K.J. Matsui, a 2009 graduate of the Columbia men’s basketball program and the first Japanese-born Division I basketball player, is not done after four years of wreaking havoc on Ivy League competition from beyond the arc. In fact, it seems he’s only getting started—he has set his sights on becoming a fixture of Japan’s national team. Matsui, a Japanese native, took the first step towards accomplishing that goal this past offseason when he signed a professional contract with the Rera Kamuy Hokkaido of the Japanese Basketball League. “One of the reasons why I want to play in Japan is that I want to play for the national team,” Matsui told the Japan Times. “I love my country and am willing to play for it any time.” He is not the first player from the American college ranks to join Rera Kamuy Hokkaido. The list of college players that have played for or are currently playing for Matsui’s new club includes former George Mason standout Jai Lewis, Iowa grad Tate Cyrus, UNC alum Jawad Williams, and Pacific’s Tyler Newton. Lewis was a cornerstone on the George Mason team that made a surprise run to the Final Four in 2006. The stocky power forward has become an international journeyman in professional basketball following a failed attempt at a career in the NFL with the New York Giants. The roster also features Ryota Sakurai, who competed for the Japanese national team at the 2006 FIBA World Championship. Rera Kamuy Hokkaido competes in the eight-team JBL, in which it debuted during the 2007-2008 season. Matsui joined the squad this summer, and will compete for playing time with a roster comprised of mostly Japanese players. Matsui could not be reached for comment, but in his interview with the Japan Times, he touched on what basketball has meant to him. “Basketball has changed my life,” Matsui said. “It gave me an opportunity to come to the United States, play against top competition and be able to attend a great institution, Columbia University.” Matsui came to Columbia following a two-year stint at high school powerhouse Montrose Christian in Maryland. During a standout career at Columbia, Matsui proved lethal from beyond the arc, connecting on enough 3-pointers to put him third on the school’s all-time list. He should have ample opportunity to prove himself worthy of a spot on the national team—Rera Kamuy Hokkaido is coached by Higashino Tomoya, who doubles as assistant for the national team.
Four seniors reflect on their time at Columbia, and what it means to be leaving these years—and NYC—behind.