Basketball

Yuki Kawamura and Kubema Joseph Steve power Fukuoka Daiichi to second straight Winter Cup

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Fukuoka Daiichi added another crystal Winter Cup to its trophy shelf on Sunday with a dominant performance.

The defending champion captured the title at the All-Japan High School Tournament with a 75-68 win over crosstown rival Fukuoka University Ohori in the boys’ final at Musashino Forest Sport Plaza in Tokyo.

Fukuoka Daiichi has won three titles in the last four years at Japanese high school basketball’s equivalent to baseball’s Koshien tournament. Daiichi is the first repeat champion since Rui Hachimura’s Meisei High won from 2013-15.

It was Fukuoka Daiichi’s second major national title this year, as the school also won the Inter-High School Championship.

Before Daiichi began its current reign, Ohori was the team to beat in Fukuoka Prefecture. Fukuoka Daiichi head coach Takashi Ideguchi said his team had “chased Ohori” for a long time and that he was proud of his players for delivering such a stellar performance with the trophy on the line.

Ideguchi described his team, which included several seniors playing their last game of high school ball, as the “hardest-working players in all of Japanese high school.”

Ohori was hunting for its third national title — and first since 1993 — but came up short. The Trojans have reached the final four times in the past seven years, finishing as the runner-up in all four trips.

Fukuoka Daiichi employed its usual strategy, which saw Congolese center Kubema Joseph Steve and exceptional point guard Yuki Kawamura carry the load. Led by the 203-cm Steve in the paint, the team built a 42-29 lead entering halftime.

Ohori kept fighting, trying to limit Kawamura with pressure defense on occasion and it paid off somewhat. But Fukuoka Daiichi was simply too good and didn’t let Ohori get closer than nine points before ace Seishin Yokochi hit a 3-pointer at the final buzzer.

Steve and co-captain Kawamura each recorded a triple double, though they arrived there in different ways. Steve had 31 points, 20 rebounds and 11 blocks while Kawamura came up with 10 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. Shooting guard and co-captain Asato Ogawa chipped in with 17 points.

Fukuoka Daiichi won the battle on the boards with 56 rebounds to Ohori’s 44.

Kawamura, a former Under-16 and Under-18 national team player who entered the tournament as one of the most popular players,said after the game that he was “relieved.”

“This was the last time for us to play with these members and I felt a little sad,” said the 172-cm Kawamura, who some believe could join the B. League right away with his exceptional skills. “I wanted to get away from this tension as soon as possible. I was even nervous at our hotel. But it’s all paid off for us and I’m happy I can smile like this now.”

Kawamura, a Yamaguchi Prefecture native, will attend a university after his graduation in the spring. He said he still has “a lot to work on” but eventually wants to “be a point guard and represent Japan on the international stage.”

Senior guard/forward Yokochi, born to a Ghanian father and Japanese mother, was held to nine points for Ohori but finished with 16 rebounds. Fellow senior forward Taichi Tanabe led the runner-up team with 18 points.

“We allowed Steve to grab rebounds and score points early on, and it hurt us,” Ohori head coach Sota Katamine said. “We had a game plan to limit Kawamura and it worked to an extent. But the fact that we gave up too many rebounds factored into the result.”

Kawamura, Steve, Ogawa, Yokochi and Yokochi’s Ohori teammate Yu Kibayashi were selected to the all-tournament team.