Yuki Togashi in 2013. STB-1 / CC BY-SA 4.0

This feature on then-rookie guard Yuki Togashi appeared in The Japan Times in February 2013. Now, in 2019, he’s one of the top stars in the B. League. He currently plays for the Chiba Jets Funabashi.

Akita rookie Togashi shows talent, promise right away

By Ed Odeven

Like any first-year pro, Yuki Togashi must cope with the ups and downs of his new job.

With only four games as a measuring stick, the Akita Northern Happinets guard has shown lots of potential. He has scored in double figures each time out for the Eastern Conference club, beginning with a 15-point, 11-assist, three steal performance on Feb. 2 against the Toyama Grouses.

The 19-year-old Togashi is averaging 14.5 points per game, and had a career-best 19 points against the Gunma Crane Thunders on Sunday. But the Northern Happinets were handed a 72-66 loss, a game in which the 167-cm guard had six assists and seven turnovers. The latter number grabbed his attention, he admitted in a Wednesday phone interview with The Japan Times.

“I am playing good (basketball), but in the past two games I made 12 turnovers, so that’s too much,” Togashi said. “I’ve got to fix that.”

Togashi graduated from Montrose Christian High School in Rockville, Maryland, last May. Now, less than a year after completing his valuable season of academic and athletic preparatory work at the basketball powerhouse school, Togashi is gaining valuable experience in the 21-team bj-league. (Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant and Toyota Motors Alvark guards Keijuro “K.J.” Matsui and Taishi Ito attended Montrose before moving on to Columbia University and University of Portland, respectively.)

Getting major playing time for Akita (17-13), has accelerated his introduction to the job. Togashi has been on the court for all but four minutes of the Happinets’ past four games.

His 3-point shooting (20.8 percent, 5-for-24) can certainly improve, but one encouraging sign is the fact that he’s not afraid to take a shot. He’s converted 54.1 percent of his 2-point attempts.

His assist total has decreased in each of his four games, though, from 11 to nine to eight to six. At the same time, his turnovers have increased, from one in each of his first two contests to five and seven.

Of course, every rookie — and perhaps even more so for one so young — needs to learn how to develop consistency and cut down on mistakes. But coaches around the league have already started paying attention to what Togashi can accomplish on the court — crisp passes, gutsy drives through traffic, spot-up jumpers, among other attributes.

After his team faced Akita last weekend, Gunma coach Ryan Blackwell has a crystal-clear view of Togashi in his mind.

“I was impressed with Togashi,” Blackwell told The Japan Times on Tuesday. “He reminds me of (Ryukyu Golden Kings second-year guard Narito) Namizato a little bit. His confidence is up there. He has good speed/quickness and control with his handles. His ability to get to the basket and make plays is a lot better than most of the Japanese players. He finished well in the lane over our bigs, which isn’t seen a whole lot by Japanese players in this league.

“He shot the ball well from the perimeter against us in Sunday’s game, and if he can do that consistently he’ll really be tough to guard. The best thing is he’s young and has loads of potential, and I could tell by the way he’s played he’s been playing in the (United) States.”

Togashi said making smart passes is his constant goal. At the same time, he said, using his quickness for dribble-drive penetration can create scoring opportunities for his teammates.

The diminutive Togashi is the same height as Tokyo Cinq Reves standout Cohey Aoki, who has worked to constantly refine his game and look for ways to excel against bigger foes. Aoki has always talked about winning as objective No.1, and, now in his eighth bj-league season, he’s still vying for his first championship.

Togashi emulates Aoki’s approach to the game.

“I don’t really care about individual stuff, but I just want to win,” said Togashi, whose father is a junior high school basketball coach in Niigata Prefecture.

The Happinets, a third-year franchise, are aiming to reach their first Final Four this spring. In fact, that Togashi’s only focus.

“I want to go to Ariake Colosseum,” he said bluntly, referring to the site of the annual Final Four. “That’s where I want to go.”

Togashi had wanted to play college basketball at a Division I or D-II university in the United States, but didn’t receive a full scholarship offer, so “that’s why I came back to Japan to play.”

But he said his time at Montrose, playing under legendary coach Stu Vetter, was beneficial in preparing him for the rigors of the next phase of his basketball career.

“It was a great experience,” said Togashi, who lists the Lakers’ Steve Nash and the Clippers’ Chris Paul as favorite NBA players. “It was tough . . . because the point guards were good, tall and strong. It was a good challenge and at every practice I had to play hard.”

“Sometimes I didn’t get playing time,” he added. “That’s why I had to work hard and practice and show coach Vetter (my effort) to get to play.”

Togashi’s high-energy style of play and youthful vigor has excited the team’s rabid fan base.

“Togashi-san’s play was very, very exciting,” Happinets supporter Yukie Suzuki wrote in an email after his debut weekend with the team.

“Most of the Happinets fans said they couldn’t take their eyes off his play. He is only 167 cm tall, but he compensates for the disadvantage with his quickness and skillful passing. His play lacks showiness, but he sticks with the basics and he has a good foundation of basketball.”

Vetter, perhaps more than anyone, has a firm grasp of how Togashi’s game has developed to reach this stage of his career.

“Yuki’s a very talented and very skilled basketball player,” Vetter said by phone from Virginia.

Pressed to offer more details, Vetter responded by saying, “He’s very fundamentally sound and knows how to play. Great basketball IQ and he can do a little bit of everything. Good ball handler, shoots the ball well, plays hard defensively. He did a good job for us at Montrose and was certainly a factor in our success.”

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