Watch out for Jap-Am

- Joaquin M. Henson () - October 2, 2002 - 12:00am
There’s a Jap-Am playing hoops for Japan at the 14th Asian Games in Busan and he’s expected to make life a little difficult for the Philippines in a quarterfinal duel at the Guemjeong gym this afternoon.

Maikeru Takahashi, 28, is really Michael Dorsey–born to a globetrotting black American musician Willie Dorsey and a Japanese mother Ikuko Takahashi in Tokyo. He went to the US at the age of two and didn’t return to the land of his birth until 1995 because of an offer to play basketball.

Takahashi’s father died in Japan before his return in 1995 and left behind two children with another woman in Tokyo and a son with still another woman in Florida. Takahashi is the only child with Ikuko who lives and works as a computer programmer in Missouri.

Takahashi played for the California State at Northridge varsity in the 1994-95 after an outstanding career at Los Angeles City College. He averaged 12.7 points and led the American West Conference in field goal percentage (.580) and rebounding (7.1). Then, Takahashi tried his luck in Japan where he has since been a fixture as an All-Star in the professional league.

In Japan, he was renamed Maikeru–a takeoff from Michael–and to identify with local fans, used his mother’s surname Takahashi. He made his Japanese national team debut at the Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) championships in Seoul in 1995. Takahashi powered Japan to third place behind China and South Korea as the Philippines, coached by Arlene Rodriguez, finished a lowly 12th. That same year, he led Japan to a silver medal at the World University Games in Fukuoka but the 141-81 loss to the US in the finals was no humiliation. The US team, after all, was bannered by Tim Duncan and Ray Allen.

In 1996, Takahashi was in Manila to play for Japan at the ABC Champions Cup.

"I’m comfortable either way," said Takahashi, referring to his mixed racial roots, in a Star interview when he was here. "I didn’t choose to be what I am. I was given the opportunity to play for Japan and I took it. I can’t complain. It’s been a great learning experience. The money’s good and the fans are fantastic. I’m happy to be contributing to the development of the sport in Asia."

Takahashi said he wouldn’t trade playing in Asia for anything, except, perhaps, a stint in the National Basketball Association (NBA). "In Asia, there are so many different countries and nationalities," he explained. "In America, you play only against Americans and maybe each team has a few different races. But everyone is in Asia. It’s really great. It’s wild. My dream is to play in the Olympics and down the road, in the NBA."

Takahashi is making his Asiad debut in Busan. An injury struck him out of the national lineup for the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok. Only two players are back from the 1998 roster–6-8 Satoru Furuta and 5-11 Takahiro Setsumasa. Furuta also saw action at the 1994 Asiad in Hiroshima.

Japan has never won a gold in basketball at the Asian Games. In 1994, the Japanese took the bronze after a close win over the Philippines, coached by Norman Black. The bitter setback left the Filipino cagers out of the medal circle and national coach Joseph Uichico will never forget it. Uichico, now calling the shots for the Philippines in Busan, was in Black’s coaching staff in Hiroshima as an assistant.

At the 1998 Asiad in Bangkok, Japan fell to 10th spot.

Takahashi is a free agent in the Japanese league and has left his former club Isuzu. He was contracted by the Japan Basketball Association to play in Busan and is the only national player unattached to a club.

Japan’s top gun Takehiko Orimo, who averaged 20.9 points in the pro league last season, sat out the South Korea game last Monday and is doubtful for today’s game against the Philippines. Orimo, 32, scored 15 points in Japan’s 125-75 demolition of Mongolia last Sunday.

Aside from Takahashi and Furuta, Japan will lean on deadshot Takuya Kita for offense. Kita, 30, hit 19 points in Japan’s 79-62 loss to the hosts the other day.

Curiously, Japan didn’t enlist a naturalized player to bolster its lineup. At the 1999 ABC championships in Fukuoka, Japan suited up 6-9 Dan Weiss from Santa Clara University. There were rumors the team would bring Eric McArthur, a Japan resident for over 10 years, to Busan but the naturalized player never showed up.

As usual, an American is kibitzing on the Japanese bench. Robert Dean Pierce sits alongside coach Kenji Yoshida. Americans who previously joined the Japanese coaching staff in international competitions included Gordon James, Tom Wisman, and Brian Goorjian.

At the Jones Cup in Taipei last July, the Japanese team edged the Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA) All-Stars, 65-63, for fourth place. Posting double figures for Japan were Kita, 6-6 Atsushi Ono, 6-11 Takashi Shinohara, and Setsumasa who are all in Busan. The loss was particularly painful for Filipino fans because it robbed the All-Stars of a rousing farewell to the now defunct MBA.

Revenge will be on Uichico’s mind this afternoon. He’s out to exorcise the ghost of the 1994 nightmare in Hiroshima.

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