Kawasaki – The Tokyo Samurai have raised their profile in Japanese youth basketball over the past few years, leading more people to take notice.
While the team is known for its foundation of biracial players who attend international schools, it has recently embraced Japanese boys without mixed heritage from regular schools, offering them an opportunity to develop in a different environment.
Kyoya Sasaki is one of those players. He has practiced with the team with the intent of going to a university in the United States — an aspiration shared by many of his teammates.
The Samurai are an AAU team, and their select team travels to California to participate in AAU tournaments every summer. While they were unable to do so last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they will be back in 2021 and Sasaki will be part of the team.
The Samurai will compete in the So Cal Hoops Review, which will be held from July 8 to 11 at Ladera Sports Complex, roughly 80 kilometers southeast of Los Angeles.
While Sasaki’s Morioka Municipal High School in Iwate Prefecture has qualified for Japan’s Inter-High School Sports Festival in late July, he may not be able to compete due to infection prevention guidelines that will force him to quarantine after returning from California.
But the team’s ace says he has no regrets and is willing to sacrifice an appearance in one of Japan’s biggest national tournaments for the sake of his long-term career goal.
“I will probably have to go through two weeks of quarantine when I come back from America and I’ve been told it’d be almost impossible for me to play (at the Inter-High),” Sasaki told The Japan Times after a Tokyo Samurai Showcase event in Kawasaki earlier this month. “But going to America to play is my dream and that’s my top priority.”
The senior player has received the support of both his family and high school team in deciding to take part in the Samurai’s overseas activities.
Tokyo Samurai director Kris Thiesen insists that the club’s aim is to make Japanese basketball better across the board and that it has an open-door policy for athletes with backgrounds like Sasaki’s.
“My goal has always been to grow basketball in Japan and the Showcase, I know no one really does anything like that,” Thiesen said. “And to me, it’s kind of like, ‘Why not? Why not let them play together and see what they can do?’”
It’s clear that any Japanese player aiming to play in the United States is better off showcasing his talent to coaches and recruiters in person on American soil.
The Samurai have produced a number of players who have gone on to sign with U.S. schools, while many have also competed in Japan’s professional B. League and been called up to training camps for the country’s national youth teams.
Avi Koki Schafer is one of the Samurai’s most well-known products, as he has gone on to play for the B. League’s SeaHorses Mikawa and represent the national team.
“I’m hoping that kids are more open to that, or potentially coaches are open to that — their kids going 10 to 12 days (for the AAU tournaments) to get the exposure,” Thiesen said of noninternational school players who are thinking of going overseas. “Because otherwise it’s hard for kids to show what their level is in Japan. That’s what we are.”
Sasaki certainly wants to capitalize on his time with the Samurai, where he can test himself against taller and more athletic multiracial athletes in preparation for his challenge in the United States.
In order to compete on par against such players in the States, Sasaki has been working on developing his long-range shot — the progress of which could be seen during the Showcase, where he took shots two or three steps away from the 3-point arc.
“When it comes down to taking on global challenges — not just in the B. League, but as Japanese players — an experience like this will help you out,” he said of getting used to an international environment like the Samurai. “And I believe it’s a good thing.”
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