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Friday, Dec. 15, 2006

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Several Japanese standouts emerging in bj-league


Staff writer

Who's the best Japanese player in the bj-league?

That question will be determined by season's end. But with 48 league games in the books, some clear-cut observations can now be made about the cream of the crop.

For now, glance at these standouts' numbers:

Oita Heat Devils point guard Yukinori Suzuki, a member of 2005-06 bj-league's The Best Five team, clearly deserves to be considered. He is a consistent, solid all-around performer, averaging 9.7 points per game. He's dished out 37 assists, including a nine-assist game on Dec. 2, and made 12 steals.

Suzuki, 29, has seven or more points in nine games, 10 or more in six contests, including 21 on Dec. 3. He's cleared 21 rebounds, converted 88.2 percent of his free-throw attempts and 32.1 percent of his 3-point shots.

HeatDevils guard Kohei Mitomo is scoring at a 10.0 ppg clip and has 22 assists.

Niigata Albirex point guard Makoto Hasegawa is a consistent playmaker, putting 9.4 ppg on the board. He has 21 assists and doesn't make many mistakes with the ball in his hands (his season-high total for turnovers is two in a game). He's shooting 82.8 percent from the charity stripe and 42.5 percent on 3s.

Hasegawa has 12 or more points in six of his team's 12 games, which includes back-to-back games of 22 and 24 points on Nov. 25 and 26. Not bad for a 35-year-old, eh?

Niigata guard Naoto Kosuge, 24, is producing solid numbers as well. He's scoring 6.9 ppg and making things happen defensively for the first-place Albirex, with 21 steals to his credit.

Backup Kohei Aoki has come off the bench in all 12 Tokyo Apache games. He's been a consistent player, averaging 7.5 ppg and hit 91.7 percent of his fouls shots and added 20 assists, 15 steals and 15 assists.

For the Osaka Evessa, starting small forward Kazuya Hatano, who was born in Brazil, thrives in his role as a complementary player to the Big Four (Lynn Washington, Jeff Newton, David Palmer and Matt Lottich). Hatano is averaging 7.8 ppg and collected 55 rebounds, four or more in all but one game.

Hatano has attempted only two 3-pointers all season, indicative of his ability to play within the system. But he regularly gets to the free-throw line -- his 37 foul shots underscore his aggressive demeanor.

Takanori Goya, the league's No. 1 draft pick in the spring, has been a big-time producer for the Toyama Grouses. He's started all 12 games, averaged 10.2 ppg, cleared 34 boards and dished out 34 assists.

Goya, who has seven games of 10 or more points and eight of three or more assists, is shooting 39.2 percent from 3-point range and 76 percent from the line. Terrific numbers for a rookie.

The Sendai 89ers' top Japanese performers this season are point guard Hikaru Kusaka and backcourt mate Kenichi Takahashi.

Kusaka has a 10.7 ppg average and has dished out 41 assists and made 21 steals, and he's making 50 percent of his 2-point shots and has scored in double digits on six occasions. Takahashi, meanwhile, is putting 8.0 ppg on the board.

Saitama Broncos guard Kosuke Shimizu is scoring 9.1 ppg, while Taishiro Shimizu contributes 8.3 ppg.

And don't overlook Takamatsu Five Arrows guard Yu Okada. His 12.9 ppg is tops among the league's native sons. Okada can score points in a hurry, especially from long range.

Okada has scored 10 or more points seven times. He is quick to take a 3 -- he has attempted 99 and made 41 already (41.4 percent) -- but he's struggled from inside the arc, going 9-for-25. He has had two electrifying performances to date, knocking down 9 of 12 3s in a 27-point outing and 8 of 12 in a 31-point effort.

WEEK SIX FLASHBACK: The defending champion Osaka Evessa strung together a strong double dip last weekend, edging the visiting Tokyo Apache 74-68 on Saturday, then turning up the heat for a resounding 108-84 win the next day.

