Ibaraki/Man takes his best shot at U.S wheelchair basketball



Yomiuri Shimbun

Wheelchair basketball player Naoki Yasu, 25, from Hitachinaka, Ibaraki Prefecture, will play in the United States from this month with the Lakeshore Storm, the top Division II team of the U.S. National Wheelchair Basketball Association.

Yasu played with the Chiba Hawks in Chiba Prefecture for four years, and in May, he participated in the Japan Wheelchair Basketball tournament. He was the tournament's top scorer and led his team to a second-place finish.

"I could mentally overcome (my physical disability) because I play wheelchair basketball, and it enriches my life," Yasu said.

He began using a wheelchair when he was 15 years old after his left leg was amputated.

"I would like to pursue my dream. I won't be able to do this later, so must start now," he said.

Yasu has been to the United States twice since playing in the Japan tournament.

"I want to see how much I can do in the United States, which is advanced in its level of sports for the physically impaired," Yasu said.

He tried out for strong teams from all over the United States and was accepted by the Storm in Alabama.

Yasu will join the team after participating in a sports meet for physically impaired athletes in Kochi in November. He will play for the Lakeshore Storm until March.

Yasu has used a wheelchair since a sudden disease destroyed bone tissue in his left leg and necessitated an amputation 15 years ago.

His mother encouraged him to join a local wheelchair basketball team when he was 16 years old, and he played for Lotus Ibaraki in Tomobemachi, Ibaraki Prefecture.

When Yasu turned 21, he joined the Chiba Hawks, a top-level team, in order to become a member of the Japan national team.

When he first started playing basketball, he had difficulty keeping up with the hard practices. However, he continued to practice on his own and became a regular player two years later. He also became a member of the Japan national team and was named one of the top five players in the nation.

His turning point as a wheelchair athlete came in April. He failed to become an international player in the world tournament, which drove him to try his luck in the United States.

"I want to improve my skill by playing in the home of wheelchair basketball," Yasu said.

He quit his job in August, and went on a training tour of wheelchair basketball teams across the nation.

During the tour, Yasu realized that there are many wheelchair basketball teams suffering from lack of funds and practice courts.

"I want to tell other players that their chance to play is not limited to Japan, but that they can play overseas as well,"Yasu said.

He said he would wait for an opportunity to play for a Division I team while playing for the Lakeshore Storm.

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"Those who seek to predict the future... might first look to the past. The past is a mirror -- and those who ignore its sometimes dark reflection, are doomed to repeat it... Will it be those seeking redemption who shall decide the future... or will those driven only by greed and envy shape our destiny? Even a hundred years later, the outcome is still very much in doubt. .." Outer Limits(Heart's Desire)