Malta international Samuel Deguara has become one of the stars of the B3 League in Japan in his first season with his side Tokyo Excellence. With a 78.4 field-goal percentage in 25 games so far, Deguara is the team’s top point-getter in their first season in B3 following their relegation last season. Deguara spoke to Kurt Aquilina about his season so far…
Sam Deguara joined the Tokyo Excellence in December for his maiden stint in Japan, making him the first Maltese player to ever do so, and the 29-year-old admits it’s tough being so far away during times of COVID-19.
“Coming to Japan – so far away – it’s difficult because no friends or family can come visit with all the borders closed because of the coronavirus situation, so I have to manage my life here,” Deguara told The Sunday Times of Malta.
“But I’m surprised how my team are helping players and how the culture of the Japanese people is very welcoming, and they believe in family and ask how I’m doing every day.”
Since his arrival, Deguara has shone on court and being 7’5 tall, the club has utilised this off the court as well, putting the Maltese center on most of their advertising this season.
“(The club) are really proud of me. They are making sure I’m at my top shape and at my top performance every game. They make sure I’m the guy who’s helping them win the games,” Deguara explained.
“They are taking advantage of my presence here while I’m with the team and using it for every situation including advertising – after all, I’m the tallest guy in the Japanese league too.”
His move to Japan came after a period of uncertainty due to the pandemic which had led to him struggling to find a new contract before the start of the new season. However, Deguara insists it was his self-belief which drove towards him getting this new opportunity.
“I continued to believe in myself and continued looking for a job and finally, I managed to get a contract and go to Tokyo. (With borders closed) I was only able to get in because I’m an athlete playing for a Tokyo side,” Deguara said.
Playing in a city which will be hosting the Olympics this summer is not something most get to experience.
“The preparations have been going on since last year and were being postponed month by month. Everywhere is full of banners and advertising all over bus stations and giftshops with souvenirs – it’s a great atmosphere,” Deguara said, while agreeing with the locals’ calls to prohibit fans from other countries as the risk would be far less if only athletes were allowed in.
Adapting to the game
Currently in his groove on court and off, where he says he has already adapted to Japanese life and would be open to staying if the team needs him, Deguara lauded his side’s mentality and how they never let down. This was particularly important for him after admitting he started off differently than he had hoped.
“I started the first two games with the wrong approach, and I learnt so much from every game because the play of Japanese basketball is very different from Agean basketball, or even Maltese. It’s kind of like Italian basketball – the refs are very specific and detailed,” Deguara said.
“But I had to adjust to the play of the basketball here. It’s not easy, as I’d heard from other American players, they took some time to adjust to the play here, but I slowly got into rhythm of playing better and better.”
Despite putting big numbers every game, Deguara has only started two of the 25 games he has played so far. However, this does not bother him as his aim is mainly to stay consistent.
“Me not starting from the starting five is coming from the coach. For me personally, I’m having great games coming off the bench and we’re still winning so for our team, it only matters how many games we win,” Deguara explained.
“If I start from the bench and get 20 or 30 points and I’ve still played well, it doesn’t make a difference if I’m starting from the bench.
“In the beginning, it came into my mind many times and it affected me. I was too worried about that rather than about being consistent in every game. If you lose too much energy on thinking about if you start the game or not you don’t enjoy it. I have no control on it so I’m not even going to think about – it’s useless energy.
“It’s important (to stay consistent) as it also helps me as a person. People start believing in you and trust you – they start seeing you.”
Asked about the team’s top spot in the B3 league and how unlike other countries, Japanese play back-to-back games against the same opponent every weekend, Deguara said he embraces the challenge and believes the team has the potential to win the league.
“Playing against the same team twice in a weekend is a good challenge,” Deguara said.
“Some weekends we go away so we’re staying in the same hotel for three nights and we play the same team two games in a row – obviously you need to win.
“We prepare for each team starting Monday or Tuesday, so we have enough time to see the opponents and adjust our basketball. For me it’s great because you know who you’re going to face but I would not be thinking about it too much – if I’m thinking about who I’m about to face, they need to think about that too, you know?”
Asked about what he expects to happen at the end of the season, Deguara believes it is not yet the time to focus on it.
“There are still games to go, and they are the ones that we must win. It’s not the end of the season yet so I can’t really think about what’s going to happen,” he said.
“The team dropped to the third league because our arena is not big enough so from next year, they’ll be moving into a bigger arena which is already confirmed.
“I can keep this energy until the end and it’s great to win every game. If we get the top spot in the league, we’ll have the chance to go to B2 in two years’ time as next year no team can go up because of the coronavirus.”