If anyone would have told Florida National University’s Head Coach James ‘JJ’ Thatcher that one of his toughest and most important players would come in the smallest package in Hirotaka Ohashi, from Osaka, Japan, he probably would have smiled. Asked about his performance thus far through 8 games where he is averaging 11.2 points, 8.1 assists and 4 rebounds per contest, Coach Thatcher mentioned, “Hiro has been the glue on our team all year. After the first game, he was put into our starting lineup and he’ll be there. His decision making and work ethic are second to none.”
Ohashi has had some impressive outings in his first collegiate season and seems to do best against the highest competition. Hiro netted 20pts, 4 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals in an 88-81 loss against #5 ranked University of Pikeville. He has recorded two double doubles (11pts, 13assists vs Point Park University and 15pts, 10assists vs Nova Southeastern University NCAA D2) and even left the game against NSU early, receiving what FNU coaches and players considered a cheap shot resulting in stitches. Ohashi has flirted with a triple double vs University of North Florida (6pts, 9 assists & 9 rebounds), which is NCAA Division 1 program.
Although FNU has gotten off to a rocky start at 3-5, Coach Thatcher feels confident that his team is in a great position to compete for not only a conference title, but a national one as well. Considering the strength of the front end of FNU’s schedule, he may be right. At this rate, Ohashi is on pace to finish near the top in all of collegiate basketball with his assists and assist to turnover ratio.
If we could cash in life experience for dollars right now, Kota Akama would be a wealthy young man. Hailing from Osaka, Japan, Mr. Akama has quite a story and vision, foregoing all of his high school career in the comforts of his own country, to pursue basketball in the US. The unassuming 5’8 point guard from Honshu was termed ‘the kid from Osaka’ or as one of his t-shirts may say ‘Just a Kid from Osaka.’
Kota started his journey after a couple of trips to the US, visiting Atlanta amongst other cities with the travel squad, Gymrats. Long drawn alliances between the moving forces and former teammates T Okada and Crossover CEO J. Dodd and the proven success of Kanna Suzuki convinced Akama to take his first chance in Atlanta at Brandon Hall School, a boarding school competing in GISA. After a year and uncertainty due to coaching changes and competition levels, Kota along with teammate, Elijah Ewing, jumped ship to the prominent Huntington Prep.
Heading up the newly formed and 2nd team, Akama spent two years in the shadows of big-time recruits and soon to be NBA players, such as Keldon Johnson of the San Antonio Spurs. Life in Huntington was much different than Atlanta, to say the least, but Akama was able to focus on his primary goal, getting better and playing the game he loves. After his Junior year, Akama decided he’d hit his ceiling in Huntington and decided to return to his second home in Atlanta, this time with Furtah Prep. Furtah was able to win its 2nd consecutive state title with Akama providing valuable minutes split between starting and coming off the bench.
After Summer camps and several tryouts, Akama has found the grace of Ranger College and Coach Billy Gillespie, securing a position on the squad for the upcoming 2019-20 season. Ranger College finished the season ranked #5 in the country and has been ranked as high as #2. Ironically, this year will also feature another Japanese national on the squad, the well-known Winter Cup star Keisei Tominaga. When asked what he thought about Tominaga’s presence along with the team having a Japanese trainer, Akama replied “It doesn’t matter who is on the team. My goals are the same to be the best I can be. It will be cool to meet Tominaga though and share the experience.”
“Kota is one of the most likable people I’ve ever met in my life and I know a lot of people,” laughed CEO J. Dodd. “I think he is just coming from a culture that places high value on work ethic and devotion to goals. Kota speaks English well and I’m sure he will have a positive effect on the team’s culture and be an asset overall. I love the fact that he never gives up and he will surprise you with his quickness and vision.”
One thing is for sure, Just a Kid from Osaka has got his work cut out for him in a game he’s not supposed to exceed in according to the stats. When asked if he still believes he can achieve his goals, Akama rebuts “Whether or not I reach my dream in basketball, I will do my best and I can be happy with that. The journey is always most important.”
