Keisei Tominaga is excited to officially be on the way to the next stage of his career after signing a National Letter of Intent to transfer to the University of Nebraska next season.
“I’m thrilled to be able to play in Division I of the NCAA from next year,” Tominaga told the Japan Times in a Zoom interview from Ranger, Texas, where he is currently playing for Ranger College.
The 19-year-old, who verbally committed to Nebraska a year ago, has been public about his future ambitions. His ultimate goal is to reach the NBA, and he feels playing for an NCAA D-I program is the best way to get there.
Tominaga hasn’t been able to visit the campus in Lincoln, Nebraska, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been receiving information about the school and the team from Cornhuskers head coach Fred Hoiberg and assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih via Zoom calls. Tominaga says he plans to visit the school when his father, former Japan national team center Hiroyuki Tominaga, and mother are able to travel to the U.S.
“We’ve been talking (with Nebraska) about visiting when my parents can come over here from Japan,” Tominaga said.
There have been other Japanese players who have competed at the D-I level, such as Rui Hachimura, who played for Gonzaga, and Yuta Watanabe, who played for George Washington. Tominaga, though, is believed to be the first Japanese to play for a team in a Power 5 conference on a full scholarship.
Tominaga, a 188-cm guard, says Hoiberg and Abdelmassih have been explaining the Huskers’ style of basketball and his role in it.
“Even when you talk about the Big Ten, each team plays its own way,” said Tominaga, who is currently with Ranger and preparing for the start of the 2020-21 junior college season, which has been pushed back to January due to the pandemic. “But as far as Nebraska, they move the ball a lot to create an open man, whereas many other teams rely on their (core) players’ individual skills and have them drive into the lane and things like that. But I’ve got the impression the way Nebraska plays will suit me.”
Shooting is where Tominaga excels the most and is what made him stand out to Hoiberg, a former NBA sharpshooter himself who says the Japanese player is “one of the best shooters I’ve ever seen” and “unbelievably efficient.” Tominaga will be expected to continue to display his shooting touch when he gets on the floor for Hoiberg’s squad.
“Coach Hoiberg and Coach Matt explained a lot of things about their game in our Zoom conversations,” said Tominaga, who averaged 16.8 points with a 3-point percentage of 47.9 in his freshman year at Ranger during the 2019-20 season. “For example, they said they want me to shoot the ball without hesitation early in the offense or on fastbreaks. The guards are going to drive in and kick passes out — they said that’s their style, and they want me to shoot from deep.”
Some NBA stars, like Damien Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers, have amazed fans in recent years by nailing shots from far beyond the 3-point line. Tominaga has had to incorporate that into his game as he’s usually tightly defended around the 3-point arc.
“I can’t easily take shots at the 3-point line, so that makes me shoot from far behind the line,” said Tominaga, a former Japan U-18 national team player who averaged 39.8 points for Sakuragaoka High School during the 2018 All-Japan Championship. “I’ve also been aware of shooting as soon as I get open. So I shoot even if there’s some distance (to the 3-point line) if I think I can shoot.”
Tominaga is excited about moving to a new environment with state-of-the-art facilities, including Nebraska’s Pinnacle Bank Arena, which seats 15,500 and is often sold out for men’s basketball games.
The Nagoya native knows getting bigger and stronger will be one of the keys to adapting to basketball in a major conference and would also improve his chances of reaching the NBA.
Cornhuskers athletes can also utilize the Nebraska Athletic Performance Laboratory, which uses a scientific approach to efficiently develop its student-athletes. That could help Tominaga gain the strength needed to compete on par against the bigger players in the Big Ten.
“I’ve heard about it a little bit,” Tominaga said. “I’ve never been to a facility like that. They check your fatigue level and all that. It’s always been just myself and I know my own limits, so I’m looking forward to it.”
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