Basketball: Konno developing game in NCAA with eye on Olympic prize

© Kyodo News

With her sights set on wearing the red and white of Japan, guard Norika Konno is looking to expand her game in her third season of U.S. college basketball with the Louisville Cardinals.

"Until now, I had the pass-first mentality where I would always try to find a teammate to pass to if I got the ball with three seconds on the clock," Konno told Kyodo News.

"But this year, I'm going to shoot when that's expected of me. I want to take responsibility (for initiating offense) when I play," she said.

Louisville head coach Jeff Walz describes the 21-year-old as a very talented player who understands the game and displays high basketball IQ.

Those qualities have earned her minutes -- Konno played in all 30 games last season, when her team fell in the regional final, one step short of the Final Four.

She has continued to see court time this season, playing in every one of the team's nine games so far, but her playing time has stayed much the same.

While her stats may not leap off the scoresheet, she did enough before the Tokyo Olympics to earn a place at a national team training camp.

There, she got an opportunity to work with some of the country's best players and change her perspective towards the game.

"Their playing style, their speed, everything was very different. It was top-level basketball and I learned a lot," she said.

But she did not make the roster and had to watch the Olympics from afar. When the team took silver with a 90-75 defeat to the United States in the gold medal game on Aug. 8, she cried tears of joy.

"Winning an Olympic medal melts hearts and inspires people. My desire to play (on the Olympic team) only grew stronger," she said.

"But at the same time, I have to face reality. Apart from my technical skills, I still have a lot to work on."

When she had six steals against the Marist Red Foxes in her NCAA Tournament debut on March 22, Konno learned that if she is laser-focused on what she is doing on the court she can be productive.

She added five points and three rebounds in 18 minutes in that game, but saw her contributions dwindle as the team went deeper in the tournament.

She now looks back on that performance with pride and sees the effort she put in as something she must try to replicate.

"It comes down to how I can do that in every game," she said. "I want to stabilize my mental energy and be aggressive at all times."