The ink has dried for Mr. Hirotaka Ohashi, a native from Osaka, Japan. Ohashi has officially accepted a scholarship offer from Florida National University, which is coming off of a stellar 20-9 season in D1 of the NAIA last season.
Hiro, as he is so affectionately known, is a 5’6″ Point Guard who excelled in his homeland at the famed Rakunan High School in Kyoto, Japan before deciding to take his talents to West Florida. Ohashi played at Victory Rock Prep Academy in Sarasota, FL as the starting PG for the postgraduate team, leading them to a winning season and gaining notice along the way. Although Hiro is a small player as are many Japanese, his unique skill sets of ball-handling, passing and decision making have propelled him to be effective as the primary ball-handler and captain of the Victory Rock ship.
When asked what separates Hiro from others, Crossover Exposure CEO Jerone Dodd Jr. noted “Hiro is a special talent in a small package…while many will say he doesn’t pass the eye test at first glance, almost a 100% of the time, people end up becoming a fan and enjoy watching him play when its all said and done. With his speed, quickness and low center of gravity it is very difficult to stay in front of him in the open floor. Ohashi has all the intangibles of a good PG to be successful. He has vision, a great assist to TO ratio, he can shoot the outside shot and most importantly he is a leader and is always on the job. I think his work ethic will rub off on others and he will soon become a valuable asset to Florida National. Japan is watching and we all look forward to following him to see how he does.”
In only 6 years of existence, Florida National University’s Head Coach, James ‘JJ’ Thatcher, has led the program to National Tournaments from 2015-18, with their best season achieving a 25-7 record and Final Four Appearance.
Crossover Exposure had the honor to sit with Dequan Jones, an Atlanta native and discuss his life story and journey as a basketball player with experience in the NBA and overseas. DeQuan is currently playing in the G League for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants and recently won Player of the Month averaging 26.5ppg, 5.8rpg while shooting 59.7% from the field.
CRX: Where did you grow up and how was life growing up with your family?
DJ: I grew up in Stone Mountain, GA in a single parent household with just my Mom. It was hard, but she provided me with the essentials needed. I was an only child at the time, so I spent a lot of time with my cousins and we got into all sorts of things. Although my mom didn’t have much time because of work, I remember her doing all she could to support me, even if it was spending what little extra time she had to come watch me play football. She showed her love in many ways.
CRX: When did you first start playing basketball and when did you realize that you had a legit future?
DJ: I was always athletic, but I wasn’t the most skilled player. I took a lot of pride in blocking shots. I remember before PE in school, Coach Cam would let us play 5 on 5 before school and it was pretty much in front of the whole school..blocking shots was the thing that I really enjoyed because it elicited the biggest reaction from the students. Everyone could dribble but not many were athletic enough to block shots the way I could. Over time, my coaches eventually forced me to work on other aspects of my game. I realized that I had a future in sport when I got a scholarship offer from the University of Georgia in my freshman year of high school. It really forced me to take things more serious and really buckle down and work on my skills.
CRX: What were some of the challenges you faced in HS and college in terms of basketball or socially?
DJ: It was a big culture shock transferring from Stone Mountain HS to Wheeler HS. Wheeler was 45 minutes away from home and was a very diverse school, whereas Stone Mountain was a predominantly African American school. It gave me new perspectives on things and taught me to take working hard and training more serious. The best advice I got in high school was to train like I was already in college. Socially it was difficult to adapt with other people’s ethnicities, traditions and outlooks, but in the end it really opened my eyes and prepared me for the world.
CRX: You attended the University of Miami, what were some other choices or offers you had and what made you choose Miami?
DJ: My final 5 were Oklahoma, Memphis, Cincinnati, Miami and Florida State. I chose Miami because at the time I was coached by an older gentleman named Lawson Bowman who was my mentor at the time. He had a great relationship with one of the assistant coaches at the school and being how much I respected him and wanted his input, I wanted to keep a family feel moving forward. When I got there it was just the feeling I envisioned. On top of that, it was the SEC and Miami..it wasn’t hard to convince an 18 year old male to go to Miami..lol.
CRX: You went through a time of uncertainty at Miami and actually had to sit out 10 games due to recruiting allegations, but were eventually cleared. What did you learn from that situation?
