Ryan Blackwell transferred to Syracuse from Illinois following his freshman season. He was a three-year starter for the Orange, averaging 11.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game for his career. (Thanks to Orange Hoops for the bio details.) Since finishing his time at SU, he has had a professional career in leagues both foreign and domestic. Last season he played for the Sendai 89ers in Sendai, Japan. He averaged 19.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg, and 3.7 apg for the 89ers, who finished in 5th place. This season he decided to return to Sendai for a second season. He is currently averaging 17 ppg, 7 rpg, and 4 apg through six games; the 89ers are 5-1 and sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference of the BJ-League.
Through the magic of Free Internet Fax, Cuse Country got in touch with the 89ers and secured permission to do an interview with Ryan. What follows is the first in (hopefully) a series of interviews with former SU players all over the globe.
Cuse Country: Before signing with Sendai you’d played in the U.S., England, France, and Portugal. How did you end up on a roster in Japan? Did they recruit you, or did you seek them out?
Ryan Blackwell: My current agent, Lee Cohen actually contacted Bernie Fine about me. Bernie has sent Lee several players in the past like Stephen Thompson, Leron Ellis, and Jason Cipolla to play in Japan. I had to send workout tapes to my current coach and then go tryout in L.A. 2 summers ago.
CC: What factors led you to decide to stay in Sendai for a second season?
RB: Last year was my best experience playing Pro basketball so far. The way the Japanese culture accepts us here was like nothing I had experienced. They are very honorable people. In the past I’ve had to worry about getting my money on time or wondering if I was going to get cut. In Sendai especially, my coach makes us feel very comfortable. He treats us all like family which is important.
CC: I know it’s impolite to ask a person what they make, but what is the typical salary range for an American player in the BJ-League?
RB: From what I understand some guys make as little as $3,000 per month up to $18,000 per month. It all depends on the team’s budget. It’s a new league so teams are still working on big sponsorship. Mobil has just signed on to sponsor our league so I’m sure that will be a huge plus for a lot of teams.
CC: What are the differences between the style of play in Japan and in the US?
RB: Most of the Japanese guys are obviously smaller and not as athletic but they are quick, good shooters and fundamentally sound players. They like to play more up tempo to utilize their quickness.
CC: How popular is basketball in Japan? Do people recognize you in the streets of Sendai?
RB: Basketball is well received here. We definitely get recognized being a foot taller than everybody. We pose for pictures and sign autographs a lot… We get 3 to 4 thousand fans at our games. Baseball and Football (Soccer) come 1st though.
CC: Since your games are almost exclusively on weekends, what does your typical weekly work schedule look like?
RB: We usually play Saturdays and Sundays. Monday is an active recovery where we go in the pool for 30 minutes or lift weights if we choose. Tuesday is our day off. Practices are in the afternoon on Wed (we usually have a mandatory lift Wed morning),Thurs, and Fri. We usually practice for an hour and a half.
CC: How do you generally spend your free time?
RB: I go downtown to the malls, to movies, read books, and play PS3…a lot, and just relax. I just bought a sling box which hooks up to my TV back in the states and allows me to watch cable on my computer in Japan. Got to love technology!
CC: I know Damone Brown played a while in Japan last year. Did you guys ever get together to watch SU games on the satellite or anything?
RB: We had planned to meet up but we had conflicting schedules and he ended up not coming back after Christmas break.
CC: Speaking of last year, during that season you filled up the stat sheets yet didn’t make the All-Star team. Did that bother you?
RB: I was a little disappointed. I felt like my hard work and play had gone unnoticed, especially when other Americans were telling me I got screwed. It happens though. The format for choosing the All-Stars is a little different. Every team has to have at least 1 Japanese guy on the All-Star roster. So, regardless of your stats somebody is getting screwed!
CC: Has your role on the team changed this year with the changes in the roster — specifically, losing Mamadou Diouf but adding Bobby St Preux?
RB: I think this year we have more options and are more balanced. Bobby is a great scorer and more efficient than Madou was. I don’t feel that I have to do as much as last year which is good. We have a real center this year which all the playoff teams had last year.
CC: From some of the photos online, it looks like you and your teammates are regularly involved in the community. What sort of things do you do?
RB: We put on clinics for kids or just visit them at school. We have different events at the mall or downtown Sendai to show appreciation towards our fans. We hold a lot of open practices where anybody can come watch and we sign autographs, take pictures, etc.
CC: Have there been any strange spectacles surrounding the games that you have witnessed, either at home or on the road, that made you say “I never thought I would see that at a basketball game”?
RB: There isn’t anything that unusual that I’ve seen. Although after the games especially at home we line up in the middle of the court as a team and our announcer interviews a few of us. Then the fans line up around the court and all the way to our locker room. We literally have to shake almost every hand then sign autographs for the fans even if we lose. It’s a little different to always see the fans happy no matter what the outcome is!
CC: You guys are off to a good start this season. Here’s hoping it continues. Good luck and Arigato!
(All images (c)Sendai 89ers, online at sendai.89ers.jp)