Saturday, May 9, 2009


As anyone who's ever been unfortunate enough to play basketball with me since 1996 can tell you, I suck at basketball. I was pretty good before then, especially for me age. I used to play with my brother and the older kids at the neighborhood park in South Central Fort Worth. Later I played in a junior high school church league. Then I lost interest and proceeded to routinely kill the stereotype for anyone who ever saw me step foot on a court.

But my interest has been re-peaked ever since coming to Japan. It's not really like I have a choice: everyone keeps throwing basketball my way. At both of my schools, people assume I can play. And since both of my schools are in sports-loving towns, folks have been getting excited. It's remarkably similar to the "Everybody Hates Basketball" episode of Everybody Hates Chris:

Turns out my 2 high schools are pretty good! I went to a tournament 2 weeks ago and saw the girl's team own up on an adult team. And the guy's team got second place out of the entire thing. I wasn't sure what to expect but I can definitely say that some of my students love for basketball is comparable to states. They eat, sleep and breathe it.

Literally. They play before school, during lunch, after school (3 hour daily practices which are student run and strikingly disciplined), weekends and holidays.

Many are better than me but let their psyche get in the way. Every time I set foot in the gym I'm bombarded by requests to dunk (I can't, but I can still grab the rim) and play 1-on-1 against someone. I can miss a ton of shots and still have them cheer in amazement when I finally, accidentally, make one. If I wasn't bigger, faster and stronger than all of them (my fast breaks are their Achilles Heals), they probably would've already realized this.

Regardless, it's turning out to be a great way to get to know my kids. They're more receptive when they see me as more than an English Teacher and basketball helps put me in that light.

And I apparently have something to teach them about it.

I was caught completely off guard last week when the entire guy's and girl's teams formed a cypher around me and asked me for advice. Shoot, what do I know? "Um...just keep on practicing and you'll go far...yeah."

But then this week, I met up with a few at the gym and taught them how to play Nijuichi ("21") and 馬 ("H-O-R-S-E"). I've been playing those (or variations like "P-I-G" and "25") since I first handled a rock but they had never heard of them! They picked up both fast and, from what I can tell, quickly fell in love with them. They also started copying some of my loud and goofy on-court antics (they weren't talking or showing any emotion during the games at first but maybe they just saw me as a teacher and were afraid to relax) and were inspired by my slam-dunk-contest-type-shots during 馬 to try more creative and adventurous shots during their turns. We ended up playing for a couple of hours and while it may not improve their game, it certainly made it more enjoyable.

I'm going to continue attending games and practices and will hopefully be able to do the same with the other sports and club activities. I've been making cameos at most of the club activities but haven't gotten involved at the same level. But if I can relate like this through basketball then I should be able to do same with the rest.


  1. I'm sure I suck a million times more than you at b-ball ... and the kids would notice that they could whoop me. I'm not bad at "H-O-R-S-E" though (sorry, couldn't make the Japanese symbol/character) :)

  2. I dunno, you'd actually tower in comparison to some of the girls, including the team captain :-P