DJ: That was one of the toughest periods of my life. I learned how to persevere and really channel my energy on what I wanted to achieve. It also taught me a lot about people who I thought were in my corner..here today and gone tomorrow. It taught me how to remain positive and push through.
CRX: After a solid career at Miami, you entered the NBA Draft, but weren’t drafted. Tell us about your subsequent workouts and mental state during this time.
DJ: It was tough going into the Draft and having a roller coaster of a senior year, there was so much uncertainty. I signed with a big agency which had a lot of 1st and 2nd round picks…being in that environment with those guys and seeing all the opportunities and special situations they had, it could have been easy to fall into a comparison trap. I only had 3 workouts with the Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit Pistons and the LA Lakers. It was easy to start to feel doubt, staying up late nights wondering why I was trying so hard or if I should even be there..it took some time until one night I told myself that I would do whatever I could to control the things I could and not worry about the rest. If I didn’t make it and I did all I could, I could live with that. Once I made my mind up, the rest was history. Eventually I got a call from the Magic to come to play for their Summer League team and I eventually went on to make the team.
CRX: Through the years, you have been in and out of the league and also played overseas. How would you rate your experiences overseas and how has traveling changed your perspective on things?
DJ: Playing overseas has been a tremendous eye opener for me. Playing in some countries, some things we as Americans take for granted, such as washing clothes, cooking and watching TV all at the same time. Seeing how hard others work in other countries or the sacrifices they endure makes me thankful for all that I have and gives me perspective. Another thing I learned was the importance of being present in the moment…it can be very difficult if you are not present in the moment. Submerging myself in the culture of the people was one thing that helped me a lot…I enjoyed visiting temples, landmarks and historical places of importance. It helped me to relate to the people and be in the moment. Life is a journey and when you do that, you appreciate it more.
CRX: Many aspiring pros think overseas is easy to make or they can make a living indefinitely…what advice would you give collegiate athletes or even high schoolers who have their sites set on a professional career?
DJ: Its not easy at all. Playing overseas you are forced to be self reflective. At home its easy to distract yourself with family, friends or activities, but overseas usually you can’t speak the language so there is a sense of isolation even if you are in a room full of people. It is what you make it. Most players or people already have a preconceived notion of what American basketball players are like, such as they are selfish or don’t play the game the right way. It is important that you learn about your teammates and how to play with them, because you will need them, considering that usually the American players are a focal point on offense. Other than that I would say become a student of the game.
CRX: You are currently playing with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA G League. How is your season going and what are your goals?
DJ: We are currently 1st place in our division at 25-15. I was honored to receive the NBA G League Player of the Month award for February, so we are just focused on finishing the season strong and playing to our potential. It can be difficult at times dealing with the 2 way contracts and having players assigned or coming and leaving, but its something we have to work through.
CRX: One day, we must all put the ball down. What is your outlook and interest in staying connected to the game after your playing days are over?
DJ: I don’t know, that is a good question. My wife and I joke that I may end up coaching our kids. I don’t think coaching is for me, but its a bit early to say. We will see.
CRX: Are you involved in any business or activities outside of basketball that you’d like to share with us?
DJ: Yes! My wife and I run an NPO called the Jet Jones Foundation and our major focus is providing inner city kids with the resources they need to take flight to a brighter future. I was blessed and fortunate to make it out of the inner city. Someone has to speak for the kids still in impoverished situations. We have back to school drives and donate school supplies to Title 1 Schools. We also have fundraisers, last year we had a 5K run and donated the proceeds to the foundations that we work with. We refurbish books that are sent to Africa and we work with the community food bank which is donated to Meals on Wheels. We also have Maintain the Mound and go to Randolph Madlock Part and clean up the park and nearby neighborhoods to keep the kids environment clean and let them know that people care and instill a sense of pride in them. That is something I really enjoy and look to get into more in my post career.
