Yakumo Academy’s Mai Yoshida shoots over Sydne Kaku for two of her seven points, during an exhibition game against the Lady Aztecs of Mark Keppel High, Monday in Alhambra. The Tokyo city champions have been in Southern California for a training camp and three friendly matches. (Photos by MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)
By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS Rafu Sports Editor
ALHAMBRA.–Spectators at Mark Keppel High School were wowed during an exhibition girls basketball game on Monday, when the team from Tokyo’s Yakumo Academy paid a visit.
The Lady Aztecs, reigning three-time Almont League champs and one of the top teams in the CIF Southern Section, were stunned by the precision play and crisp ball movement of the Yakumo players.
On the offense end, the Falcons rarely dribbled, opting more for an attack built on passing and dizzying player movement. One parent commented that it was like the Harlem Globetrotters were in town. To put it simply, Yakumo plays basketball as it was meant to be played.
The styles of the two squads were different down to the hair styles, with the Yakumo players all wearing short bobbed cuts and Keppel’s girls mostly in ponytails.
At the start of the game, the scoreboard operator was having trouble working the display. Good thing she got it straight, because it was going to be a historic day for the device. For the first time since Keppel’s new gymnasium opened in 2010, the scoreboard needed to show the century mark in points, as Yakumo finished the match winning 100-36.
A perennial powerhouse in metropolitan Tokyo and the greater Kanto region, Yakumo’s girls have been coached for the last 36 years by Yuko Takagi, who brought her team for a training camp in Santa Barbara.
“Whether we play teams that are weaker or stronger than us, there is always something for us to learn,” Takagi said. “American players are all so big and strong; we never encounter players of such size in Japan.”
Monday’s exhibition was the last of three matches the Falcons played before doing some sightseeing ahead of returning home. A friendly between these teams to be played three years ago was cancelled after the accidental hiking death of a popular Keppel student.
Mai Yoshida, one of Yakumo’s first-string players, finished the game with seven points and said the trip has taught her sides of the game she’d never seen.
“This is totally unlike Japanese basketball style,” she said. “It’s really an interesting comparison.”
Yurika Sato scored 16 poins for Yakumo and said she was amazed at the size differential.
“They’re so big, I’ve never seen players like this,” she said. “If we run into them, we bounce right off.”
Ririka Okuyama led Yakumo with 18 points.
Keppel’s senior star Sophia Song scored a team-high 17 points, while Erika Sato had seven. Sydne Kaku and Julia Saisho each added one point.
Keppel senior Sophia Song and Yakumo’s Ririka Okuyama exchange gifts prior to the start of the game, won by Yakumo, 100-3