By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Welcome to another edition of The Layup Drill. This month, we take a look at an outstanding performance in bad conditions, Ichiro’s announcement, and an NBA hopeful who stays in school.
Kawauchi wins Boston Marathon
Yuki Kawauchi of Japan won the Boston Marathon last month, as he overtook Kenya’s Geoffrey Kirui at mile 25 of the 26.2-mile race. Runners had to withstand constant rain, strong headwinds, and temperatures near 40 degrees that dampened the field, but not Kawauchi.
“For me, these are the best conditions possible,” joked Kawauchi, who won his first major race in 2 hours, 15 minutes, and 58 seconds.
The last Japanese man to win the Boston Marathon was Toshihiko Seko in 1987.
The 31-year-old, known as the “citizen runner,” is unlike other professional marathon runners. He has turned down sponsorships and paid his own way for training and races. Unlike some runners that pick and choose which races to compete in, he races often. His busy schedule has produced some record feats. He has the world record for the shortest period of time between two marathons under two hours and 10 minutes (14 days) and the most career sub-2:12 marathons (26). Prior to the Boston Marathon, he placed first in three other marathons this year.
He also has a sense of fun. He’s run a half marathon in a three-piece suit and ran dressed as a panda.
Growing up in Tokyo, Kawauchi started running in the first grade. His mother, a former runner, coached him early on and had him running daily time trials in their local park. His goal was to beat his personal record and if he missed by 30 seconds or more, he’d have to run an extra lap. If he missed by more than a minute, he’d have to run two extra laps. He ran for his junior high and high school track teams and was not recruited by a college due to injury. His father died in an accident his senior year in high school. He walked-on to run for Gakushuin University.
Despite his college coach discouraging him from running for a living, he carved out a running schedule around his full-time job. He has said that the lack of time to train has taught him to become more efficient.
Kawauchi has held down a job as a government clerk while training. Due to his job, he cannot accept sponsorship money. However, he can accept prize money and he was rewarded with $150,000 for winning the Boston Marathon. But the days of being the “citizen runner” may be coming to an end. He told reporters after the Boston Marathon that he would quit his job and focus on running.
Ichiro retires…or does he?
The Seattle Mariners announced that Ichiro Suzuki would be taking on a front office role with the club in early May. Suzuki insists he’s not retiring and could return to playing next season, but the 44-year-old is ending his playing season this year, which is his 27th year in professional baseball. Next year, the Mariners begin the 2019 regular season with two games in Tokyo and that could possibly be the reason why Ichiro is not officially calling it over.
Although it would have been nice for Ichiro to ride out of Safeco with a home run as a Miami Marlin in the 9th inning of last year’s game against the Mariners, Ichiro’s last at-bat this season was a strikeout with the bases loaded in the 9th inning. Still, Ichiro will be remembered for much more than a bookend to the completion of a career. Rather, fans will readily immerse themselves with the great memories throughout the story of Ichiro when he came to the Mariners as a young outfielder in his mid-20s, set records with his hits, and his great defense in the outfield. Already with a resume from playing professionally in Japan, Ichiro built on his mystique in Seattle and his presence gave the team international notoriety. Just like he’s been his whole career, Ichiro remains mysterious about his retirement. When he signed with the Mariners this year, he said he wanted to play into his 50s, but with the announcement of his front office title, it may just be a wish.
“The past two months have been the happiest I’ve been,” said Ichiro, through an interpreter at the press conference announcing his time away from the field. Yet, with the new position, Ichiro still takes batting practice and wears a uniform during games, as if he’s still available to play if needed.
Ichiro’s decision to end his 2018 season coincided with the new Japanese baseball star Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Angels visiting Safeco Field. The 44-year-old legend and the 23-year-old future legend met prior to the series start in what you may see as a passing of the torch. Ohtani, a rare threat on the pitching mound and the plate, showed why the Mariners coveted the two-way star. Amid boos from the Seattle fans, who wished he had chosen Seattle over Southern California, Ohtani went 2-for-4, as the Angels’ Designated Hitter hit a double that brought in a run to help his team win the first game of the three-game series. In the third game, Ohtani pitched and showed his excellent arm in striking out six Mariners.
He hit 99 miles per hour with his fastball, which was untouchable to most Mariners hitters and also a slider which fooled others.
Hachimura returns to Gonzaga, but many eye his NBA future
Rui Hachimura announced that he is returning to Gonzaga University for his junior season, instead of declaring for the NBA Draft. Although a forward, he’s been the center of attention for Asian American and Japanese media. Hachimura may be the first Japanese-born player to be drafted in the NBA. Hachimura’s mother is Japanese and his father is originally from the Republic of Benin in West Africa.
The 6-foot-8, 225-pound 20-year-old was the first Japanese native ever to play in the NCAA Division I men’s tournament in 2016. Last season, he averaged 11.6 points and 4.7 rebounds for the Bulldogs and figures to improve upon those statistics as his role with the team expands.
Hachimura actually started out playing baseball, but quickly picked up basketball as a youth. He was invited to play in the 2015 Jordan Brand Class International Game, a showcase for standout high school players. He expressed a desire to play college basketball in the United States and he was noticed by ESPN as one of the five best international players to potentially play in college. College scouts were impressed with his length, athleticism, and shooting ability. Hachimura chose to attend Gonzaga in Spokane over the University of Arizona in Tucson. Both schools are considered elite college basketball programs.
Hachimura now has Japanese media following him, anticipating his potential success. He is one of the most sought after in post-game interviews.
In addition to his college basketball career, Hachimura plays for the Japanese national team. He was an important part of the U19 World Cup and figures to be an important part of the Japanese national team during the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Although baseball and soccer are Japan’s most popular sports, basketball could reemerge once again. During the Michael Jordan-era, basketball was popular in Japan. When Yuta Tabuse made the Phoenix Suns in 2004 and became the first and only Japanese player to make it in the NBA, the interest in the sport spiked as well.
Hachimura is taking the attention and pressure in stride. He wants to keep improving his game before he decides to take his shot in the NBA.
Jason can be reached at email@example.com.