Crossover Exposure salutes Mr. Jet Jones for his journey and is happy to cover a talented athlete, but more importantly a positive role model and good hearted human. Follow the Jet Jones Foundation at www.jetjonesfoundation.org
Hina Suzuki, sister of standout South Georgia Tech guard, Kanna Suzuki, has one upped her sister in an amazing show of will power and clutch performance. Hina, a senior at Osaka Toin High School in Osaka, Japan, was the shortest player on either team by 10 cms, but that didn’t stop her. In Curryesk style, Suzuki poured in 8 three pointers and 27 points down the stretch in a double overtime thriller in Tokyo. With only 1 turnover the entire game, it was clearly an MVP performance. Although Suzuki was not honored as one of the top 5 players, to the dismay of her family, supporters and anyone watching the game, she was humble and dismissive when asked about it. “I really don’t care about that, what is important to me is that my team won.” Hina averaged around 15 points for the national tourney and shut down all premiere guards in her path.
Politics may rule the day in Japan Basketball, but the proof is in the pudding. While Suzuki may have been overlooked due to her size, even in Japan, it is a common theme that her sister Kanna has encountered more than once. Kanna made the leap to high school in the US in 2012, which provided an opportunity for Hina to train in Atlanta back in 2013. Although Hina did not follow in the footsteps by coming to the US to play ball, she clearly stood in the imprint of her older sister, who achieved All-State honors at Brandon Hall High School and went on to become the Freshman of the year in the GCAA (Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association). Often overlooked at AAU tryouts and even college workouts, Kanna always somehow rose to become a central player on every team. Hina has done the same in her home country and has achieved the highest honor in high school with her performance.
Part of the irony for the Suzukis is the bitter sweet reality of Kanna’s injury versus Hina’s victory. Kanna abruptly endured a season ending injury before the season could even get started in a pre-season scrimmage. To make matters worse, the incident occurred in front of college coaches. Crossover Exposure had a chance to speak with Kanna regarding her situation and her sister’s triumph, asked about how she felt being incapacitated while cheering her sister on. “I was more nervous watching her game than when I actually play on the court because I know how hard she works and to become the #1 team in Japan is a huge thing to accomplish. But I was believing in her I knew she can bring a win to the team no matter what. I wish I could watch that game at the arena but I was crying in front of the laptop anyways lol. I was literally praying and sending her energy from half way around the world. I’m more than happy to see her be a part of becoming the #1 team in the nation.” When asked about whether she and her sister have ever considered playing professionally and what the future outlook holds, Kanna replied “Yeah I think so. Both of us are always the shortest player on the court but if she and I have a chance to play professionally I think we would consider it.” Before that can happen, Kanna must get healthy and Hina must get through college, where she has been recruited by many of the top schools, but has yet to officially announce her decision. The road to recovery may be long and arduous, but one thing is for certain, if its a Suzuki, its possible. Crossover Exposure salutes the Suzuki family and looks forward to their continued successes.
One thing is for certain, Cierra Johnson has persevered and overcome many obstacles in her winding road of a basketball career thus far. One of the most highly recruited guards out of high school in the class of 2016, Cierra was forced to take an unconventional route and attend JUCO at Shelton State after not qualifying for the NCAA and a scholarship offer to the University of Alabama. Johnson’s list of pre-collegiate accolades includes McDonald’s All-American, USA Today All-Alabama first team, Naismith High School All-America Watch List and Jordan Brand Classic All-American. She has now added NJCAA All-American (1st team), NJCAA All-Star Weekend MVP, ACCC Player of the Year & First Team honors to this list, while leading her team to an ACCC Championship last season.
We had a chance to catch up with Cierra for an interview about her past, present and future to better understand her story and what drives her to be great.
CRX: Growing up in Mobile, AL, how did you get started playing basketball and how old were you?
CJ: Growing up in Mobile, Al I developed the love for basketball at a very young age. My dad first put a basketball in my hand when I was 4 years old, when I first bounced a ball I was 5 and when I played my first real game, I played on an all boys basketball team.
CRX: Tell us about some of the challenges you had growing up. What was life like for you as a kid and in/through high school?
CJ: Growing up I had very dependable parents. We didn’t have much, we had a lot of struggles but my parents made sure I had everything I needed, not what I wanted. My parents invested a lot into my basketball career growing up. They may not had it all the time but they made a way to pay my fees for trips or fees for the team I was on, or sometimes people would pay for me out of the kindness of their heart because we just didn’t have it. I struggled a lot in high school, mostly with focusing on what was really important. Other than that, high school was good to me basketball was great and the people were amazing.
