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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Nebraska’s Keisei Tominaga Raises Profile with Strong Performances Early in the Season

The sophomore guard scored a season-high 23 points, including 5 of 6 from 3-point range, against South Dakota on November 27.

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Keisei Tominaga provided glimpses of his strong offensive skills as a member of the Japan men’s 3×3 team at the Tokyo Olympics.

Halfcourt games are played at a slower pace than the traditional full-court contests. But still, Tominaga put up solid numbers in the inaugural Olympics 3×3 tournament, averaging 6.9 points and giving his team a spark with outside shots.

Now in his first season at the University of Nebraska after two dynamic seasons at Ranger (Texas) College, a two-year school, the 6-foot-2 (188-cm) Tominaga is enjoying a strong start as a key backup player.

Tominaga scored in double figures in four of the Cornhuskers’ past five games before their December 4 road game against Big Ten Conference rival Indiana.

He’s averaging 8.3 points and leads the team in 3-pointers made (14) through eight games.

While playing for Ranger College, Tominaga’s prolific 3-point shooting caught the eye of Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg, a former NBA player.  Tominaga averaged 16.3 points in 2020-21 at Ranger College. He scored 16.8 points per game in the 2019-20 campaign.

Hoiberg has called Tominaga an important recruit for the Cornhuskers and displayed confidence in the Aichi Prefecture native.

That confidence has led to consistent playing time.

Tominaga scored a season-high 23 points, including 5 of 6 from long range, in the Cornhuskers’ 83-70 win over South Dakota on November 27.

Hoiberg commended Tominaga for being dedicated to his craft.

“He is just a guy that puts so much time and effort and work into it,” Hoiberg told reporters in a postgame news conference. “I have not said much to him just because of how good of a shooter he is. Sometimes human nature as a shooter is to try to get a little closer to the rim and to guide it in. 

“I think we have a couple guys that were doing that. Just really trying to get him back out and shoot with confidence and trust the stroke. It is a thing of beauty. It is what has gotten him to this point. It was just a matter of time before he took the lid off and it was the perfect timing for us. It was great to see him get going like he did.”

After the game, Hoiberg, who’s in his third season at Nebraska, also Tominaga is a special player.

“He’s not just a shooter,” Hoiberg said, according to 247sports.com. “I said that when we got him, when he signed with us, you saw other elements to his game. He’s got a great IQ. He curls when he’s getting chased into the paint where he made a couple really nice plays at the rim, and really nice drop-off passes to Derrick [Walker].”

And how would Hoiberg assess Tominaga’s defensive impact for the Cornhuskers? 

“Defensively, he’s always going to give you an honest effort. He’s going to go out there and battle,” the Nebraska coach said. “My very first coach in the NBA was Larry Brown, and he said if you try and give an effort defensively, that’s 90 percent of it. And that’s Keisei. He’s going to go out there and battle every position.”

Tominaga, who averaged 39.8 points per game for Aichi’s Sakuragaoka Gakuen High School at the 2018 All-Japan High School Championship, is determined to keep improving.

“It’s a higher level. I have to get more physically tough and energetic,” he told reporters after the South Dakota game about playing at the NCAA Division I level. “I just have to continue to get better.”

Asked about his stellar performance as an outside shooter in that game, he responded with these remarks: “I just keep shooting in practice and stuff. It felt good today.”

Tominaga plays with energy and enthusiasm and shows excitement after he or one of his teammates makes a big play. 

Clearly, the world’s top league has influenced him.

Or as he put it: “When I was young, I watched the NBA and I learned how to celebrate.”

Youthful exuberance helps, too.

In Nebraska’s quadruple-overtime, 104-100 road loss to North Carolina State on Wednesday, December 1, Tominaga played 44 of 56 minutes. He had a 16-point performance.

Due to adjusted NCAA transfer rules issued during the global pandemic, Tominaga entered Nebraska as a sophomore despite having played two full seasons for Ranger College.

This means Keisei Tominaga will receive an extra year of eligibility (he’ll have two more after the current campaign), extra time to hone his skills at the Division I level in pursuit of a pro career.

Japan Drops Pair of World Cup Qualifiers to China

Japan men’s basketball coach Tom Hovasse’s stint in charge began with back-to-back defeats to China on November 27 and 28.

