By ISABELLA CHAN, Yonsei Basketball Intern for Social Media and Marketing
The following is an article written by Isabella Chan, one of the young athletes selected for the Yonsei 27 girls basketball team.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Yonsei 27 team postponed its trip to Kochi, Japan, until the summer of 2024. This past summer, the Yonsei organization sent its first post-pandemic team to Japan and marked its 30th anniversary. The boys and girls teams traveled to Fukuoka and played three games each against competitive local teams using international basketball rules.
On July 9, the Yonsei Basketball Association held its annual exhibition games at the Terasaki Budokan, displaying an abundance of young talent.
The 2023 YBA exhibition games were unlike any other, with a set of preliminary rules altering the style of the games. Yonsei 27, consisting of rising high school seniors, played a co-ed game where the boys and girls teams were split and combined to face each other in friendly competition.
The Yonsei 30 team was similarly split up to ensure a high-quality and entertaining game. The split teams were represented by their jersey colors, White and Blue. The Yonsei 27 White team was led by head coaches Garett Ohara and Lindsey Sotero, while the Blue team was led by assistant coaches Andrew Shigemasa and Alysa Ito.
For the Yonsei 30 team, White was led by girls head coach Kristin Okino and boys assistant coach Reed Nakakihara and the Blue Team led by boys head coach James Shinto and girls assistant coach Shaye Uyematsu.
Along with this format, the scores were accumulated, and an entirely new set of rules was established on top of the international style of play. The first half (made up of two eight-minute quarters) was to be played with three girls and two boys at a time and with a women’s size ball. In the second half, this set-up was reversed.
Throughout the games, boys were not allowed to shoot or land within the key or block the girls’ shots.
To kick off the exhibition, Yonsei 27 played first. Twenty seconds into the game, Chase M. Wada from the White team pulled up for a jump shot off of a pass from one of the boys captains, Ryan Fujitani.
Shortly after, girls co-captain Izzie Chan sank a three-pointer assisted by Wade Ohashi to give the Blue team their first lead. Great defense from both teams kept the score low until the White team took a ten-point lead by the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter was slow, as both teams were still adapting to the style of play. The White team kept their lead of 22-15 with 2:52 left in the half, with Ashley Minei and Lindsey Kadonaga as important contributors. Kai Kobata and Alison Yamada of Team Blue pushed the tempo, but the White team was able to maintain their lead, ending the half 28-21 before the switch.
The third quarter was the boys’ time in the spotlight, with the White team scoring 13 points with the help of Manu Akiyama, Maddox Kiyohara and Malia Yu. The Blue team fell short of that, with Kai Kobata, Wade Ohashi and Chase A. Wada combining for ten points. On and off the court, we saw amazing energy from Lucas Chow and Hailey Morita of the home team.
In the remaining quarter, Reese Morio, Jayden Ikeda and Hayley Mukai displayed exuberant defense, reviving the Blue team by holding team White to seven points. Offensively, Talia Miyamoto, Ryan Niimi and Chase A. Wada closed the score gap to only four points. Alas, it was not enough to win, and with great excitement the White team celebrated their 48-44 victory.
The Yonsei 30 team played next, continuing with the same score their predecessors ended on. Similar to the previous game, the Blue Team started off slow with Tamlyn Yoshida and Kelsey Ikemoto as the only scorers combining for six, while girls team captain Sydney Matsumoto, Mason Sugimoto and Tyler Louie combined to score a total of 14 points for the White Team.
In the second quarter, defensive fireworks were on display as Team Blue allowed only four points the entire quarter, contributed by Lynn Morishita. But teammates Kiana Mitchell, Jack Diancin and Nolan Tagawa brought the intensity on defense to keep them going strong.
Offensively, Kelsey Ikemoto of Team Blue scored 11 points off of great passes from teammates Kalia Toshima and Kaylee Kawaguchi, as well as from attacking the basket and rebound put-backs. Though the Blue Team exhibited valiant effort, the half ended in favor of White, 66 to 61.
To start off the third quarter, Cole Nakata lit up the court with three-pointers all from teammate Mason Sugimoto totalling nine points. The ball was hot for Team Blue, with boys captain Kade Shigekawa as well as Noah Tanioka, Reid Abe, Tamlyn Yoshida, Josh Kagawan, Kelsey Ikemoto and Daniel Nagata, who contributed a total of 15 points. Later on, Sydney Matsumoto, Lynn Morishita and Katey Kakimoto added four more points to the White Team’s score of 79 to 76.
