an ability to score in a variety of ways, including runners, floaters and stop-and-pop jumpers from long range. He’s also made some flashy forays to the hoop while exhibiting confidence in his speed and strength.

For Okada, Wednesday’s dynamic performance included 15 of his team’s 22 fourth-quarter points.

In other words, he carried the offense in a big way.

What’s more, he dropped a season-high 23 on the Yokohama B-Corsairs on Jan. 30, making 10 of 18 field goals (including 3 of 6 3-pointers). He has canned three 3-pointers three times in the last five games.

SeaHorses forward J.R. Sakuragi, the team’s elder statesman who possesses a unique perspective on the development of Japan pro basketball due to his longevity here, believes Okada has a bright future.

“He’s a special talent,” said Sakuragi, who played on UCLA’s 1995 NCAA championship team. “No fear and skill is a rare thing here in Japan.”

Former Mikawa star Makoto Hiejima, who now plays for the Tochigi Brex after a short stint with the Brisbane Bullets, is considered by many to be the best all-around Japanese player in the B. League. But Sakuragi thinks that Okada has even greater potential.

“Okada has a higher ceiling than Hiejima, I believe,” Sakuragi told The Japan Times in a recent interview. “Same skill set, a little turnover prone but Okada is a little more efficient offensively with more moves at his disposal.”

What’s also impressed Sakuragi about Okada’s style of play is the fact that he has an improvisational flair to his game. Sakuragi called his young teammate “a reactionary player.”

“None of his moves seem to be predetermined, which is how I play,” he added.

In a 2017 interview posted on the Takushoku University website, Okada revealed that he’s a fan of Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Stephen Curry. Okada now dons No. 30, the same jersey number as his NBA hero.

According to the article, Okada commended the Takushoku coaching staff for offering pointers on shooting techniques, and he said the advice was helpful in his development as a player.

B1 statistical leaders

Here’s an update on the first division’s top three individuals in key categories through Wednesday:

Scoring — Niigata’s Davante Gardner (26.9), Kyoto’s David Simon (24.4) and Kawasaki’s Nick Fazekas (22.4).

Assists — Ryukyu’s Narito Namizato (6.9), Akita’s Takuya Nakayama (5.7) and Niigata’s Kei Igarashi (5.2).

Rebounds — Osaka’s Josh Harrellson (12.2), Tochigi’s Ryan Rossiter (11.6) and Fazekas (11.0).

Steals — Nakayama (2.2), Tochigi’s Jeff Gibbs (2.1) and Chiba’s Michael Parker (2.0).

Blocks — Akita’s Kadeem Coleby (2.4), Simon (2.1) and Niigata’s Lamont Hamilton (1.5).

Free-throw percentage — Tokyo’s Seiya Ando (90.5), Ryukyu’s Takatoshi Furukawa (89.7) and Nagoya’s Shuto Ando (86.7).

3-point percentage — Chiba’s Kosuke Ishii (47.7), Tochigi’s Yusuke Endo (44.8) and Ryukyu’s Jeff Ayres (41.2).

B2 stat leaders

Scoring — Gunma’s Thomas Kennedy (27.3), Ehime’s Andrew Fitzgerald (26.7) and Kagawa’s Terrance Woodbury (24.5).

Assists — Nara’s Gary Hamilton (7.6), Kumamoto’s Takumi Furuno (7.0) and Nishinomiya’s Draelon Burns (6.9).

Rebounds — Shimane’s Gregory Echenique (14.3), Hamilton (13.5) and Nagoya’s Garrett Stutz (12.9).

Steals — Aomori’s Cullen Ruso (2.4), Fukushima’s Yuji Kanbara (1.9) and Furuno (1.8).

Blocks — Yamagata’s Chukwudiebere Maduabum (2.5), Shinshu’s Wayne Marshall (2.3) and Gunma’s Abdullahi Kuso (1.9)

Free-throw percentage — Nagoya’s Yasuyuki Miyazaki (91.7), Kennedy (87.7) and Kumamoto’s Yoshihiko Toshino (87.5).

3-point percentage — Miyazaki (50.7), Shimane’s Takuya Soma (45.7) and Hiroshima’s Shogo Asayama (41.8).

A look ahead

All 18 top-flight teams are in action on Saturday and Sunday. The matchups are San-en vs. Osaka, Tochigi vs. Kyoto, Chiba vs. Mikawa, Niigata vs. Kawasaki, Nagoya vs. Shibuya, Hokkaido vs. Yokohama, Akita vs. Tokyo, Toyama vs. Shiga and Ryukyu vs. Fukuoka.

Feedback

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

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