The Evessa yielded 34 points in each half of their series opener and held the Apache to 5-for-27 from 3-point range, including John Humphrey's 1-for-11. He finished with 17 points. Tony Jones had a cool 23-point outing on 8-for-13 shooting in his Tokyo debut.

Despite the loss, the Apache showed signs of improvement. Three Apache players -- Humphrey (14), Jeremee McGuire (10) and Michael Jackson (nine) -- had big nights on the boards. And Joe Bryant's squad made nine steals.

Osaka's balanced scoring was again a key factor. Palmer (20 points), Washington (17), Lottich (13) and Newton (11) carried the club.

In the rematch, the Evessa outscored the Apache 31-14 in the second quarter to seize control. Newton had an MVP-type game, scoring 25 and grabbing 21 rebounds. Palmer's 26 led the team, while reigning MVP Washington, a power forward, had 19 to go along with 10 boards, eight assists, a steal and a block. Hatano added 14 and Lottich 13 for the versatile, deep Osaka squad. Humphrey scored 37 for Tokyo and Jones had 15 and 10 boards. The Apache had 12 blocked shots led by Jackson's four.

The Oita HeatDevils used a 55-point second half to trounce the host Takamatsu Five Arrows 85-70 last Saturday.

Mikey Marshall and Andy Ellis led the way with 22 points apiece. Chris Ayer (13), Justin Allen (10), Mitomo (nine) and Suzuki (seven) provided scoring punch, too. Suzuki added a game-best five steals. He was one of four HeatDevil players with two or more steals; they also had four players with eight or more rebounds.

For the Five Arrows, center Julius Ashby had 21 points and 17 rebounds.

In Sunday's clash, Takamatsu rebounded for an 81-68 victory, closing out the game by outscoring Oita 27-13 in the final stanza. Ashby scored a game-high 22 and point guard Rasheed Sparks added 18, hit 4-for-6 from 3-point land, grabbed seven boards and made four steals. Marshall's 18 points led the HeatDevils.

The first-place Niigata Albirex BB opened the weekend with an 80-70 road win against the Sendai 89ers. They won it with stifling defense -- seven players had one or more steals, including two apiece by swingman Antoni Wyche, Kosuge and Jack Hartman -- and unselfish offense.

Five guys had 10 double-digit scoring outings. Center Nick Davis was 8-for-12 from the field and scored 19 and had 15 rebounds. Kosuge was No. 2 with 15 points. Wyche had a fine all-around game, scoring six, dishing out eight assists, pulling down six rebounds along with the aforementioned steals.

The 89ers' Mamadou Diouf had 22 points in the loss.

Niigata recorded a 79-68 win on Sunday as the same formula worked. Davis' 22 points led the way, and four teammates had 10 or more. Niigata's passing was solid as well, with four guys handing out three or more assists. Diouf scored 31 and Michael Chappell chipped in with 17 for Sendai.

The visiting Saitama Broncos defeated the Toyama Grouses 85-74 on Saturday. The second quarter, in which Saitama held a 21-14 scoring edge, proved to be decisive. The other three quarters were decided by four points.

The Broncos' Taishiro Shimizu had a 20-point game, while Andrew Feeley contributed 18 and 12 rebounds.

Nile Murry scored 24 and Nate James had 23 for the Grouses.

Toyama regrouped and won the rematch 83-78, getting 30 points from Murray, 18 from Jerod Ward and 14 from Hirokazu Nema. Marcus Toney-El and Kosuke Shimizu had 18 apiece for Saitama.

UP NEXT: Saturday's schedule is as follows: Toyama (4-8) at Niigata (10-2), 3 p.m.; Sendai (6-6) at Saitama, 3; Takamatsu (6-6) at Tokyo, 6; and Osaka (7-5) at Oita, 7. Sunday's docket: Toyama at Niigata, 1; Sendai at Saitama, 3; Takamatsu at Tokyo, 6; and Osaka at Oita, 2:30.



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