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    First on-court meeting between rival Sakuragis not a pleasant one 

    Aug 7, 2013

    THEY had one thing in common, having been linked by name to the red-haired, basketball-playing character in the popular Japanese anime series, Slam Dunk.

    But their first meeting wasn't a pleasant one.

    "There was this chance that there was only me and him, and all the other players were on the other side of the court, and we had a conversation," said JR Sakuragi of his first on-court showdown with Marc Pingris, who has been dubbed 'Pinoy Sakuragi' by TV commentators.

    "It wasn't a nice conversation," he added laughing.

    And like the trouble-maker Hanamichi Sakuragi in the series that is also popular in the country, his two rival namesakes also couldn't resist taking shots at each other.

    "(Pingris) was physical, at that moment he hit me and I couldn't just let him pass and so I had to get back at him," JR Sakuragi recalled. "But it was all good now, what happens on the court stays on the court."

    Sakuragi is the former JR Henderson, a University of California Los Angeles alum who decided to take on the name of the anime character from Shohoku High when he became the naturalized player of Japan's national team.

    He explained: "I had a little bit for fun. My manager and I decided that it would be for the young people because of the cartoon character, but for the older people it means cherry blossom - the flower in Japan."

    But he was also aware that another player from around here goes by the same name.

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    "It was kind of funny, we played the Philippines yesterday and I didn't know who he was. Someone only told me that he (Pingris) was him," the 36-year-old said.

    "(But) for sure it's the Japanese Sakuragi that's better," he said. "The original."

    Sakuragi had the better numbers on Monday and made a bigger impact on the game, but Pingris had the last laugh as he and Gilas Pilipinas ran away with a 90-71 victory.

    Still, that hasn't changed Sakuragi's opinion on who deserved the name more.

    "Although Philippines won, the Japanese Sakuragi is better, for sure," he assured.

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