Big and Skilled
10/12 @ Fuchu Toyota Sports Center
I interviewed Joji Takeuchi (Alvark Tokyo) after practice.
(The article can be read here: http://www.asahi.com/articles/ASJBL5S7NJBLUTQP01J.html )
The 2006 World Basketball Champisionships were hosted in Saitama Arena. Since then, Joji Takeuchi who was at Tokai University at the time, has been a bedrock of the foundation of the Japanese National Team.
In the world of Japanese basketball, he is a rare and talented 2m 7cm tall player who can move. And there's two of them, and since they've appeared, people who love Japanese basketball have been saying "while the Takeuchi brothers are around." Meaning that they need to become internationally competitive while these invaluably skilled athletes are playing.
At Saitama, Japan battled valiantly against Nowitski's Germany, came a step away from beating New Zealand and got a win against Panama. They were 1 - 4, but you could see the results of the efforts to make the national team stronger and the younger players starting to rise up. You could see hope for the future. However, after the World Championships, Japan's Men's Basketball did not continue the program of strengethening the team and they entered a time of confusion. Leaving aside the world, they lost their ranking within Asia, and the FIBA started looking into troubles with the governance of the split top two leagues. In 2014 they were sanctioned and lost the right to compete internationally. Japanese basketball had to begin reforming itself starting from its very foundation.
This is the B League's first year and now there is only one top league in Japan and it finally has a chance to start improving. It has been 10 years since that World Championships. Joji Takeuchi is now 31 years old.
His appeal is that he has size and can do absolutely anything.
He joined Alvark after serving nine years as the central pillar of the SunRockers. He has to start from scrach again. He has to show what he can do within his team. On the other hand, Alvark has been seen as a team that is made up of skilled players who can win a championship since the days when they were an opponent. Where will he fit in the middle of all those high caliber players? Even after the curtains lifted, he was still searching for his place on the team. Talking to the coach, he was told that he wasn't brought in to be a role player limited to only one thing, but that he could best server the team by doing everything he could. It feels like he was able to put aside his doubts and be himself in the third game against the Chiba Jets. I think he has finally become a member of Alvark.
He takes time to think and waits for the words to come when talking. He gives the impressions of being able to grasp the real essence behind things.
In his youth, his body matured fast, but his athletic ability could not keep up. When he started playing basketball, he got by on the size of his body, but he wasn't satisfied with that as his only weapon. It sounds like he used anything that he could.
In middle school, the pace of his growth started to slow and he started improving his skills. He was lost in the enjoyment as his skills improved. He enjoyed winning 1-on-1 without using the size of his body. That's because the size of his body didn't matter and they were fair matches. His teacher in middle school allowed him to shoot hook shots, fadeouts and other types of shots that would have been considered showing off at the time. He wasn't limited to just getting the ball underneath the basket, turning and shooting it. It was the same at Rakunan High School.
In his middle school days in Osaka, in the midst of strong top 32 or top 16 seeded schools, his team kept moving up and winning decisively from the first game. He said that it felt like only yesterday when he was first feeling happy in the strength of his team and the excitement of improving. Even now, when anyone can see that he is a pillar of Japanese basketball, I have to think that that sensation is the biggest reason for why he plays basketball.
Not to be presumptious writing about myself, but I started playing basketball in high school as a complete amateur and the excitement I felt as I slowly gained the skill to do more, that euphoria is what became the motif and the fuel for my later times drawing manga. I never experienced having a large body, or playing on a strong team, let alone something as far above me as a pro team or the national team, but I feel that the exciment that Joji talked about and the excitement I felt are the same. If that is the case, then millions of people throughout Japan, throughout the world, regardless of gender or age all share the same thing in their hearts. I wonder if that is the soul of sports.
Just as when he enjoyed playing fair by not using his body's size in his youth, once again in a completely new environment, Joji is showing the team, the public and himself what he can do.
On a team with good shooters like KJ Matsui and Daiki Tanaka, he says that he thinks it would be good to be able to dribble down the middle and pass the ball to the shooters. That is the team that is Alvark. I really want to watch that.
I asked him to show us a coast to coast* play once every 3 games (that may be a bit much). I predict that in the coming future, we will see a Joji Takeuchi that nobody has seen before. It will be exciting to watch.
* Coast to coast: A play where a player starts from one end of the court and takes the ball down to the other end and finishes it. Big guys don't normally move the ball, so when they do it is unexpected and very impressive. Shaq did it every once in a while which roused the fans.