Volume 92, Issue 1

Friday, May 15, 1998

empty pockets


Japanese team teaches Stangs about dedication

Tom Baumgartner/Gazette
DO YOU WANT ME TO SLOW DOWN FOR YOU? Japan's Yu Yan Chang [9] blazes past a pair of Mustangs during the first game of a two game series. The week long visit to Canada was part of Western's first International Friendship Games.

By Ian Ross
Gazette Staff

Could basketball be the international language of communication?

Such a question may sound silly until you look closely at the recent visit to Western by Japan's Osaka University of Health and Sport Sciences' women's basketball team. Hosted by the Mustang women's squad as part of Western's inaugural International Friendship Games, the two teams enjoyed a full week of activities, including a two game mini-series, without the luxury of consistent verbal communication.

While a few of the Japanese athletes held a very limited English vocabulary, it was through the game of basketball friendships among the two teams were established.

Mustang head coach Bob Delaney noted that concerns about awkwardness and the inability to develop relations with their Japanese visitors were quickly dispelled on the first day.

"Some of the team felt meeting these [Japanese players] would be uncomfortable, but it never came up," Delaney said. "Everyone has been able to bridge the gap."

Through joint basketball practises and back yard barbecues, friendships built quickly. Osaka University and Japanese national team member Yuko Kubota felt this was a trip of a lifetime for herself and her teammates.

"I had a very good time and have met many people," she said, through the aid of Kazuya Urakubo, a Western graduate student acting as the lone translator for the visit. "I have traveled to many countries but I have never experienced the nature and environment of Canada."

As part of a cultural exchange program developed by the faculty of kinesiology, the Japan visit follows in the footsteps of the Western football team's overseas trip to Japan last summer.

However, unlike the 69-7 lopsided victory the football team enjoyed, the Japanese basketball team arrived in mid-season form with an explosive and unconventional outside shooting game. They took the first game 68-53 on Sunday night in convincing fashion and narrowly missed the sweep Monday night, losing to the Mustangs 61-59.

While the women of Western still seemed a touch rusty after being off the courts for two months, Delaney gave much of the credit to the dedication the Japanese team held towards the game of basketball. "To instill this in a North American kid is much more difficult because they are more easily distracted."

Mustang co-captain Nadia Pezzolo agreed it was the honour and manners toward the sport of basketball that made their overseas visitors unique compared to the Canadian teams they normally face in the regular season.

"This week has been absolutely incredible," she said. "I have been amazed at how much respect for the game they have. They have a competitive style of play and are in phenomenal shape. We got lucky [on Monday]."

After spending just six days in Canada, the Japanese team left for home yesterday from Toronto's Pearson Airport. While many "good-byes" were exchanged through translation, the phrase "I'll see you soon" may have been more fitting, as plans are already in the works for the Western women's basketball team to return the visit in May 1999.

To Contact The Sports Department: gazette.sports@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998