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Monday, Nov. 27, 2006

BJ-LEAGUE

Apache win heart attack against Toyama behind 38-point 'Helicopter' ride


Staff writer

John "Helicopter" Humphrey craves the spotlight.

In fact, if you ask him, he'll talk about it the way others have talked about the headline-grabbing basketball careers of Michael Jordan and Dwyane Wade, especially their fourth-quarter heroics.

The spotlight shined brightly on him Sunday afternoon. With his team trailing by one point in the closing minute against the Toyama Grouses, the Tokyo Apache star scored the deciding basket, splitting two defenders for a layup that produced the final margin, 87-86.

Michael Jackson delivered the winning assist off an inbounds pass -- a crisp, long lob to Humphrey, who created space in the paint for the last two of his game-high 38 points.

"You can't convince me I can't hit that shot," Humphrey said later.

Toyama (2-6) failed to get off a shot on its final possession and dropped its second game in as many days against Tokyo.

The Apache and their ecstatic coach, Joe Bryant, celebrated their fifth straight victory after starting the season with three straight defeats. The coach gave big hugs to Humphrey and Jun Nakanishi (seven points, three assists) before the team walked off the Ariake Colosseum floor.

"That's really what basketball's all about," Bryant said, breaking down the high-caliber, entertaining performance of both clubs.

"I wouldn't have even been upset if we lost the game. Sounds crazy, but it's true."

The Grouses had taken an 86-85 lead on the second of Nate James' two free throws with 19.9 seconds left. Then the Apache called a timeout to go over the details of the team's next shot.

Bryant said there were three options for the final shot, but said the way it worked out made him look like a genius. However, he commended the Apache players for working their assignments to precision in that clutch sequence.

It was a tense, well-played contest.

Tokyo took care of the basketball, committing just 10 turnovers. The Grouses had 17.

The Apache finished 31 of 33 from the free-throw line, while the out-of-towners hit 18 of 22.

Humphrey was a perfect 18-for-18, which prompted Bryant to issue this statement:

"I am confident when he goes to the line he's going to make it. And we needed every one of those free throws."

The coach laughed. By then, the game was over and he could relax.

Moments earlier, it was a different story.

The game was tied at 64-all entering the final period.

Nakanishi shattered the 81-all tie with a teardrop floater with 1:14 left. The teams swapped leads on their next possessions before Toyama grabbed its final lead at the charity stripe.

"Be aggressive," is how Bryant describe Nakanishi's move, adding that the team works on something called circle dribbling for 15 minutes a day at practice. This helps the Tokyo players beat foes off the dribble in traffic.

"I don't think he even knows how he made it," Bryant added with a chuckle.

Toyama guard Takanori Goya scored the game's first points on a 3-pointer from the left baseline. Tokyo pulled ahead 6-5 on Humphrey's first pair of free throws and widened the gap to 28-18 on Jackson's basket-and-one play early in the second quarter.

The Grouses answered with a 12-2 run to cut it to 33-30 on a Kazutoshi Ohta 3-pointer.

Masato Fukushima's squad, which attempted 37 3-pointers (and made 11) in Saturday's 92-85, came out with the same strategy in the rematch.

The Grouses took nearly twice as many long-range attempts (39) as shots from inside the arc (22) on Sunday. And they made 16 3s, including Goya's 5-for-6, Jerod Ward's 4-for-9 and James' 3-for-8.

The Apache had problems at the foul line on Saturday, shooting 22-for-33, including Humphrey (8-for-12). And for the bj-league's No. 1 scorer a year ago (23.1 points per game), four misses at the line was disturbing. So Humphrey called his ex-high school coach, Lee Davis, in North Carolina after the game.

"He told me it's just mental," Humphrey said, recounting their conversation.

Indeed, Humphrey's mental focus paid off Sunday.



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