China opened the weekend series with a 78-63 victory at Xebio Arena in Sendai. Qi Zhao and Ailun Guo paced the victors with 24 points apiece. 

Backup Yudai Nishida, a 22-year-old forward for the B. League’s SeaHorses Mikawa, had 11 points in 19-plus minutes to lead Japan. Naturalized Japanese citizen Luke Evans added 10 points.

The Akatsuki Five had a poor shooting game in the opener, making 21 of 65 shots (32.3%). China outrebounded the hosts 53-34.

China closed out the weekend with a 106-73 victory. Rui Zhao had a game-high 27 points for the visitors in the rematch. Zhao sank six 3-pointers. His team connected on 14 of 24 from beyond the arc.

Dynamic guard Ryo Terashima, who plays for the B. League’s Hiroshima Dragonflies, scored a team-high 16 points. Evans (B2’s Fighting Eagles Nagoya) notched a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) in the loss. 

There are learning curves for every team under a new coach, and Hovasse believes the Akatsuki Five took a small step in the right direction despite the defeats to China.

“I felt like we started seeing little bits and pieces of what we can do and I really like how we finished the [first] game,” he told a news conference on November 28. “The players really worked hard all the way until the end, which for me is a positive.”

Elaborating on that point a bit more, he added: “I think some of the younger players have stepped up and I like their hunger. Nishida has been playing great and he’s just got that ‘You tell me what to do, I’m going to do it’ type of attitude which is fantastic.”

Hovasse continued: “Terashima had a great game as well. I like his energy. He’s a positive player.”

Japan will resume its World Cup qualifying campaign on February 25 against host Taiwan.

RELATED: Sports Talk ー Tom Hovasse Raises the Stakes for Japanese Basketball

Baseball

NPB’s Golden Glove Winners Announced

For the 50th time, Nippon Professional Baseball unveiled its Golden Glove Award winners this past week, recognizing defensive excellence at each position for a season.

Nine players from the Central League and nine more from the Pacific League were chosen as 2021’s Golden Glove Award winners, it was announced on Thursday, December 2.

The Central League’s winners are:
Pitcher – Yuya Yanagi (Chunichi Dragons, first)
Catcher – Yuhei Nakamura (Tokyo Yakult Swallows, first)
First base – Dayan Viciedo (Dragons, second overall award)
Second base – Ryosuke Kikuchi (Hiroshima Carp, ninth)
Third base – Kazuma Okamoto (Yomiuri Giants, first)
Shortstop – Hayato Sakamoto (Giants, fifth)
Outfield – Yohei Oshima (Dragons, ninth)
Outfield – Seiya Suzuki (Carp, fifth)
Outfield – Koji Chikamoto (Hanshin Tigers, first)

The Pacific League winners are:
Pitcher – Yoshinobu Yamamoto (Orix Buffaloes, first)
Catcher – Takuya Kai (Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, fifth)
First base – Akira Nakamura (Hawks, second)
Second base – Shogo Nakamura (Chiba Lotte Marines, second)
Third base – Yuma Mune (Buffaloes, first)
Shortstop – Sosuke Genda (Saitama Seibu Lions, fourth)
Outfield – Takashi Ogino (Marines, second)
Outfield – Yuki Yanagita (Hawks, sixth)
Outfield – Ryosuke Tatsumi (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, first)

Eagles’ Tanaka Returning to Team in 2022

Masahiro Tanaka, who rejoined the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles last season after a seven-year stint with the New York Yankees, will be back with the Tohoku-based club in 2022, it was announced on Friday, December 3.

Tanaka, 33, went 4-9 with a 3.01 ERA in 23 starts this past season.

He signed a two-year contract with the Eagles with an opt-out option after the first year, which would have given him leverage to make a move back to the majors.

For now, Tanaka is staying put.

Kuriyama is Samurai Japan’s New Manager

Hideki Kuriyama, who guided the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters for the past decade, is back with a new managerial role just a few weeks after he departed NPB’s northernmost team.

The 60-year-old is Samurai Japan’s new manager, taking over as the national team’s dugout boss. An announcement was made on Thursday, December 2.

Kuriyama replaces Atsunori Inaba, who led Japan to a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Inaba is Nippon Ham’s new general manager.

