LINCOLN, Neb. (AP)Keisei Tominaga already is one of the most popular players in his home country. The exuberant sharpshooter known as ”the Japanese Steph Curry” also is building a big fan following at Nebraska in what otherwise has been another dismal season for the Cornhuskers.
Almost every time he makes a 3-pointer, it’s as if it’s a new and wonderful experience to him. He celebrates by raising his arms and hopping a few steps as he turns around, pumping his fist or holding his pose after he releases the ball.
When he’s really hot and there’s a timeout, he just might run to the far end of the court and wave his arms asking for more noise before he heads to the huddle.
”It is infectious,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. ”You see that when he hits those shots, when he gets to the end of the lane and hits those circus shots, you see the bench go crazy for him, you see his teammates out on the floor. It’s just fun to have a guy play with that much passion and energy.”
Tominaga is the best thing going right now for the Huskers (11-14, 4-10 Big Ten). He followed Sunday’s 30-point performance in a 72-63 win over Penn State with 24 points in Wednesday’s 93-72 loss at Michigan.
Tominaga is averaging 17.2 points per game as a starter since a run of injuries changed his role. Since Jan. 25, his 3-point shooting accuracy of 47.1% (16 of 34) is second in the Big Ten among players who attempt at least six per game, and his 18 points per game ranks seventh.
Known primarily as a perimeter shooter when he arrived in Lincoln last season, Tominaga has expanded his repertoire and become a threat from anywhere on the floor.
The game at Michigan was an example. He made his first two 3s, then he juked his defender and darted along the baseline to take a pass from Derrick Walker for an easy layin. After he hit a 3 on a fast break, he blew by his defender at the top of the key and snaked past big man Hunter Dickinson before going underneath the hoop to put up a no-look shot high off the glass for another basket.
Big Ten Network analyst Robbie Hummel said the dunking prowess of Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis and Illinois’ Terrence Shannon Jr. might make them the most exciting players in the conference to watch. Tominaga might be the most fun.
”This is not comparing him to Steph Curry, but he has a little bit of that factor where if he makes one, he could make the next four because he’s that type of shooter,” Hummel said. ”The main thing that sticks out with Keisei Tominaga is he has gotten so much better as a player. He’s not just a shooter, he’s a scorer. He’s an unbelievable cutter, he’s got a good pull-up off the bounce, he’s been good off handoffs.”
Tominaga grew up in Moriyama Nagoya Aichi, Japan, and has been around basketball his entire life. His father, Hiroyuki, was a 6-foot-11 center on the Japanese national team in the late 1990s and he played professionally.
The younger Tominaga played on Japan’s 16-U and 18-U national teams and averaged just under 40 points per game as a senior in the All-Japan high school championships. He was the youngest player in the Tokyo Olympics three-on-three tournament in 2021 and helped lead Japan to the medal round, where it lost to Latvia.
He is a sports celebrity in Japan and is featured this month on the cover of one of the nation’s major basketball magazines. He has a combined 89,000 followers on Twitter and Instagram.
”The fans are very strong,” Tominaga said. ”Even if it’s just walking around town in Japan, they talk to me and know who I am. It’s very cool.”
Does he get stopped on the street in Lincoln?
”Yes, some people know me,” he said. ”Not as much as in Japan.”
Japan doesn’t send many players to U.S. colleges, but Tominaga thought it was a possibility for him as he watched countryman Rui Hachimura, three years older, star at Gonzaga and become a first-round NBA draft pick.
Tominaga played his first two seasons at a Texas junior college, Ranger, and now is the only Japanese player in a major conference and among only six at Division I schools.
One of his biggest challenges has been the language barrier. He spoke no English when he left Japan but has become more comfortable with the language the longer he’s been in this country.
His body language on the court is clear, though. He plays with pure joy.
”Basketball is the most fun to play, for sure,” he said, laughing. ”I’ve always been that way. I never want to stop playing basketball.”
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