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[ODDS and EVENS] Keisei Tominaga on the Radar of the NBA's Talent Evaluators

In leading the Nebraska Cornhuskers in scoring as a senior, Keisei Tominaga proved he's an NBA prospect, longtime scouting guru Ryan Blake said.

Can Keisei Tominaga make the jump from college to the NBA in 2024? 

Time will tell. But it appears that the University of Nebraska senior guard will have opportunities to exhibit his basketball skills for NBA talent evaluators after the Cornhuskers play their final game this spring.

As an aspiring NBA player, Tominaga has kept his name in the spotlight with several notable performances on offense over the past several months.

The Nagoya native was the team's leading scorer during the regular season. Averaging 14.6 points in his 29 games, he played a pivotal role in helping the Cornhuskers (22-9 overall, 12-8 in the Big Ten Conference) earn the No 3 seed for the Big Ten Conference Men's Basketball Tournament

The tourney tipped off on Wednesday, March 13 in Minneapolis. Nebraska, which earned a bye into the conference tourney's quarterfinals, was set to play a TBD foe on Friday night (Saturday morning JST).

Recognition for His Successful Season

The 6-foot-2 (188-cm) Tominaga scored 20 or more points in six games during the regular season. He poured in 30 points on 12-for-17 shooting against the University of Michigan on March 10, and he scored a season-high 31 versus the University of Iowa on February 4.

After the win over Michigan, Cornhuskers coach Fred Hoiberg told reporters: "He got off to a great start and hit his first couple of shots. And when teams are running him off, one of the underrated parts of his game is his ability to cut and get to the basket."

On Tuesday, March 12, Tominaga was named to the 2023-24 All-Big Ten Second Team, as chosen by the conference's head coaches.

At the same time, he was looking ahead to compete in the postseason, first in the Big Ten Tournament and then the Cornhuskers' expected participation in the upcoming 68-team NCAA Men's Tournament, aka March Madness.

"That's one of my goals to come to the US to play in March Madness," Tominaga told reporters on Tuesday, "so I'm super excited about it. We've just got to keep playing hard so we don't have [any] regrets about it."

Keisei Tominaga
Keisei Tominaga in a February 2023 file photo. (NEBRASKA ATHLETICS)

Keisei Tominaga: Pro Basketball Prospect

Does Tominaga's scoring ability translate to a possible future as an NBA player?

To gain some authoritative perspective on this topic, I reached out to Ryan Blake, a prominent NBA scouting consultant.

"Keisei Tominaga is a player that plays well within himself and well within the system," Blake told Odds and Evens. "He competes on both ends of the floor and those strengths have consistently improved."

Blake added, "Due to his size, the questions that will arise will be if he can play more of a point role and/or will he be able to defend bigger guards."

Longtime NBA scouting consultant Ryan Blake (Courtesy of Ryan Blake)

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Additional Analysis About Keisei Tominaga

It's Blake's job ― and he's a bonafide expert ― to pay attention to prospective pro basketball players' games and their development as players. For decades, he's evaluated the skills of players, contributing greatly to the talent assessment of future stars in the NBA, as well as players who carve out a career as solid contributors or lesser-known athletes who jump around, from the NBA G League (its official minor league) to the NBA and/or overseas.

This specialized work runs in the family. Marty Blake, Ryan's father, was the NBA director of scouting for decades. He passed away in 2013.

Blake pays attention to what happens throughout the NCAA Division I college basketball landscape (there are now 358 programs). Consider it a never-ending challenge, but for those who love basketball like Blake, the task is fueled by a passion for the game.  

Which is also why it's a privilege to share some of Blake's insights below.

Is Tominaga a longshot NBA prospect? I asked. 

"Keisei Tominaga is a prospect," Blake replied. "I would not label him a longshot or anything otherwise."

