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Saturday, Oct. 25, 2008

INSIDE LOOK

K.J. Matsui looks to lead in final year at Columbia

Guard to detail senior season in exclusive diary for The Japan Times


NEW YORK — Tokyo native K.J. Matsui is the first Japanese to play Division I basketball in the United States. Now a senior, he is one of the top players for Columbia University in New York City. He is also one of the nation's best three 3-point shooters.

News photo
Sharpshooter: K.J. Matsui, a senior guard at Columbia, is one of the top 3-point shooters in the NCAA. COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY

This season Matsui is writing an exclusive monthly column — Inside Look — for The Japan Times, giving readers a unique perspective on the life of a college basketball player.

I'm lucky enough to be the first Japanese-born player to play for a D-I team.

My name is Keijuro Matsui, but my nickname is K.J. I want all the readers to know what college basketball in the United States is like and the college lifestyle that we have as student-athletes.

In these columns, I hope the next generation can have a better understanding of Division I basketball and dream about playing there one day.

As a college freshman in 2005-06, I became a starter in my first college game against New Hampshire even though I could not score a point in that contest.

I had the experience to play games in Madison Square Garden, which is one of the most famous arenas in the world.

I shot 41.4 percent from 3-point range and led the team with 41 3-pointers. I still remember that my best games in the season were against Penn and Princeton at home, and we beat them back to back. Penn was undefeated that time and Princeton was second in the league.

Why were those memorable games?

Well, we both beat of them by one point and those two games were the best games of my freshman year.

As a sophomore, I played my first game against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, which is one of my dreams; I always wanted to play against Duke at Duke in front of the school's rowdy fans, the "Cameron Crazies."

It was a dream coming true to play there.

In my second year, I was able to shoot 39.2 percent on 3-pointers, and in doing so, climb into the top 20 in Columbia history in 3-pointers made with 72 in just two seasons. This included 18 points against Brown, and five 3s.

As a junior, I shot 49.2 percent on 3s and led the team with 50 3-pointers. I also led the Ivy League in 3-point shooting percentage.

At one point during the season, I ranked No. 1 in the nation in 3-point shooting (53 percent). Against Villanova, I scored a career-high 19 points, including six 3-pointers.

Another big highlight was a home game against Penn, and I scored 17 points, made five 3s and we beat them by 16.

Looking ahead

By playing the last three seasons in Division I, I have changed and become more mature compared to my freshman year. I came here and did not realize how tough it is to play against other Division I teams.

The game is more physical and played at a higher pace compared to high school, which I played at Montrose Christian School in Maryland. Since I have played many games, I can make shots when the pressure is on and get stops when we need to get stops on the defensive end.

These experiences helped me mature and understand the game even better.

I think I am playing more aggressive offensively and defensively compared to my freshman year.

Also, my range of shots expands each year, which helps me take more shots from anywhere on the court and not only take easy wide-open shots.

News photo
Leadership role: Columbia senior K.J. Matsui wants to be a role model for his younger teammates. COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY

Because I have experienced playing in many games, when my teammates are nervous or do not know what to do, I can help them on the court.

Even in practice, I have to set a great example and push everyone in every drill and situation since that can help us when we need to score a point or get a stop at the end of the game.

In addition, I want to lead them from a mental standpoint, and also when they rely on me, I want to make sure I answer their expectations in the right way.

Since this is my last season, I want to leave everything I have on the court so that I do not feel regret at the end. By giving everything I have to help the team, other players can learn from me and do the same.

Last year, we finished fourth in the conference with a record of 7-7 in the eight-team Ivy League. But we have lost six seniors from last year's team, including four starters.

Based on this fact, people outside of Columbia think that we do not have a good chance to win the title. Nevertheless, I disagree with their opinions.

We have seven new good players that came in this year and I, as a senior, have to step up to be the leader. We have a lot of talent in this group so that we can compete with any other team in the conference. But that talent alone will not make us champions.

Everyone has to become as one and be a team. Each one of us cannot worry about our own playing time or shot selection. Everyone needs to play for each other and sacrifice oneself for another player.

I have to set a good example for those younger guys and lead them like past seniors did for me when I was a freshman. The season has not started yet, however, we are already training ourselves to be champions.

I want this last season to be great and not regret what I have done for the team, fans, my family and most importantly to myself.

Today, I want to close with a quote from a teammate: "(The) road to be the champion has started and I want all of us to be as happy as we possibly can when that last whistle of our NCAA career blows."

Editor's note: Matsui's next Inside Look will run in November.



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