When Ryo Takeda moved with his family to Lexington from Japan three years ago, he spoke no English, wasn't interested in basketball, hadn't developed a taste for french fries, and his tennis talent had yet to fully bloom.
Now, a couple of weeks before he graduates from Henry Clay, Takeda is a changed young man.
He communicates his sense of humor and quick wit in English.
He's a Kentucky basketball fan who was disappointed the Cats' didn't go 40-0.
Never miss a local story.
He's gotten his fill of fries.
And he's developed into a region tennis champion, and heads into this week's KHSAA State Tournament at the University of Kentucky with high hopes.
"I think I have a chance to win," he said.
Takeda has been playing tennis since he was 9, so when he came to the United States he had some competitive experience.
But as he's gotten bigger and stronger at Henry Clay, his skills have sharpened. His forehand is his best weapon, along with a 110-mph serve.
"He has a very live arm, and he hits a very live ball," Henry Clay Coach John Herring said. "He's always had the ability to hit every shot, but he's made a lot of progress in his decision-making."
That includes his decision-making in assimilating into American culture.
Takeda put on 20 pounds the first year he was here. "I got very fat," he said.
"French fries," he said with a laugh.
He kicked that greasy habit last summer, returned to a Japanese diet, and has dropped 20 pounds.
Takeda qualified for the state tournament as a sophomore and made it to the round of 16. He was region runner-up last year and reached the quarterfinals of the state tournament.
"This year by far has been his most consistent year," Herring said. "He's been very solid through matches."
After Takeda beat Henry Clay teammate Alex Dubilier in the 11th Region finals last week, Herring was hoping Takeda would get a three or four seed in the state.
"We were thrilled when he got a three seed," Herring said. "You're always cautiously optimistic. He'll have quality opponents throughout his draw, so it's going to be very competitive for him.
"But we're very hopeful."
Win or lose, Takeda's attitude won't change.
"He just loves the game," Herring said.
Takeda, who will continue his career at Georgetown College, summed up his passion for tennis simply: "I just like to play."
Of course, he likes to win, too, and if he makes it to Saturday's semifinals or finals, would he celebrate by scarfing down some french fries?
"Maybe," he said with a smile.
■ This week's state tournament is loaded with former winners, including last year's boys' singles champ Brandon Lancaster of St. Xavier and girls' singles champ Michelle McKamey of McCracken County. Girls' defending doubles champs Maci Ferguson and Kiersten Hensley of Russell are back, too.
St. Xavier's Matt Graft, who teamed with Nick Waldeck to take the boys' doubles' title last year, has a new partner, Kamron Akrami. They're a No. 1 seed this year.
Austin Hussey of Covington Catholic, who won the boys' singles title in 2013 and was runner-up last year, is back for another shot.
Sayre's Madeline Rolph, girls' singles champ as a sophomore in 2013, is a four seed this year.