Three-time Japan Basketball League MVP J.R. Sakuragi has decided to bring his long career to an end, the SeaHorses Mikawa star announced Wednesday.
The 43-year-old, who was drafted in the second round of the 1998 NBA Draft by the Vancouver Grizzlies, signed with the SeaHorses in 2001 and remained with the team through this past season, which was shortened by the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I never expected that the season would end the way it did,” Sakuragi said in a statement on the Aichi Prefecture-based club’s official website. “I never expected that a single virus would change the way we live.”
The team announced Sakuragi would become a technical advisor for the Aisin AW Wings Anjo of the Women’s Japan Basketball League.
Sakuragi was undeniably one of the catalysts for the SeaHorses' success prior to the launch of the B. League in 2016. The Bakersfield, California, native helped the team capture a combined seven league championships in the JBL and National Basketball League.
Sakuragi averaged 15.5 points and 8.5 rebounds during his career in Japan and won three straight league MVP awards from the 2010-11 season.
This past season, he played in 40 games, with 28 starts, and averaged 7.8 points per game, the first time he failed to reach double digits in Japan. Sakuragi played one season with the Grizzlies in 1998-1999, scoring 3.2 points per game.
Sakuragi was known as J.R. Henderson before gaining Japanese citizenship in 2007. He competed for the national team and suited up for Japan at the FIBA Asia Cup in Tokushima, which served as an Olympic trial for the 2008 Beijing Games.
“I never expected to play in Japan. I never expected to play for the SeaHorses for 19 years. I never expected to win many championships,” said Sakuragi, who was part of the UCLA Bruins team that won the NCAA national title in 1995. “I never expected to connect with so many people in such a lasting way.
“But I did expect to retire one day, and that time has come.”