Blake noted that Tominaga is on the ballot to play in the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament (PIT), which is a postseason camp for college seniors to showcase their skills in the run-up to the NBA Draft in June. The 70th PIT, set to feature 64 players, will be held April 17-20 in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Keisei Tominaga
Keisei Tominaga was named to the 2023-24 All-Big Ten Conference Second Team. (KYODO)

Opportunities to Make a Strong Impression

For Tominaga, a solid performance at the PIT could be a springboard for greater exposure this spring, according to Blake.

The 2024 NBA G League Elite Camp is set for May 11-12 in Chicago. Tominaga is listed among the eligible players to participate in the camp. Forty-four players participated in the two-day event in 2023.

Because only 60 players are drafted each year by NBA teams, being invited to this camp is key for many players to gain exposure and solidify their chances of earning the opportunity to be given tryouts and/or sign with pro teams.

Responding to my inquiry, Blake described the importance of Portsmouth for Tominaga.

"He would need to test and play well in Portsmouth to be invited to Chicago as the NBA brings 5-10 players from Portsmouth to Chicago," Blake informed me.

That said, does Tominga have a realistic shot at getting invited to play in the NBA's 2024 Las Vegas Summer League (July 12-22)?

That appears to be the case, Blake noted.

"I feel he will have a solid number of NBA teams inviting him for individual pre-draft workouts with a high probability of making a Summer League team," Blake said. 

Keisei Tominaga
Purdue Boilermakers guard Braden Smith drives against Nebraska Cornhuskers guard Keisei Tominaga during the second half at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska, on January 9. (Dylan Widger/USA TODAY SPORTS)

A Professional Perspective on NBA G League Experience  

There are benefits to establishing oneself as a player in the G League that many basketball fans may not be aware of.

Such as?

"My feeling and advice for players leaving college with NBA interest is to play in the G League, which is the most scouted league in the world," Blake commented.

"Furthermore, a (G League) player is now in a league with NBA coaches [offensive and defensive] systems, … [and] players, giving the player a chance for 10-day, two-way contracts [in the NBA].

"It's about investing in your game. In addition, if that player decides to leave the G League to play overseas, he will be coveted more and can make more money having played in the G League."

An Outside Look at G League Benefits

In European pro leagues and Japan's B.League and elsewhere, for example, a plethora of players with G League experience are currently earning paychecks.

From what I've observed in watching Cornhuskers games for the past few years and the Japan men's national team at the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup, Tominaga is a high-energy player and a gifted perimeter shooter. He also has an aggressive mindset and attacks the basket when the opportunities arise, too.

The fact that he's a left-handed shooter also adds to his appeal as a prospect. Like left-handers in society at large, lefty shooters are much less common than righties. Teams that have talented lefty shooters add another challenge for opposing defenders, who may not be as comfortable guarding them.

Keisei Tominaga
Keisei Tominaga's infectious enthusiasm made him a fan favorite at Cornhuskers games. (USA TODAY/REUTERS/via KYODO)

For Keisei Tominaga, the Importance of Pre-Draft Exposure and Summer Play

In the days before Nebraska stepped onto the court in Minneapolis for the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals, I thought about the future for the player known as the Japanese Steph Curry. (Tominaga wears No 30, the same jersey number as the famous Golden State Warriors superstar.)

And I was curious what Blake considered some of the keys for Tominaga to entice NBA teams to offer him a shot. Specifically, in reference to a contract for the 2024-25 regular season.

"This will all depend on his pre-draft and summer experience," Blake stated. "I feel his game as a two-way guard is a possibility. He will need to show that he can be more than just a [shooting guard] and show that he can run the point and defend bigger guards."

If Tominaga doesn't begin his pro career in the NBA or the NBA G League, a number of other options appear on the horizon, including in numerous European and Asian leagues. Blake, however, is a vocal proponent of a player exhibiting patience, dedication and a commitment to viewing the G League as a top option to attain this goal.

"Europe may be a possibility, of course," Blake concluded. "He will have the opportunity for all leagues. However, I would like to see him explore the other [G League] route to maximize his chances through investing in his game, in the process to ultimately give him the best shot at making the NBA."


Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.


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