Warrior Insider

The Inside Source for Hawaii Men's Basketball

‘New guy’ Jacobs quickly switches roles, becomes Warriors’ ‘host’ in Japan 

No, incoming freshman Akira Jacobs did not know about the University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team’s Aug. 8-18 trip to Japan when he verbally committed in May to play for the Warriors.

Photo courtesy www.hawaiiathletics.com

But when he did hear about it just days later, Jacobs — a native of Yokohama, Japan — accepted it as destiny.

“I was told a few days after (committing), I think,” Jacobs, a highly regarded 6-foot-8 wing, said at Monday’s final practice at UH before the team departed on Tuesday. “I was like, ‘Oh, wow!’ … It just seemed like, even before learning about the trip, Hawai’i just felt like the right place for me, overall. So this was kind of like the cherry on top, to go back to Japan (right away).”

Ironically, Jacobs was the last player to arrive to the UH campus this summer, as he did not land in Honolulu until late July. 

“It was nice to have that coincidence, when we sign our first basketball player from Japan (in program history),” Warriors coach Eran Ganot said. “He got here a couple weeks ago, goes right to Kaua’i, and then (now) goes right back to Japan. It’s been a nice couple weeks for him. He’s assimilated himself really well, and the guys have really helped him. 

“We’ve had our guys all summer, and he basically came in the middle. We haven’t had much time to just take him on the side, so we just kind of threw him in the fire, and his attitude has been great about it. He’s fearless about throwing himself in there, and the guys have been helping with him. Just like that, now he’s gotta help us. So that will help him find his personality, find his voice, find his place with the group.”

For starters, Jacobs gave a quick thumbs-up to the Japan trip itinerary.

“I like what they have set up — going to see a (Tokyo) Giants game, to Hiroshima, and also Imperial Palace,” Jacobs said. “It’s a good balance, there’s a lot of culture, and a lot of fun stuff, too. Hopefully the team is going to Yokohama, which is my home city. If we’re able to do that, that would be pretty cool.”

Photo courtesy www.hawaiiathletics.com

Jacobs said the opportunity for the team to bond and build good chemistry will also be a plus, adding the foundation for that is already in place.

“It will definitely be cool,” Jacobs said. “Everyone here on the team is super cool, super nice. As soon as I got here, it felt like I had known them forever, even though I had known them for a couple hours. So going back and being able to show them my country … They all say they’re looking forward to it a lot, so it’ll be super fun.”

In another bit of irony, despite being new to college basketball, Jacobs has unique international experience that even some of the most veteran Warriors do not have. Last year, Jacobs was a member of the Japanese National U18 team that won the silver medal at the FIBA Asia Championships, a qualifier for the U19 World Cup. 

And last month, Jacobs competed at the FIBA U19 World Cup in Hungary and ranked fifth among all scorers at 17 points per game, while adding 5.6 rebounds per game and helping Japan achieve its highest-ever finish. He scored at least 20 points in three separate games, shooting 48 percent from the floor including 42 percent from 3-point range.

That included a 20-point performance against Team USA in the quarterfinals.

“It was good to be able to play against a lot of guys who are already (NCAA) Division I players,” said Jacobs, who was born in Yokohama but grew up in California and played high school basketball at Redondo Union (Redondo Beach) and Dymally (Los Angeles). “Being able to play against those guys before I got here … It was good preparation.” 

Jacobs even has experience competing in Japan’s professional “B” League, something the rest of the Warriors will get a taste of on this trip, with three scrimmages scheduled. But besides the competition, Ganot says the tour will be an eye-opening educational journey for UH players and coaches alike.

“We have a responsibility and we are ambassadors, from our program, from the athletics department, this university, this state and the United States,” said Ganot, who took his 2018-19 team on a similar trip to Australia five years ago. “In this case, we have (only) one staff member and one player — who just got here — who has ever been to Japan. So we’re all learning at the same time, and that’s what experiences are all about. So we’re really excited about it, we’re looking forward to it.”

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