“I feel a sense of responsibility from the bottom of my heart,” Kuriyama was quoted as saying by Kyodo News at a news conference. “I will give 100 percent so that Japan can win the 2023 World Baseball Classic.”

Boxing

Title Fights Postponed due to Omicron

The Gennadiy “GGG” Golovkin-Ryota Murata middleweight title fight on December 29 at Saitama Super Arena and the New Year’s Eve junior bantamweight bout between Jerwin Ancajas and Kazuto Ioka in Tokyo’s Ota Ward have been postponed until TBD dates next year, promoters of both fights announced this week.

The spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and Japan’s recently enacted travel ban on foreign non-residents were cited by organizers of the two marquee events.

Two-time world champion Golovkin (41-1-1, 36 knockouts), who hails from Kazakhstan, and 2012 London Olympic gold medalist Murata (16-2, 13 KOs), were both set to return to the ring after long layoffs.

Golovkin, the IBF and IBO champion, has not fought in a year, while WBA title holder Murata has trained for his first fight since December 2019.

“I am deeply disappointed that this fight has been postponed but the health and safety of the public must always be the priority,” said Golovkin. “I look forward to returning to the ring against Ryota as soon as possible.”

Tokyo-based Teiken Promotions, Inc. said it is monitoring the situation and aims to reschedule the fight.

“All concerned parties will sit down for discussions and keep a close eye on the infection situation, and look at a new date for the match,” read a statement on Teiken’s website.

The now-delayed December 31 title showdown between Filipino IBF champion Ancajas (33-1-2, 22 KOs) and WBA belt holder Ioka (27-2, 15 KOs) puts both fighters’ plans on hold for an unknown period of time.

One of the event’s promoters, Manny Pacquioa’s MP Promotions, issued a statement about the postponement.

“Team Ancajas was looking forward to this historic fight against Ioka but understands there are bigger concerns than boxing in Japan and the world with the situation caused by the emergence of the latest variant,” said Sean Gibbons, president of MP Promotions. “We remain committed to making this fight happen as soon as possible in Japan.”

Soccer

Furuhashi Continues Strong Play for Celtic

Kyogo Furuhashi notched his eighth goal of the Scottish Premiership season on Thursday, December 2.

The former Vissel Kobe standout scored the lone goal in the 33rd minute in Celtic’s 1-0 triumph over Hearts at Celtic Park in Glasgow.

After the match, Hearts manager Robbie Neilson insisted that Furuhashi was offside before he scored the goal.

Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou responded to Neilson’s claims in a TV interview with Sky Sports.

“It’s a goal, mate. I’ll let our performances speak for themselves,” Postecoglou said. “If people think that the referee decided this game, well, that is their analysis.”

Samurai Blue to Meet Uzbekistan in January Friendly

In preparation for its 2022 World Cup Asian qualifiers early next year, the Japan men’s national team has scheduled an international friendly against Uzbekistan for January 21 at Saitama Stadium.

Japan is then scheduled to play visiting Group B foes China (January 27) and Saudi Arabia (February 1).

The impact of COVID-19 could alter the aforementioned schedule, as we’ve seen with several other sporting events on the horizon.

Quote of the Week

“I would like to nurture apprentices in a way that they, too, can receive recognition by Guinness World Records.”

Sumo elder Magaki, formerly known as Hakuho, reflects on having five of his career records recognized by Guinness World Records, the Japan Sumo Association revealed on December 3. The records are most grand tournament titles (45), most career wins (1,187), most top-division wins (1,093), most top-division titles without a loss (16) and most grand tournaments as a yokozuna (84).

Editor’s note: Interested in submitting a news item for possible inclusion in the Japan Sports Notebook? Send an email with relevant information to e.odeven@japan-forward.com, or JAPAN Forward’s comment’s page or Facebook page and look for future editions of Japan Sports Notebook on our website.

Author: Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward’s [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays, in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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Ed Odeven is a longtime sports journalist who previously worked for The Japan Times as its chief basketball reporter for nearly 14 years. He also covered a wide range of other sports for the newspaper, including at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Games. A graduate of Arizona State University, Odeven worked for several newspapers in the Grand Canyon State before moving to Japan. He has freelanced for dozens of media outlets around the world.