CRX: Take us back and walk us through your mental state when you found out you had to attend JUCO last year due to not qualifying for NCAA.
CJ: I remember sitting in my mentor’s classroom, Ms. Buchanan, when we were going over my grades discussing how I wasn’t going to qualify. I was hurt but I was more so focusing on what others were going to say. During that time I thought JUCO was going to be bad for me. I was thinking about who was going to pick me up. I didn’t have a school to attend because not qualifying was so sudden. My mental and confidence were so gone I wanted to give up because people had such high hopes for me and I felt like I let them down. But now I look at it as everything happens for a reason. God always has a plan that we all need to follow. JUCO has been the best thing that happened to me academically, mentally,socially, and has made me a better person and player.
CRX: You were selected in the JUCO All- Star Weekend and named MVP of the weekend. How was that experience and what did that mean to you?
CJ: The All- Star weekend was a great experience. I have a hard time being social but that weekend I was introduced to a lot of new people whom I still communicate with now. I am so glad I was invited to that event. When I was named MVP it meant a lot to me because even though I didn’t score a lot my intentions were to make the people around me better and I was glad my hard work didn’t go unnoticed.
CRX: What is your outlook for Shelton State this year and what are your goals as a team and individually?
CJ: Even though we lost a lot of people that were a good aspect to the team we have some key returners and some very talented freshman that can and will help us win it all. I think we all have the same team goal to WIN, to win the conference championship and the National championship. My individual goal is to be JUCO POY and to better myself as the year goes on as a person and a player.
CRX: You have achieved a lot and gained recognition as one of the best in the country. What is your ultimate goal in basketball and life?
CJ: Since I was younger I have always wanted to play Professional basketball and impact lives. My ultimate life goal would be to better my relationship with God and to help everybody know his name.
CRX: If you could speak to High School students in a similar position as you what would you tell them?
CJ: SCHOOL IS IMPORTANT!!!!!! You can not go anywhere without grades because its another athlete with better grades and the same talent as you and coaches will overlook you for them. I would also tell them you have to always work everyday to better yourself, everybody in JUCO have the same goal, to play D1 ball so you have to work and better your craft everyday. Also keep God 1st
CRX: Outside of basketball, what do you enjoy to do?
CJ: SLEEP!!!!!!!!!! Draw or hang with friends.
CRX: Who are some influential people that have helped you along the way?
CJ: I have a few people that have helped me along the way. 1. My mom and dad for believing in my dreams and investing their time in me. 2. Barbarrah Hatcher and Tamika Hardin and Toya Steile my first coaches when I was little without them I don’t think I would be the player I am today. 3. Tiffany Buchanan for helping me with my school-work, mentoring me, and being a mother figure while in school. 4. My sisters for their undying support. They support me in every decision I make. 5. Jordan LeNoir for being in my corner and helping me make decisions, supporting me, and being their for me while I’m away from home. All of these people have made a major impact in my life.
CRX: Who is Cierra Johnson?
CJ: Cierra Johnson is a girl who grew up in Happy Hill projects in Mobile, Al. She didn’t have much but she used basketball as her ticket to get her and her family out of the situation they are in now and she puts all of her trust in the lord and would do anything to give her family the world.
CRX: Who is your favorite NBA and WNBA player and why?
CJ: My favorite NBA player would be Russell Westbrook because of his drive; he plays every game like it is his last. He is loyal to his team he would give any and everything to his team, he leaves it all on the court. My favorite WNBA player would be Maya Moore, the way she plays is so smooth she is humble, and loves the game. Maya Moore is a leader, her and Russell both gives all the glory to God.
CRX: Alabama won 22 games last year, the most since 1997. How do you see yourself fitting in with Coach Curry’s system and also with the emergence of PG Jordan Lewis?
CJ: I see myself fitting into Coach Curry’s system very well, she has a will to win so do I. I feel I bring a lot of drive and I would be a great fit for the team. Jordan Lewis is a great point guard I feel we will be a good combo in the back court.
