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Friday, Dec. 1, 2006

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Apache on fire after slow start


Staff writer

For a coach with a pen, a pad and a plan, this is never part of the winning formula: Open the season with three straight losses.

For Tokyo Apache coach Joe Bryant, that's how it worked out, though.

It wasn't time to push the panic button, but it was time for each of his players to do a little soul searching -- or rub a magic genie lamp for good luck.

And, voila, a team's success and confidence level can change instantly.

Tokyo, which has recorded five straight victories, is the bj-league's hottest team and is in a three-way tie for second place with the Sendai 89ers and Takamatsu Five Arrows, both of which are 5-3 and trail Niigata Albirex BB (7-1) in the standings.

The Osaka Evessa and Oita HeatDevils are both 3-5, while the Saitama Broncos and Toyama Grouses are stuck in the cellar with 2-6 marks.

"The league is better," Bryant said Sunday. "It's going to be more difficult to make the playoffs (this year)."

But the Apache have reasserted themselves into the picture by putting together this solid run.

It started at Takamatsu on Nov. 12.

Jeremee McGuire has asserted himself as the team's No. 2 scorer behind John Humphrey during this streak. The 210-cm American has five straight double-digit scoring games.

In Bryant's offense, McGuire is given the OK to move around and not be stuck in one spot.

Or as Bryant put it: "A smart coach will say do what you do best."

"In the past three games he's playing great. He's a matchup problem for many teams," the coach added.

McGuire, who scored 39 total points in last weekend's sweep of the Toyama Grouses, said his team has made big strides since its slow start.

"(We'll) try to keep this up," he said. "We are working hard as a team."

Tokyo's Michael Jackson, owner of basketball's best initials since the Reagan Administration, has played at a stellar level over the same five games.

Review the numbers: 36 rebounds, 19 steals (including 10 in the two road wins at Oita), 16 assists, five blocked shots -- and 51 points.

Humphrey, meanwhile, delivered the line of the week after he put 38 on the board in Sunday's pulse-rising, 87-86 win over Toyama.

Said Humphrey: "I don't care if I score 80 points or one point if we win. I just want to win games."

WEEK FOUR REWIND: Tokyo opened the weekend with a 92-85 victory over Toyama at Ariake Colosseum. The Grouses shot 37 3-pointers. They took 37 long-range attempts on Sunday. The Apache, on the other hand, took 37 3-point attempts in the two games combined.

Sendai edged host Oita 81-79 on Saturday. The 89ers outscored the HeatDevils 32-15 in the first quarter, proving that a hot start was vital to victory on this day. Ryan Blackwell led the visitors with 23 points.

Oita, meanwhile, had zero steals in the contest, but Kohei Mitomo of Shizuoka had a memorable night (28 points, including six 3-pointers).

On Sunday, the 89ers beat Oita 72-70. Blackwell was the top scorer (19). Oita's Andy Ellis had 25, while Justin Allen, a former Arizona State player, added 13 points and 19 boards.

The Five Arrows erupted for 30 points in the fourth quarter of their 86-79 win over the Broncos at Chichibu Cultural Gymnasium on Saturday.

Center Julius Ashby (30 points, 19 rebounds) and point guard Makoto Kita (16 points, 9-for-10 foul shots, six assists, one steal) paced Takamatsu.

In the rematch, an 89-69 Five Arrows win, five visiting players scored in double figures, including Isaac Sojourner (19) and Yu Okada (18).

In Niigata, the Albirex had a 50-point first half en route to a 92-64 rout of Osaka on Saturday.

Point guard Makoto Hasegawa (22 points, three rebounds, three assists) set the tone. He was one of eight Niigata players with an assist. And he added 24 more points Sunday, an 89-84 Albirex triumph



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