Basketball / B. League

Kawamura laying foundation for bright future

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Yuki Kawamura has been one of the best players in Japanese high school basketball in the last couple of years. He lived up to fans’ lofty expectations by guiding Fukuoka Daiichi to the All-Japan High School Tournament titles two years in a row from 2018.

But his greatness will be seen a lot more going forward. Kawamura is considered a generational talent and could be the next great Japanese guard, following the likes of Yuta Tabuse and Yuki Togashi representing the country in the future.

He made an even more concrete statement about his abilities and potential over the weekend.

Kawamura, who will graduate from high school next month, made his professional debut for the San-en NeoPhoenix in a two-game series against the Chiba Jets Funabashi, showing he can absolutely play on par with the pros.

The 18-year-old point guard scored eight points — all in the first half — against Togashi’s Jets in San-en’s 75-56 loss at home on Saturday. The next day, he returned to the court even stronger, racking up a game-high 21 points in a 91-65 defeat to the same opponent.

It wasn’t the first time Kawamura competed against Togashi. Fukuoka Daiichi and the Jets squared off against each other in the second round of the All-Japan Championship (Emperor’s Cup) last November. The high school team fell 109-73, yet Kawamura finished with 21 points and 10 assists while holding Togashi scoreless.

After Saturday’s game, Togashi said Kawamura “didn’t look like a high school player,” adding that the teenager was piloting the entire NeoPhoenix team on the floor.

As is the case with Togashi and Tabuse, an Utsunomiya Brex player who stands at 173 cm, the concern about Kawamura is his height (172 cm), especially if he eventually plays for the national team.

Other than that, Kawamura, who has future Akatsuki Five aspirations, seems to have everything, including a high-level skillset and high basketball IQ.

Kawamura’s best attribute is probably his blazing speed, which led Togashi, who is pretty speedy himself, to remark that the younger player is even faster than him.

That was on display during the two-game Jets series. At the end of the first quarter in the Saturday contest, Kawamura dribbled coast-to-coast, ran past a pair of Jets players and successfully nailed a layup at the buzzer. In the second game, he made some tough layups driving in and gave Togashi, who was guarding him, a lot of trouble.

The Yamaguchi Prefecture native has long-range shooting skills as well. He knocked down three of his four 3-point attempts in Sunday’s game against the Jets.

Even more importantly for a point guard, he can pass. Against the Jets, Kawamura even delivered a few no-look passes to teammates, sending the full-house audience into a frenzy.

San-en president Kenjiro Hongo played against Tabuse as a player and stressed that Tabuse is a great point guard with exceptionally wide court vision. But Hongo said Kawamura is even better than Tabuse in that aspect, while Kawamura’s scoring ability and speed also exceeds Tabuse’s.

San-en’s skills coach, Ryo Tanaka, echoed Hongo’s sentiments. He said Kawamura already has an exceptional skillset that he can rely on at the professional level. Tanaka praised how well Kawamura can provide passes off pick-and-rolls.

“What’s amazed me the most is that he is able to distribute passes when he drives in the lane,” Tanaka said.

Torsten Loibl, who coached Kawamura on the Under-16 national team, assessed the player as a “great kid, hard worker, super disciplined.”

“He plays small, but plays big,” the German said.

Loibl said that Kawamura is not afraid of playing against bigger guys, does “not break down on mistakes,” plays physical and “dirty” if necessary.

“(Kawamura) plays on a totally different pace level than other guards,” Loibl said. “His weapon is the transition game.”

Kawamura’s intelligence is another significant asset of his that can help him blossom as a genuine star point guard, ultimately for the Japan national squad.

NeoPhoenix head coach Shuto Kawachi said Kawamura memorized the whole playbook overnight after the team handed it to him.

When asked what kind of adjustment and improvements Kawamura made between the first and second games against Chiba, Kawachi said the player went into the latter contest having studied the tendencies of his teammates and opponents.

“I’ve never seen anyone like that,” Kawachi said, referring to players Kawamura’s age, with a smile.

There have been collegiate players who have join B. League clubs via the early—entry system, but not many out of high school.

Kawamura, who will enroll at Tokai University and is likely to be with the NeoPhoenix until mid-March or so, is thrilled to play in the professional ranks this early.

“I’ve been looking for the circumstance that I can spend every day working as hard as I can, which is something you can’t as a high school student,” said Kawamura, who boldly declared that he would lead the San-en team, which was a league-worst 3-29 through Sunday’s games, to at least a double-digit win column by the time he leaves.

A star was born last weekend. But that star might shine even brighter during his tenure with San-en and the promising future that lies beyond.

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