Shelton State’s first game of the season is on November 3rd at Walters State Community College for the Senators Tip Off Classic @ 5:00pm . Cierra’s long road of faith continues to transform into a testimony and body of work that will soon make her a household name in the upper echelons of Women’s collegiate and professional basketball for years to come.
The Summer signing of former South Atlanta standout combo guard, Jada Harrell (pictured kneeling above), by SE Illinois is more than meets the eye. Harrell originally had an offer from Coach Reeves to attend Gardner-Webb University in NC, a Division 1 school in the Big South Conference. Due to slightly missing the academic standards to receive a D1 scholarship, Harrell was forced to consider other options. Coach Steve Kenner of SE Illinois immediately expressed strong interest in Jada, noting “Jada has the potential to be really good! She has something special! She is long and athletic with good ball handling skills and can play out on the perimeter as well as in the post. She is someone who can create for herself and for others! We really like what she brings to the table and she fits into our exciting brand of basketball.” When asked what qualities are ideal during recruiting, Coach Keener offered, “When my staff and I are out evaluating recruits at events, we look for a variety of things within a student-athlete. Some of the characteristics of our rubric consists of; coach ability (how well does she take constructive criticism), comradery (is she a good teammate), work ethic (willing to work hard and put in extra time), positive energy and effort, selfless, and potential ability (willingness to be great).”
More interesting perhaps, is the back story of the area where SE Illinois is located (in an area called “Little Egypt” between Harrisburg and Equality in Saline County, IL) and Jada’s until recently unknown ancestral ties to the area. Jada is a direct descendant of the Taborn family, the most acknowledged of the founding families of Lakeview, an unincorporated township started in 1818. After the war of 1812 between British and United States forces, in which various Indian/Indigenous nations fought on both sides, the Taborns and six other families (7), referred to as ‘freedmen’, moved from North Carolina and were welcomed by the 13 remaining Indian families. Lakeview was originally called “The Pond Settlement” and was named after the Cypress swampland and wetlands that surrounds the area of Carrier Mills. It is one of the oldest settlements in Illinois, and holds the oldest dominantly African American cemetery in Illinois, which is a state historical landmark.
According to Wikipedia, “Census records indicate that the first settlers were the Allen, Blackwell, Taborn, Mitchell, Evans, Cofield, and Cole Families. These earliest Lakeview residents were most self-sufficient. They depended on a mixture of hunting and farming for their food. The early families had substantial land holdings in the Pre-Civil War era. It was only after the village of Morrillsville, later known as Carrier Mills, was established that some of these holdings were sold off. Whites continued to buy land around Lakeview during the remainder of the nineteenth century, resulting in the breakup of the larger land holdings. Lakeview covered a series of farmsteads concentrated about 3 square miles (7.8 km2); however, the focus of the settlement has always been on the church and school, along what was is now Taborn Road.”
Jada exclaimed jokingly, “I have already been warned that any tall, light skinned guys around here could likely be my cousin. It is really kind of nostalgic to hear about these stories. I don’t think it is a coincidence.” Whether a coincidence or whether somehow she was drawn there, Ms. Harrell’s story is amazing in that prior to her recruitment, there was little connection for her to this historical tale in which her family played a major role as pioneers and lends to the exploration of more of her family’s legacy. “I’m here to focus on basketball and school and I’m sure I will have the chance to learn more about our history and meet many relatives along the way.”
The Lady Falcons have a long season ahead and Coach Kenner is taking over the reigns of the Head Coaching position with high hopes of a successful campaign. Originally from Atlanta, GA, Coach Kenner reiterates “I am really excited for us! We have a new team, with new players, and with a new coach! I believe we have a chance to be special again this year and make a run in the National Tournament. I am a firm believer that we are a “WE” program! This program is not about any individuals or myself…it is about “WE”.
