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Saturday, Nov. 22, 2008

INSIDE LOOK

Matsui struggles as season begins


NEW YORK — Editor's note: Entering this weekend, Columbia University men's basketball team is 1-1. The Lions defeated Fordham University 65-62 on Nov. 14 and lost a 71-50 contest to Seton Hall University on Nov. 16.)

News photo
K.J. Matsui

* * * * *

Against Fordham, when it got close, we controlled the game and we pulled out a win at the end. As a team, we played together and some individual players stepped up and made some plays to win the game.

I shot 1-for-7 on 3-pointers and scored three points, and contributed four rebounds and two steals. I had some great looks and I should have made them, but could not convert them to points.

When the game got close, I took a charge from their fast break and stole the pass. Those two crucial plays helped us win the game at the end.

Even though I didn't shoot the ball well, the most important thing is winning, so at the end we were all happy that we started off with a great win.

In the second game against Seton Hall, our opponent was very quick and pressed us the whole game, trying to create turnovers. We had enough talent to win but we didn't bring the same energy we did against Fordham.

We didn't shoot the ball well (19-for-55) and trailed the entire game.

We have to play the same way every game because some nights, we will shoot well and other nights we will not. And as a senior, I have to play consistently and help our team play the same way and play hard.

Personally, again, I didn't shoot the ball well. I shot 1-for-8 on 3s and some were wide-open ones. So if I shot the ball well, then the game might be totally different.

I have to make shots because that's what I do the best, and everybody on the team is expecting me to make shots. That's why it makes me mad, that I was not scoring points.

I have to get in the gym more and shoot more so . . . I can show everyone that my jumper is back.

Preseason training

Before the team opened the season all the returning players stayed in New York over the summer to get better as individual players by working out on the court and in the weight room. We also strengthened our team bond by playing and working out together. This gave us a head start compared to other teams that have to go through it during the preseason period.

Not only just staying and working out this summer, the returnees also took a trip to Europe, which included four games against professional teams. We were fortunate enough to experience different cultures there and played against the pros. We got to know our teammates and all the coach even better. This is why, when we came back as school started, we had already gotten better as players and teammates.

When the first official practice was held in mid-October, we were excited to get ready for the games. However, one of the toughest things that college players goes through is the preseason practices before games start.

Even though, we trained ourselves during the summer, the preseason training takes it to a higher level. It is more intense, more demanding and just harder practice.

We practiced three hours a day, six days out of seven days. That is just the time on the court. We also lifted weights three times a week and sometimes watched film with the coaches to go over the mistakes and things that we did well in the practice.

Going to a school like Columbia, a great academic institution, adds more stress to our body since there is so much work that we have to keep up with in our academic workload.

Our life cycle is basically rest, practice and study. We do not have time for other things that we want to do. That is the price we have to pay to as a student-athlete in Division I.

Being a student-athlete is not an easy thing to do and requires strong commitment, otherwise one cannot handle the pressure of it.

Bond with coach

My relationship with head coach Joe Jones has stayed the same since I met him the first time.

I still remember the time when Coach Jones came to see my practice at Montrose Christian. He was very honest and showed a lot of passion to get me to Columbia. He called me a couple of times a week and came to some of my games.

He is honest man and committed to do what he says he would do. He stays true to his word. And that has not changed in the last three years at Columbia.

When he was recruiting me, he told me that he is going to take care of me on and off the court, and not be just a coach. He makes sure I am doing well in the classroom and enjoying college life. He still sends me text messages sometimes and asks how I am doing.

Even though being a head coach is very stressful, he cares about his players and wants everyone to be successful. That is why sometimes he is tough on his players. We know that he cares about and wants us to get better as players and as people, so we can take his criticism.

I remember the first workout in my freshman year. I was working out with three other upperclassmen and I could not get over the screens. Coach Jones screamed at me many times to get over the screens, but I could not get over them. Then he just kicked me out of the workout.

I was frustrated at myself for not being able to do what coach was asking me to do and I felt that it would be long road ahead for me.

After the workout, he called me and said "I am being hard on you because I expect a lot from you." Since then, every time he is getting on me, I know he is doing it with a purpose and cares.

I feel like Coach Jones is not just a basketball coach but also a life lesson teacher. He has taught me what it takes to be a successful man.

Coach Jones himself was also a college basketball player, so he understands what we go through. Because he understands us, he can give good advice to the problems we have.

I will graduate next year, but I will definitely keep the same relationship with him. I am very happy with the relationship Coach Jones and I have right now.

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 3-point shooters..


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