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Monday, Sept. 17, 2007
'Samurai' spirit drives AND1's Morishita
By ED ODEVEN
Determined and fearless on the court, Yuichiro Morishita exhibits a work ethic that basketball coaches want every player to possess. And yet it's his nickname, "Samurai," that's made him a household name far, far away from his hometown of Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture.
When he plays, Samurai wears a towel on his head. So he's easy to spot.
It's become his trademark.
Some guys love to shoot 3-pointers, others wake up in the morning with a desire to dunk every trip down the floor, while some are skilled practitioners of the blocked shot.
Morishita can fill a writer's notebook with dozens of adjectives, all of which are related to defense. After all, the 30-year-old AND1 streetball player has made defensive tenacity his other trademark.
It is what brings him the most pride whenever he laces shows up on the court for a game.
"My special skill is defense," Morishita said.
Defense — and the mentality that anchors it — has been his meal ticket to a career in the United States and an eclectic mix of other projects in Japan.
Morishita revealed that he studies opposing players before games to get accustomed to the way they move and what their tendencies are once they get the ball in their hands.
He brings his energy and passion for the game to Japan for the AND1 Mixtape Tour 2007 in Japan, which makes stops at Makuhari Messe on Monday at 5:30 p.m. and at 7 p.m. on Friday at Osaka Chuo Gym. A bj-league All-Star team will compete against the AND1 squad, which also includes acrobatic Tokyo Apache standout John "Helicopter" Humphrey, for the first time on this tour.
During this two-game stop, Japanese fans will see Morishita, a multi-tattooed hustler, give a clinic in what he calls "offensive defense."
"I can make you miss," he said confidently a month before the fourth AND1 tour in Japan. "I can control it. I don't want to gamble."
Being in the right place at the right time, he said, is a key to playing defense, summing up that principle with this creed: "Put a guy where he doesn't want to go."
Morishita said if his opponent likes to go left, he always wants to force him to go right.
In other words, he's an on-court enforcer. He tries to dictate what'll occur.
Another example: If a foe likes to take three dribbles before he takes a shot, Morishita wants to make him take that shot after taking one or two dribbles. His No. 1 mission? Take away a foe's comfort level.
"Each player has a different style, so I'm always watching him," were the words Morishita used to describe his attention to detail.
"A lot of coaches tell me the reason I made the team was because of my defense, but I don't have a special offense skill," Morishita admitted.
But he has a love for the game and a hunger to succeed that carried him on a big, bold mission: to become a successful basketball player in the United States.
"I had played basketball in Japan until high school," he said, "but I couldn't go to a big school. I tried to go to college in Japan for basketball, but they said no, I cannot play because I am not good enough. That is what they said, but I couldn't give up."
He traveled extensively in the United States, played at New Hampshire Community Technical College in the late 1990s and has since played in the USBL, ABA and NBA Development League and attended a Dallas Mavericks summer camp.
"Now I'm 30," he said. "I think I have a mission, which is . . . because I made a new street, a new way, from Japan to the worldwide, because in history the Japanese Basketball Association is like a big building. But if you get out of this building, you cannot make another way."
That previous thought is, of course, the old mentality, the perception that Samurai wants to slay.
"But I made it, so I want to say that if you get out of this building you still have a chance," said Morishita, an AND1 player since 2005.
Morishita maintains a busy lifestyle when he's not playing ball. He owns Mugen Street Sports Academy, an Osaka school that provides after school activities for children in physical education, exercise conditioning, dance and basketball.
And during his many visits to schools and clinics around Japan he has plenty of opportunities to speak to children about his life experiences.
"I want to tell lots of kids never give up," he said. "Even if you cannot get a chance in Japan, just see the worldwide (option) not only this country. . . . If you have a dream, if you think you can do it, you can do it. That is what I think."
Morishita's life story is now documented in a new hardback book. It was published this month by Toho Shuppun. Its Japanese title is Morishita Yuichiro O Shogai Nora (Yuichiro Morishita: My Lifetime).
The book which features a manga-style section of his younger schoolboy days in Japan and a traditional autobiographical storytelling format for his adult life in the United States, is almost 400 pages.
He produced his own Japanese hip-hop CD, "Morishita Yuichiro: Feel the Dream," last year. It was recorded in Yokohama.
The ambitious entrepreneur keeps busy. He is now making basketball-theme beats and videos for cell phones.
"That's my mission, because Japanese basketball (culture) has no music," he said. "It's just sports. But what I think is basketball with the music is entertainment. I think Japanese basketball needs this."