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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Hatano's 'unyielding heart' the secret weapon for champ Osaka


Staff writer

Kazuya Hatano called himself a "non-committal" person. But the decision he made was perfectly correct.

News photo
Kazuya Hatano of the Osaka Evessa drives to the basket in a game against the Takamatsu Five Arrows this season. Hatano, who played at Senshu University, has starred on Japan's Under-18, U-20 and U-24 national teams. OSAKA EVESSA PHOTO

The decision was to play basketball professionally in the bj-league.

Hatano was a collegiate player at Senshu University, and when he had to determine his future, he told his coach that he would not play in the JBL.

"I didn't think I would've been able to play basketball (while) doing some other jobs," said the 25-year-old Hatano referring to the JBL, a corporate league where most players work as normal employees. "I wanted to play in circumstances where I could only focus on playing basketball."

Then, the launch of the bj-league, Japan's first pro basketball circuit, was announced. It was a perfect timing for him.

"I think I was lucky," Hatano said.

Hatano was born in Belen, Brazil, to a Japanese father and a Brazilian mother.

His full name is James Kazuya Ramos Hatano. He moved to Japan at age 9.

Hatano, who started playing basketball when he was a junior high school student, led his teams to several national tournaments while attending Shizuoka Gakuen High School and Senshu University.

He had also been selected for the Under-18, Under-20 and Under-24 national squads.

Hatano, who primarily played center before turning pro, was drafted by the Osaka Evessa before the bj-league's inaugural season of 2005-06.

Hatano, nicknamed "J," confessed that he had some jitters about playing in the new circuit.

But his anxiety was unwarranted.

Hatano, who plays small forward for the Evessa, helped the team win the league's first championship title by defeating the Niigata Albirex BB in the playoff finale last April.

This season, Hatano and the Evessa are vying for their second championship trophy.

Osaka finished the regular season with a 29-11 record, the best regular-season mark among the league's eight teams.

Nevertheless, it was not an easy campaign for Osaka. It struggled early in the season, going 9-7, including a five-game losing skid, in November and December before regaining its focus and returning to the top of the standings.

"We stumbled in the beginning," said Hatano, who averaged 7.9 points and 4.9 rebounds while starting all 40 games. "But our unyielding heart came up and it reunited us."

The "unyielding heart" is Hatano's biggest trait on the court.

It is seen in rebounding especially. Hatano is not the tallest player at 192 cm, but always dives for the ball underneath the basket.

"You don't get rebounds if you don't dive," said Hatano, adding he does not care much about scoring. "I'm not tall. So how much I can dive is the key. I don't want to yield to anyone, including foreign players."

Teammates are filled with admiration for Hatano's game.

Reigning MVP Lynn Washington, the team's starting power forward, delivered a big-time compliment to Hatano, saying he is the team's X-factor.

"If he plays well, we win, point blank," Washington said. "If you get him on the left block, he's scoring. It don't matter who's on him, an American guy or a Japanese guy, 6-5 (196 cm) or 6-10 (208 cm)."

Washington added that Hatano got stronger this season with more bulk gained in the weight room.

Osaka takes on the Oita HeatDevils in Saturday's semifinals at 3 p.m. at Ariake Colosseum, and if it wins, it will face the Niigata Albirex BB-Takamatsu Five Arrows winner on Sunday at 4:15 p.m. in the championship game.

The losers of Saturday's games will meet in the third-place contest on Sunday.

Hatano and the Evessa, however, are not too concerned about which teams they'll face in the playoffs.

"We're not going to do anything special (in the playoffs)," Hatano said of the team's mind-set. "We just want to play our ordinary game and have some fun out there."

If the Evessa adds another trophy to their collection, Hatano's decision to play in the bj-league will prove to be correct. Once again.

Staff writer Ed Odeven contributed to this report.



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