The final quarter was electric. Both teams battled it out on the court, the energy spreading to Yonsei 27, who stood beside their respective benches encouraging and mentoring their younger counterparts.
Two great five-foot finishes from Maxwell Kanamori and Allyson Nagatsuka gave the Blue team an overdue lead. A deep three-pointer from Olivia Chan was crucial, empowering Blue to give the game their all in the last three minutes and 15 seconds. Right after a steal, Kelsey Ikemoto drove to the basket, drawing a foul on the way up and scoring the basket.
Bringing the White Team back to life with their electric energy, Chloe Wong, Kaelyn Yoshizawa and Bryce Liew helped their team navigate the game through doubt. Tyler Louie scored a three-pointer, cutting the deficit to two.
But Team Blue maintained their lead thanks to a free throw from Tamlyn Yoshida, even after Tyler Louie hit a second three from the corner, closing the gap for White to 86 to 87 with seven seconds left. In the last possession, Kade Shigekawa of the Blue Team was fouled, giving him a chance to increase the lead.
Time ran out and the Blue team emerged victorious, even after they started the game down by four points. With great excitement, Yonsei 27 stormed the court to celebrate the hard work and dedication shown by Yonsei 30.
Yonsei 27 boys co-captain Ryan Niimi said, “Being back on the court with the Y27 team was a lot of fun. I think we all enjoyed being back around each other again.”
Yonsei 27 girls co-captain Michaela Okuyama added her perspective on why this is such a special event within the program: “What keeps the exhibition game crucial to the overall Yonsei experience is the bridging of connections between Japanese American youth of different age groups that creates a more cohesive generational JA identity.”
Exhibition was the first time since the latest tryouts that Yonsei 27 and Yonsei 30 were able to connect with each other. Yonsei 30 girls captain Sydney Matsumoto shared her perspective on how she felt finally meeting and interacting with the Yonsei 27 players after so long.
“It was a truly amazing experience. Especially during lunch I was able to bond with some of the Y27 players,” Matsumoto said. “I had the pleasure to talk to Malia Yu and Talia
Miyamoto. Since they were both Yonsei siblings from previous years, they were able to make comments about their experience and give me tips for the hot weather. It was super fun listening to them reminisce through the years!”
In addition to the showcase of the players’ athletic talents, the night also included a performance by Yonsei 30 dancing to “Permission to Dance” by BTS, choreographed by Maile Okazaki, Sabrina Ichiho, and Yonsei 30 parent Lauren Wong. Yonsei 27 players Izzie Chan and Talia Miyamoto also graced the crowd by opening the games with the national anthem.
On top of that, there was an exciting raffle to help Yonsei 30 fundraise for their trip to Japan.
Since its founding in 1994, Yonsei’s mission has been to create “an experience of a lifetime” for everyone in their program. Some call it a two-year goodwill exchange with a city in Japan, but in reality, it is a family that lasts forever.
Ahead of the trip to Fukuoka over the summer, Yonsei 30 boys captain Kade Shigekawa shared how he thought the style of play would differ in Japan.
“I know the game will be a lot faster especially with the 24-second shot clock. Guys will be looking to run the floor, and be forced to set up plays quicker. With a couple of the other international rules, it’ll take a while to adjust, but I look forward to the high-quality competition.”
The boys faced a tough opponent in the Japan National Champions U15 team, the Rising Zephyrs, and lost 44-59. They won games against Fukuoka Select, 83-46, and their homestay hosts, 70-49.
The girls lost two games against highly ranked teams, falling 45-58 to Team Kego and narrowly losing 44-47 to Fukuoka Select. They finished their road trip with a 58-56 win over their homestay hosts.
In addition to the games, the players enjoyed homestay with Japanese families, played in a series of games against local teams, and explored the country to learn about their heritage for the first part of their two-year commitment.
Meanwhile, Yonsei 27 is preparing for their turn to experience Japan as a team in 2024. Also next summer, Yonsei 30 players will host their Japanese friends from Fukuoka here in Los Angeles.
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Eligible eighth-grade boys and girls can now apply for Yonsei Basketball Association’s next team, Yonsei 31. The team will travel to Matsue, Japan in summer 2024 for a cultural exchange program, homestay, and basketball games against the area’s top players. Team selection requirements and the application are available online at www.yonseibasketball.org. Applications are due on Dec. 1.
Photos by JARED ABE