Two-time Kia NBA MVP and three-time NBA champion Stephen Curry was in Tokyo last weekend for the final stop on his inaugural Underrated Tour — a youth basketball camp designed to offer overlooked high school hoopers with the opportunity to refine their skills, gain exposure and achieve a deeper understanding of the game.
The tour, which is powered by Rakuten, tipped off in January of this year alongside the announcement that Curry would become a Global Brand Ambassador for the company.
For underdog athletes around the globe, Stephen Curry’s story is a source of continued inspiration. Considered “undersized” and lacking in top tier athleticism as high schooler, Curry was under recruited by top U.S. colleges. Few at the time could have guessed Curry would go on to become one of the top players of his generation.
By introducing the Underrated Tour a decade into his sterling professional career, Curry now seeks to give the next generation of under-the-radar high school prospects a chance to shine.
Final stop: Tokyo
Tokyo was the final stop on this year’s tour and the first outside of the United States, following successful camps in LA, D.C., Phoenix, Charlotte, Philadelphia, Oklahoma City and Oakland. Participants gathered early Saturday morning on the leafy campus of International Christian University in western Tokyo to find a state-of-the-art gym decked out with Underrated Tour, Under Armour and Rakuten visuals, thumping to the rhythms of a live DJ.
Some 100 high school hopefuls were selected for the first day of the camp. Split into teams, the high-schoolers played under the watchful eyes of 12 local basketball coaches, who work together to select 30 individuals to advance to day two.
“Finding the next me”
On Sunday, Stephen Curry stepped onto the court to give the players some personal coaching during the final rounds of scrimmages, after which a championship game was held for the participants to showcase everything they had learned throughout the weekend.
“This tour was created with the idea of finding the next me. I was a three-star recruit, a guy that was kind of overlooked, especially in high-school,” Curry told the crowd of reporters and TV cameras in attendance. “I was just looking for an opportunity to show what I was capable of. And that’s the mission.”
Curry had plenty of praise for the participants. “The talent level was high. The competitiveness was high. The athleticism as well – I was very impressed. When we gave the players a bit of knowledge and direction, you could see their eyes light up.”
Curry talks 2020 Olympics and Rui Hachimura
It was Curry’s third visit to Japan, and his excitement towards potentially returning in 2020 for the Olympics was plain to see. “I know the energy here is going to be amazing,” he said. “I haven’t played in the Olympics before. I’ve played on two World Cup teams, so I’ve had the experience of representing my country… But the Olympics, from everybody that I’ve talked to that’s played, there’s no comparison to that experience.”
The media in attendance were also very eager to hear what Curry had to say about Rui Hachimura, who made history last week by becoming the first Japanese player to be picked in the first round of the NBA draft.
“I know he’s got good size, obviously. He seems to have a high basketball IQ, good touch around the rim too,” Curry told media. “It’s exciting for the NBA to have representation from Japan and countries all over the world. It speaks to how the game of basketball is growing everywhere, especially here. For him to be a trailblazer, in terms of doing something that’s never been done, is good for this country.”
Rakuten: An underrated company
“Looking back, Rakuten was kind of an underrated company,” said Rakuten Chairman and CEO Mickey Mikitani to the media gathered in the gym. “When we started 22 years ago, we didn’t receive a large amount of funding from Silicon Valley. Rakuten is a company that we built ourselves. Since then we’ve become the team sponsors of the Golden State Warriors, FC Barcelona, and more.”
“The real heart of the Underrated Tour is all of the players who joined the camp this weekend,” Mikitani continued. “Don’t ever give up, no matter what happens, and always believe in yourself.”
Basketball is supposed to be fun
Curry wrapped up the day’s coaching with some words of advice for the “underrated” athletes.
“I was always the smallest kid on my team, so I know for sure what it feels like in terms of trying to overcome physical differences on the court,” he said. “But if you prepare yourself to be well rounded on the basketball court, to be able to do a lot of different things… to have self-confidence — that’s the biggest thing. Nobody can tell you that you can’t do something. Nobody can tell you that you don’t belong, no matter what your size is.”
But the most important message of the day? “You have to play with joy. That’s the inspiration that gets you to the end of the day. Because it’s hard work every day, and you’re going to have to challenge yourself. If you keep that joy no matter what happens, you’re in a much better situation.”