Kanna Suzuki, along with teammates, Houlfat Mahouchiza and Ester Adinike have been chosen to participate in the 9th annual NJCAA Women’s Basketball Coaches Association All-Star Weekend. The event will be held from July 21-24 in Niceville, FL at Northwest Florida State College. Featuring the top 40 rising sophmores in the country, Suzuki, one of four GCAA players selected, is coming off an impressive Freshman year both individually and as the floor leader for the Lady Jets. Kanna started in 32 out of 35 games and logged the most minutes on South Georgia Tech and fourth most in the GCAA. She averaged 9.1 ppg and also lead her team and the GCAA with 4.8 assists (10th in NJCAA) and 36.7% from beyond the arc, while ranking 3rd in assist/turnover ratio. Suzuki was also named the 2016-17 GCAA Freshman of the Year, helping South Georgia Tech to a testy GCAA Tournament Championship and a second round appearance in the National NJCAA Tournament.
Suzuki noted “I am super excited to receive this honor to join the top players in the country in competition. It is a good chance to evaluate myself amongst the others and of course a good exposure opportunity.”
Suzuki is one of four returning players from last year’s surprising SGT team of 7 Freshman players. Asked about her outlook for the upcoming season and her Summer plans, Kanna commented “Well, I came home to Japan to see my family, enjoy home and get some training. I will return to US and train more with Dorian Lee of Bball 101 before I return to South Georgia for the All Star Tourney. I think we have a good core of players returning and a lot of experience. We lost three top players in Coleman, Corbin and Fluellyn, not to mention James, but I know Coach Frey and Conyers have worked hard to bring in some new talent as well, so I feel confident that we can improve upon last year’s season and compete for our ultimate goal of an NJCAA Championship.”
Lofty goals are nothing new for the anomaly of the 5’2 Suzuki.
Cloud County recently signed Camille-Awa Baud, a senior PG currently finishing up at North Central Texas Academy to fill the void in the Thunderbird’s backcourt. Ms. Baud made an instant impact on her arrival at NCT as a junior, leading her team to a 6th consecutive TAPPS State Championship and putting up around 25ppg. Hailing from Nantes, France, Baud reflects on her journey “My first trip to the USA was in 2015, I believe in March or April, accompanied by my basketball coach Vincent Mbassi (Vince) from Kameet Basketball Academy. We went to Atlanta to see his friend Dorian Lee of Bball101, in order to play and evaluate my level in the USA. During this week, we played really hard. It was interesting to be in a totally different environment than what I am used to. I am thankful for those two coaches, especially Vince.”
Asked about the difference between her Junior and Senior years in the US, Baud noted “During my junior year, I still had to adapt to my new way of life since it was my first year in the USA. Also, I had to play AAU which consumed a lot of my time because I lived 1:30 hours far from my team location. On the other hand, at the beginning of my senior year and during the first few months, I had to work extremely hard for many tests (ACT, SAT, TOEFL) and work on my college applications as well. I have to admit that it was a stressful period but once I was done with this, I got to relax and this allowed me to make new friends. Overall, I would say that I liked my senior year better than my junior year.”
Coach Erkenbrak, the now legendary Head Coach of Cloud County offered insight into why he extended an offer to Camille “We were in search of a quality point guard who could lead our team since our pg was graduating after back-to-back all conference seasons. We really like Camille’s ball skills (dribbling, shooting, passing) and think she can be an effective leader for us.” When asked about Baud after her official visit, Erkenbrak replied “I have been most impressed by Camille simply by her demeanor and personality. I really think she is the “whole package” when it comes to being a student-athlete. Camille is forthright, honest, motivated and dedicated to doing well on the floor and in the classroom.” Baud echoed the Coach’s sentiments, saying “Coach Erkenbrack is without doubt a great person. The first time I met him, we directly got along. He is a very respectful and interesting person and I am looking forward to be coached by him next year. Cloud County was the team that clearly wanted me without doubt and knew they could do big things with me. After talking to their coaches and visiting the school, I realized that it was the right place for me.”
