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Willard travels to Japan for fifth season

Basketball has literally taken Sam Willard around the world and now he’s decided to make his home in Tea.

Willard, a 6-foot-9-inch center who graduated from Pierre High School in 2007, was highly recruited by the college world for his outstanding play on the court.

“I played AAU basketball for the South Dakota Schoolers and got recruited by both the University of Pacific and Princeton University,” said Willard.

Willard weighed both options and felt Pacific was a better fit. He attended there from 2007 to 2011, graduating in four years and earning NABC All-District Second Team honors, All Big West First Team honors and averaging 15 points and ten rebounds his senior year at college.

This caught the eye of the National Basketball Association.

Willard’s agent, from San Fransicso, managed to line up a couple of NBA workouts, however with the lock out happening that summer in the NBA, many pros were forced to play oversees and Willard’s workouts fell through.

But his basketball career was far from over.

“My agent got in contact with Latvia,” said Willard and before he knew it he was in Europe playing ball. “It was a great experience,” he added.

Following one year in Latvia, Willard moved on to play in Sendai, Japan for a year before landing with the Toyama Grouses out of Japan. This will be his fifth year with the program.

“The language is tough,” said Willard, “You can’t write it down with it being all symbols but I have picked some up through listening…I know my fair share to communicate with my teammates.”

Willard added they have a translator on hand during all practices and noted he has been fortunate enough to have an American coach every year since he has been overseas.

While in Toyama, Willard and the team played for the Championship two years ago and have made it to the Final Four twice.

Willard admits playing that far away from home takes a toll on a person. His first few years overseas were lonely ones but his wife, Morgan, has ben able to join him these past three seasons and this year the couple will enjoy Japan life with their newborn daughter, Mia.

Mia, born in August, will come overseas with her mom following her six week check up and the family will be united once again.

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