Konno: From a love of Fujioka to why basketball is life
TOKYO (Japan) – When Norika Konno is enjoying her global debut at the FIBA U19 Women’s Basketball World Cup, don’t dare to blink your eyes as you might miss something special.
The Japan star is simply electrifying and her velocity on the court last year was one of the highlights of the FIBA U18 Women’s Asia Championship in India as she helped her team take a silver medal. She has also stood on the 3x3 podium for her country and is affectionately referred to as 'Saku' by her team-mates - translated as 'Bloom'.
A LOVE OF FUJIOKA
Konno is certainly a player who perfectly encapsulates Japan’s style of play at all levels – the intensity, the speed and the desire. She is also ready to try and follow in the footsteps of senior standout Manami Fujioka and her accomplishments – both on and off the court.
“I really admire Fujioka,” smiled Konno.
“She graduated from a Japanese University, when most of players in the Japan National team have only high school degree. Nevertheless, she still plays as one of the core rotation for Japan as a guard.
“She can make scoring chances in a lot of ways. She can score by herself, and she can assist teammates with her precise judgment and the appropriate pass.
“I’m going to go to University, too, and after that, I want to play like her in the senior national team,” insisted the teenager.
It’s a big year ahead for everyone connected with Japanese Basketball of course. Tokyo 2020 is rapidly coming into focus and Konno is ready to support her country as they look to make a deep run in the competition, with the youngster also acutely aware of the added significance of the flagship event.
“I believe the Tokyo Olympics will be a good opportunity to increase the population of basketball players in Japan,” explained Konno.
“Last year, Japan senior team couldn’t get into the best 8 at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup. So in Tokyo at the 2020 Olympics, I hope Japan can rank in best 8 or even top 4, have fun and help to further revitalize women’s basketball.”
LEARNING FROM BENGALURU 2018
For now though, Konno must focus on what lies ahead in Bangkok, drawing strength from her blistering displays last year at U18 level and further fuelling her ambitions from the agony missing out on the title to arch rivals China.
She said: “The U18 Japan team last year was really good and I enjoyed the time I spent with them as we always laughed outside the court.
“In terms of basketball, we competed with speed and toughness, which is always a strong point of Japanese basketball. We were not tall or big compared to other countries, so that was our main concern.
“We got the silver medal and this proved that it doesn’t matter the disadvantage of height or physique - we could still show everyone that team Japan was a great team.
“However, silver was the most disappointing color for us,” continued Konno.
“We lost to China in the Final, even though we had beaten them during the Qualifying Round. We had intended to win and get the gold medal to leave our name in Asian basketball history. Therefore I think that loss was really frustrating - not only for the players, but also the coaches and the staff.
“Regrettably, we were not able to obtain a gold medal, but we still gained qualification for the FIBA U19 Women’s World Cup and so we are now getting ready for this next opportunity. And, I’m looking forward to watching and playing with world’s most promising players - especially USA.”
Perhaps that added eye on all things USA is also due to the fact that Konno looks set to spend the next chapter of her life Stateside, having signed a letter of intent to play for the University of Louisville Cardinals.
WHEN BASKETBALL IS LIFE
So what can fans expect to see from Konno if they have never seen her balling before?
“I’m good at attacking the paint area and scoring or assisting,” she mused.
“In this tournament, I want to focus on playing more aggressively and scoring. Not only that, I want to play more tough in terms of rebounds and defense, which was one of issues in the Asia U18 games. Also I want to make a lot of three-point shots.”
It’s the kind of to-do list that every young player in her position should have. So what drives her to be this focused?
“I just love basketball and it is a really important part of my life,” declared Konno, who has been tearing it up in her homeland, including last year's 'Winter Cup'.
“Recently, I also realized more people are cheering for me and I sincerely appreciate those people. They make me strong and want to be a better player.
“I also practice hard because I don’t want to lose to a player in front of me on the court. And, I want to share the joy of winning with our team - that’s why I play basketball.”
It is also why you need to get Norika Konno somewhere near the top of your Bangkok ‘watch-list’ for this edition of the FIBA U19 Women’s Basketball World Cup.