Basketball

Confidence and ambition power Keisei Tominaga toward promising U.S. future

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff writer

Keisei Tominaga, a left-handed shooting assassin from the field, says he struggled with the different rules and culture on the court along with the language barrier in his first year in the United States.

But the Ranger College, located in Ranger, Texas, shooting guard insisted he had the confidence to do as well as he wound up doing.

“During the preseason, I didn’t know too much about the rules in America and I occasionally got called for traveling,” Tominaga told reporters from his home in Japan. “But I eventually got used to them as I played in more games.”

Tominaga averaged 16.8 points, with a field-goal percentage of 54.9, and played in 31 games in his first year for the Rangers, who went 28-3 in 2019-20. He shot 47.9 percent from behind the arc, which ranked 12th in NJCAA Division I.

“Shooting 47.9, it was just, my teammates were driving in to get me wide open and I just had to shoot,” said Tominaga, who plans to return to Texas in mid-July. “So I thought I was going to shoot as well as I did.”

Tominaga, though, wasn’t completely satisfied with his performance, because his objective is to play at a higher level — ultimately in the NBA.

The Aichi Prefecture native knows he still has a lot of room to grow. In his second year in the U.S., he knows he needs to add more elements to his game.

“Second year on, I’d be stopped if I only score with my three-point shooting,” Tominaga said. “So I’d like to increase my scoring patterns like driving in the lane. That will be the issue I’m going to face.”

Even with his three-point shooting, he said he has been practicing to be able to launch shots from further out.

Just a few months after he landed at Ranger College last fall, the 19-year-old had already verbally committed to transfer to Division I school Nebraska, led by former NBA bench boss Fred Hoiberg, in 2021.

Tominaga said he was a little “surprised” things happened that quickly. But he also said Ranger head coach Billy Gillispie, who guided the team to an NJCAA runner-up finish the year before, is close to Hoiberg and that Hoiberg would often come to Rangers games and practices to observe the 185-cm player.

After competing in one more season for the Rangers, who will be coached by James Stafford this year, Tominaga is excited to have an opportunity to play for the Cornhuskers in the Big Ten — arguably the nation’s best conference — and compete against powerhouse schools like Michigan State and Maryland.

“The Big Ten Conference has so many high-level schools,” said Tominaga, whose father, Hiroyuki, is a former Japan national team center. “I’d like to be a starter and contribute to the team with my scoring. And I’d like to do the best I can so I can go to the NBA.”

Tominaga has not even given up on his aspirations for the Tokyo Olympics, which have been pushed back until next summer due to COVID-19.

“As the games have been postponed by a year, I’ll have more time to develop as a player,” said Tominaga, who led Japan to a fifth-place finish at the 2018 U-18 Asian Championship. “It’s held in my own country and I have a desire to play. So I’ll work hard this upcoming season so I’ll bring myself to the level where I’ll be able to play there.”

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