Sam Green Jr. has come full circle where basketball life in Japan is concerned.
The 22-year-old who starred for Nile C. Kinnick at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, is back in his native land as a second-round draft pick of the Akita Northern Happinets of basketball league Japan, the country’s top professional tier. The team announced it had come to a “basic agreement” with Green in its official blog on July 3. The draft was conducted on June 19.
“I never even dreamed of being selected in the draft, so I was surprised and very happy,” Green was quoted on the Happinets’ Web site (it’s in Japanese, so you’ll need a good translator).
The Happinets declined to comment further. A team spokeswoman said the organization would have an official announcement when it introduces all its new players Aug. 2.
Green grew up in Kanagawa Prefecture southwest of Tokyo, the son of an American father, Sam Green Sr., and Japanese mother, Noriko. The Happinets’ website identifies the younger Green as Samuel Sawaji Jr., the name he used when his parents signed him up for bjLeague tryouts.
Green arrived at Kinnick one year too late to appear at center court in a Far East High School Boys Division I Tournament; his Red Devils lost at Seoul American in the 2004 final, and didn’t come close to center court in his time there.
Following graduation, Green played for Yokosuka’s Seahawks base team and on some company-level teams before going to Gordon College, a community college in Barnesville, Ga. He tried out and was cut in 2009 and 2010 before making the team – and playing limited minutes – as a walk-on in 2011-12. “I never gave up. I kept asking coach what I had to do to make the team,” Green said.
His Highlanders won the Georgia Junior College Athletic Association tournament and appeared in the NJCAA national tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas, where it lost both games it played.
Back to Japan he went, and attended bjLeague tryouts June 4 and June 11. Advised by a bjLeague official to try his luck in the draft, he did just that, becoming the second selection of the second round.
In a telephone conversation Wednesday, Green said he hopes playing pro ball in Japan is far from his final stop. “I still dream, as long as I work hard, I can go anywhere. I want to play in the States, or even in Europe,” Green said.
Green is far from the first. But very few folks associated with the military overseas have dabbled in professional basketball. A goodly number of Japan-based GIs officiate bjLeague games in Tokyo, northern and southwestern Japan and Okinawa. A sample of those who’ve played or coached in the pros:
-- Forward Rich Alvarez, Kinnick Class of 1999, is a journeyman Philippine Basketball Association player who helped Ateneo de Manila win the 2002 University Athletic Association of the Philippines title. Alvarez is playing for his eighth PBA team, the Talk ’n Text Tropang Texters.
-- Forward Bryan Simpson, formerly with the Kadena Air Base Falcons base varsity team, played two seasons for the two-time bjLeague champion Ryukyu Golden Kings of Okinawa.
-- Keith Richardson, who works for Marine Corps Community Services on Okinawa, has been a Kings assistant since their inception in 2009.
-- Then, there’s a guy who was discovered by Dale Brown during a Louisiana State basketball tour of Europe. While giving a clinic to soldiers at Wildflecken, West Germany, Brown spotted a gangly 6-foot-6 youngster with huge shoes. As Sports Illustrated’s Curry Kirkpatrick reported 26 years ago, Brown approached him and said:
“What’s your rank, soldier?” Brown asked.
“No rank. I’m 13 years old,” Shaquille O’Neal replied.
“Uh, your dad around?” Brown asked.