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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

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Big dreams: Apache guard Cohey Aoki, seen guarding Akita's Makoto Sawaguchi, hopes to one day play for the national team. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

BJ-LEAGUE

Aoki sets sights on playing for national team


Staff writer

Since the bj-league was enveloped under the umbrella of the Japan Basketball Association last year, there have been casual talks regarding who from the league could play for the national team.

Tokyo Apache guard Cohey Aoki is one of the few names that comes up in those discussions.

It's true that some say he's too short at 167 cm and can't play defense. But Team Japan hasn't earned a spot in an Olympics for 35 years.

So why not give someone like Aoki a shot? He may not be a starter, but his knack for getting to the basket seems as good as anyone on the current national squad and he could be an intriguing presence.

"Certainly, I have interest," Aoki said after a recent game in Tokyo. "Now (that) we have the right."

Asked how he would chip in for the national team, Aoki, who is averaging 12.2 points per game this season, took some time to envision himself in a Japan jersey.

"I think one of my traits is I can score despite my size. If you look at the national team's games, they don't have players that attack the basket. That said, maybe I can be a catalyst that changes the flow of the game coming off the bench."

Former NBA center and Aoki's current teammate, Robert Swift, says those who say Aoki isn't good are biased.

"He's one of the best basketball players I've ever played with," said Swift, a former first-round pick in the NBA Draft. "They look at him and see his size, and they are just, automatically, 'no,' regardless of what he's capable of. They claim they're better than him. But from what I've seen, it's just that perception."

Apache head coach Bob Hill was candid as he lavished praise on Aoki. When asked about him, Hill said he loves Aoki "to death."

"Cohey is a really, really, really outstanding basketball player," said Hill, a former head coach for NBA clubs including the New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs. "Forget about his size. He understands position. He understands when to rotate. He always knows the game plan. He takes no energy to coach."

Hill said that Aoki's size issue could be a factor that hurts his chances to make the national squad. But at the same time, what the little guy does is an inspiration to the American coach every day.

"He can really play basketball. It's almost like he was born to play basketball at 5-5. He's going to be one of my all-time favorites forever."

Hill also referred to Aoki's phenomenal shooting skills, which enables the Fukuoka native to be a scorer, and compared him to Ray Allen and Reggie Miller, who Hill coached in the NBA.

"(Aoki) shoots the ball on basket everyday," Hill said. "Ray could do that. Reggie could do that. And I've had some guys in the NBA that could shoot every day. (Aoki)'s one of them.

"We have a drill called the 90-minute 3-point shooting drill. It's a rapid-fire (drill). He's made 36 3s in 90 seconds (from the bj-league 3-point arch). Reggie (and) Ray would shoot 32 on certain days. Never made 36. 36!

"I mean, he's a hell of a basketball player."

Aoki is a little embarrassed when he hears such flattery. But on the other hand, he said those compliments would give him confidence and hope to one day make the national team.

"When we played under Joe (Bryant), he gave me similar compliments, though we didn't have the right to play for the national team back then," the 30-year-old Aoki said. "It feels great to be mentioned like that by American coaches. So hopefully, I'll get the chance."



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