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Sunday, Dec. 28, 2008

INSIDE LOOK

Matsui flourishes in his role as a backup


NEW YORK — Team update: Columbia University shooting guard K.J. Matsui has started five of his team's 10 games this season. The senior is averaging 7.7 points per game.

News photo
K.J. Matsui

The Lions improved to 4-6 after their most recent game, a five-point comeback victory over Marist University on Dec. 21. Matsui scored all 11 of his points in the second half.

After the game, forward Jason Miller praised Matsui's performance. "It gives us energy when K.J. can come off the bench and do that for us," he said.

* * * * *

Personally, I don't care if I start the game or not. Most players will want to start the game and play from the opening tip, but I don't really care about it.

I think the important thing is playing time. If I'm getting enough playing time, coming off the bench and contributing to our team winning a game, then I'm satisfied with it.

It's important for the starters to play well because they can set the tone and bring momentum. Then the bench players can play the same way and play well.

But the most important thing is that "it is not how you start the game, but how you finish it." We can start off slowly and be down by 10 points in the second half, but if you can play well in last 10 minutes of the game, we can bring a victory at the end.

When the game is on the line, it doesn't matter if you are a starter or not. The best players will play in that situation. That's why I'm not so focused on starting every game.

As a shooter especially, you want to be on the court when you still have the shooting touch from the pregame warmup. Most of them probably prefer starting the game so they don't get cold and lose their shooting touch.

It is very important for shooters to have confidence in their shooting. If I make my first shot, then it gives me great confidence in my shooting. Because I know I'm feeling good about shooting, I can be very aggressive with it.

But it's not that easy to do that. I can't make every first shot and sometimes I miss the first one or two shots in the game. But I can't lose confidence in my shooting after missing the first two shots.

I have to regain my confidence by shooting more until I make it and get back to normal. Of course I feel disappointed and feel bad when I miss my first couple of shots, but because shooting is my best talent, I can't stop doing what I do the best.

I have to be mentally strong and forget the shots that I missed and think about the next play. I can't feel sorry about the plays that I made mistakes. I have to move on.

It's the same thing for shooting. I have to move past that and think I will make the next shot.

Personally, I play better when I come off the bench. If you look my stats this year, in my starts my shooting percentage in those games was not very good. However, if you look at the other games that I came off the bench, the shooting percentage is much better.

I don't know why I shoot better coming off the bench than starting. Based on this fact, I'm probably better off just coming off the bench.

For example, in our recent games at Madison Square Garden, I started the first game against Virginia Tech, but not in the second game against Marist.

I shot 0-for-4 on 3s and scored six points in the first game. We were down six points with 3 minutes to go and just couldn't score at the end. If I'd made one or two 3s, then we might have got a victory in the end.

In the second game, I scored all 11 points in the second half, going from 3-for-4 from 3-point range and most importantly, we got a victory in the end.

* * * * *

I definitely feel more comfortable shooting in the last couple of games. I did start off very slowly in our first couple of games, but I've found "a touch" as the season has gone on.

I think playing home in our third game helped me get through it. It gives me great confidence when we play on our home court since we practice there every day and get used to that basket, ball and the court. That is why I think I'm shooting the ball better in our last couple of games.

One other thing is that I always shoot for 15 to 20 minutes before the walk-through on game day to break in. We have a walk-through on game day to check our opponent's offense and defense, every game day and before it starts, I shoot with a coach to get loose.

But most importantly, it gives me confidence. When the shooter sees his ball go in, it gives him confidence.

That's why I shoot on game day to maximize my confidence, so when the game starts I know I can shoot well even though I'm coming off the bench.

* * * * *

Opposing defenses play me a lot harder than last year. We had two great post players last year that got a lot of attention. As a result, I had some easy open shots.

However, we have lost them this year and because of that my man really plays hard on me and doesn't give me any easy looks. My man stays with me all the time wherever I go. I have to be smart with how I use screens and use my shot fake to make plays for myself and other teammates. I'm also taking some tough 3s because I do not get easy shots.

To be a very good shooter, I have to make those tough shots as well. By making those tough shots, then I get more attention so that my teammates can play more comfortably and make plays for themselves.

When I'm shooting the ball well, my presence will help other players to score and have easy shots.

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 nation's best 3-point shooters.


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