Japanese player at Transy camp follows father's Pioneer spirit

tlashbrook@herald-leader.comJuly 18, 2013 

It can be difficult traveling to a foreign country, surrounded by people who speak a different language. It can be even tougher for an adolescent.

But 13-year-old Terumichi Toyonaga is embracing his trip to the United States with a smile and an open mind.

The Kobe, Japan, native flew into Chicago on Sunday night with his mother, Yoshie. While she was staying at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Lexington, Terumichi attended the Brian Lane Basketball Camp at Transylvania University from Monday through Thursday.

The camp hosted about 320 kids who stayed in dorms and participated in a series of drills and basketball games.

The other campers have embraced Toyonaga. Everywhere he goes, campers were asking him questions. They talked to him using a language translator app on their cellphones.

Toyonaga came to the United States with virtually no knowledge of the English language, but by the last day of the camp he was able to answer basic questions without a translator.

Coach Lane said that Toyonaga became quite the jokester, though Toyonaga denied any such accusations.

He became just one of the guys at the camp, but Toyonaga had a little more history at Transylvania than his fellow campers.

His father, Hiromichi "Chee" Toyonaga, played basketball at the university from 1994-96.

Chee Toyonaga was coached by Brian Lane's father, Don Lane, during his time with the Pioneers. He had come to Transylvania after the former University of Kentucky assistant, Dwane Casey, saw him play in Japan and got in touch with Lane.

Chee Toyonaga went on to win Transylvania's Lee Rose Award as the team's most inspirational player.

"(Chee) was a very instrumental part of our program when he was here," Don said.

So instrumental, in fact, that the team traveled to Japan in 1995 after an earthquake struck Chee Toyonaga's hometown.

On its tour of Japan, Transylvania played six games, five against the Japan National Team and one against Konan University.

Chee Toyonaga moved back to Japan after his stint with Transylvania University. Today he works for Toyota in Tokyo.

It was his idea to send his son to the Brian Lane basketball camp. He thought it would be a good experience for his son to see where he attended college and get the chance to meet his former basketball coach, Don Lane.

Brian and Don showed Toyonaga photos of his father in a basketball uniform. The teen said it was funny to see his father at such a young age.

It isn't the younger Toyonaga's first time visiting the United States. He said he went to Los Angeles once and visited Disneyland, though he noted that he enjoyed the basketball camp more.

His favorite sport is basketball and his favorite player is Kobe Bryant.

"It's been really special," Don said. "For (Terumichi) to see the school and meet a lot of people, it's been great."

At the end of the camp, Brian Lane recognized the player who traveled the farthest to participate in the camp. This year, there was one from Wisconsin and another from Oregon.

But no one came from farther than Terumichi Toyonaga.

Tyler Lashbrook: (859) 231-1447. Twitter: @heraldleader

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