SEATTLE -- The Nippon Tornadoes put the "international" into the International Basketball League (IBL), a nine-year-old professional men's league headquartered in Vancouver, Washington, seen as a gateway to the NBA.
For the last four years, Tornadoes General Manager Tatsumi Nishida has brought scores of Japanese players and coaches to Seattle's "Emerald City Basketball Academy" to learn how to play basketball at the highest level. By playing American teams within the IBL, Nishida says Japanese players gain skills and confidence.
"The basketball environment is top of the world in the United States," said Nishida, who also drives, translates and cooks for the Tornadoes team during their three month season here. "We can see NBA, NCAA games in Japan (and) everyone is scared to play against Americans because you guys are big."
Nishida says training with U.S. coaches teaches the Japanese athletes to use shooting, speed and hustle to compensate for any height deficit.
Twenty-five-year-old Takato "Tak" Hara is 5'7", but says NBA players like Nate Robinson (with the Bulls) and Isaiah Thomas (of the Kings) are proof that you don't have to be seven feet tall to succeed in pro ball.
"Basketball is my life," said Hara. "I want to play in the big leagues."
The Nippon Tornadoes' next game is Saturday May 25 against the Vancouver (Washington) Volcanoes in Vancouver. Tickets are $7 for adults, 3 bucks for kids.