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Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2007

BJ-LEAGUE

Guard Kusaka is 89ers' point of light


Staff writer

This guy's first name tells exactly what he exhibits for himself on the floor -- if not brightest, Hikaru Kusaka gives off light for the Sendai 89ers.

Point Guard Hikaru Kusaka is enjoying a solid season for the Sendai 89ers
Starting Point Guard Hikaru Kusaka is enjoying a solid season for the Sendai 89ers. KAZ NAGATSUKA PHOTO

Perhaps fans agree that Sendai's main forces are Michael Chappell, Ryan Blackwell, Andrew Ecker and Mamadou Diouf. But Kusaka's presence as their team leader is as notable as those powerful foreign imports.

Kusaka, a 24-year-old point guard, is the glue, paste or starch of the yellow-jerseyed Tohoku team.

Yet, the way he takes leadership is distinguishable from anyone in the league. He is very vocal, but that doesn't necessarily mean he yells or shouts at teammates. Rather, his biggest characteristic is his shining smile, as his first name literally shows (hikaru means "to shine" in Japanese.)

"In this game, you'll get so many ups and downs," said Kusaka after the 89ers' 100-83 win Sunday over the Tokyo Apache at Ariake Colosseum. "When you have the downs and show a painful expression on you face, it doesn't give you anything positive. So I'm always trying to look up. That's my policy."

Kusaka had nine points, four assists, and a game-high five steals to help the 89ers win the contest and return to .500 at 14-14.

As both Sendai and Tokyo are fighting for one of the league's four coveted playoff berths, the games on Saturday and Sunday turned pretty rough as the players bumped their own bodies into each other.

There were some intense moments when some of the players got too excited and were about to start a brawl. Then, the 173-cm Kusaka mediated between them and appeased them with his signature smile.

"No matter what the situation is in the game, I want to try to enjoy the moment," said Kusaka, a Sendai native.

It might be more difficult to be a Japanese playmaker in the foreign player-friendly bj-league, more than you imagine. But Kusaka doesn't back down from the challenge.

Kusaka brings all the 89ers together with his attractive, affable smile, eliminating the language barrier with the foreigners.

"I think he's having a great season," Chappell said. "For what's asked of him -- to be a floor general of the team, where you have three Americans -- the language barrier is one thing. And he's done a great job with being able to communicate with everybody on the court."

A Nihon University product, Kusaka has started in all 28 games, averaging 8.5 points, 3.6 assists and 1.5 steals, and shooting 50.4 percent from the field (58-for-115) this season.



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