Cloud County Community College has a long tradition and legacy of over 50 years under the tenure of an Erkenbrak coach. Starting in 1975 with Dennis Erkenbrak, who coached for 23 years and compiled an impressive 502-225 record, the baton was passed to his son and current NJCAA Region 6 all time winningest Coach, Brett Erkenbrak, who has logged an astonishing 628-268 record, winning at a 70% clip. Brett was recently inducted into the NJCAA Hall of Fame and rightfully so. In his 29th season at the helm, Erkenbrak has seen it all, helping over 150 young women (over 50 Division I and over 100 Division II and NAIA) go on to play in 4 year schools. Prompted about his recent induction into the NJCAA Hall of Fame, Brett said “It is a great honor and very humbling that my peers have chosen to recognize me while I am still alive and coaching. I think it speaks to the longevity and stability of our program and most certainly to the high quality of people and players that we have had here.”
Expanding on his experience with international players, Coach Erkenbrak said “As of today, Camille is our only international player for next season. We have had a large number of very good international players from Australia, New Zealand, Serbia, Latvia, Chile’, Cameroon, South Africa, Canada and others. Many of these young ladies went on to play at NCAA Div. I universities in the US. Klara Wischer, from Melbourne, Australia, was an All-American selection for us in 2011. She went on to play at the University of San Diego and is currently playing professionally in Australia.”
Ms. Baud has set high goals for her first year at Cloud County, “In my first year, I believe I will bring lots of energy and motivation to our team, which is extremely important. Also, I plan on making our team collectively good, since I am a good play maker and passer, and making us all understand each other on the court and have that kind of connection that makes it all easier. I also want to bring our team the furthest possible in the national tournament and of course win a championship. But that will be a teamwork, it won’t only depend on me.” Coach Erkenbrak countered “We have finished in the top four of our region tournament each of the last two years and 14 of the past 24 seasons. I certainly anticipate that to continue and look for us to be a top team nationally. Each of the top four teams in our region this past season relied heavily on sophomores who have moved on, but I would anticipate a similar finish from all involved next year.”
Its not easy to leave one’s home country in high school to find their dream and Camille Baud, known affectionately by her friends and family as Cammy, concludes with the ups and downs of crossing over “I would say that I really like the fact that anybody (in the USA) can succeed in what they want to do, there are lots and lots of opportunities. If you want it you can do it. It does not work like that everywhere. What I miss most about my country is of course my family. There are also many other things that I miss about France but to me my family is more important than anything else. ”
Shogo Yasunobu has been making his mark at every turn and his story continues as he crosses over to attend Victory Rock Prep post graduate program in Bradenton, Florida. The program has a long history of success under the helm of founder and head coach, Loren Jackson, former IMG Basketball Director who has coached and developed many top players around the globe, including NBA, top Division 1 and overseas talents. Yasunobu is a 5’8 PG, originally from Okayama, Japan.
Asked about the opportunity to work with Yasunobu, Jackson touched on the development process in guard development, “I am always pleased to work with international talents and help with the refining process through top training and competition. Victory Rock Prep is the 2016 Grind Session National Champion and is consistently ranked as one of the top programs in the country.
Shogo made his mark early as a junior high school student, participating in the national tournament and making it to the final 8 teams, being selected as a delegate for the U15 Japan team. With a recommendation and coming off of success, Shogo joined the basketball powerhouse Rakunan High School, the well known program in Kyoto, Japan.
After graduation, Yasunobu had the opportunity to visit the US with the Shizuoka Gymrats on a national tour. “We heard about Shogo and were excited to see him in action, as he had a high recommendation,” noted Crossover Exposure CEO, Jerone Dodd. “We had the chance to travel in North Carolina and West Virginia with Takuya Okada and really connect on a road trip, so it was a lot of fun to get to know Shogo and see how he matched up against some other top talent and even older competition. He has the edge he needs to be successful and I knew Coach Jackson would be a perfect fit in terms of guard development.”
Yasunobu has taken another step in the direction of his dream of playing professional basketball. Although a small guard, Shogo packs a punch with shifty ball handling and tough finishes. He says that he always wanted to come to the United States because of its basketball supremacy. “People are friendly, gentle and funny. And there are plenty of basketball courts and you can play one-on-one or pick up games anytime. And finally I would like to teach Japanese children what I learned in the USA.”
One thing is for certain, Mr. Yasunobu and Victory Rock Prep are both looking to continue their successful ways.