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Sunday, Jan. 28, 2007
Sparks plugs hoop with windmill dunk
By ED ODEVEN
GINOWAN, Okinawa Pref. -- Rasheed Sparks is having a sensational season for the Takamatsu Five Arrows.
His All-Star Weekend wasn't too shabby, either.
The veteran point guard closed out the bj-league Slam Dunk Contest with an emphatic -- call it an exclamation point -- windmill jam that even would be made Dominique Wilkins proud.
Sparks snatched the winner's trophy, edging Toyama Grouses center Jerod Ward for the prized hardware.
Both players advanced out of the opening round, which also featured dunk artists Gordon James of the Saitama Broncos and Tony "Get It" Jones of the Tokyo Apache.
Players' top dunks were awarded 50 points by the judging panel.
The most exciting dunk of the contest belonged to Ward. He took the contest's first dunk as a chance to thrill the masses, running to catch the ball, leaping over a chair, which was occupied, and forcefully pouncing the ball through the rim.
Tokyo Apache guard John "Helicopter" Humphrey, who was slated to compete in the contest, didn't participate. But he saved his gravity-defying antics for the game, giving the fans plenty of time to reasons to reach for their cameras or shout, "Wow, that was awesome," to the person sitting next to them.
THREE-POINT SHOOTOUT: Niigata Albirex BB forward Matt Garrison put on a fine display of long-range shooting in Saturday's contest, emerging as the sure-shot winner over Takamatsu Five Arrows guard Yu Okada in the final round by a 12-9 score.
"Thank you to all the boosters back home," Garrison said, bowing graciously. Then he added: "And thank you to all the fans who voted for all of us. We're going to give you a good show today."
Garrison had the high scorer in the first round (15). Niigata's Makoto Hasegawa was No. 2 with 13.
Each team designated one shooter for the final round.
The other first-round scores were: Okada nine, Toyama Grouses guard Takanori Goya seven, Osaka's Masashi Joho six and Oita's Andy Ellis four.
In each round, the shooters took 15 shots, three from five different spots around the arc. The first two shots from those spots were worth one point apiece, while the third attempt counted as two. Thus, the maximum point total per round was 20 points.
MISCELLANY: An impromptu, unscientific man-on-the-street poll revealed the following Saturday afternoon: Shooting guard Takanori Goya of the Toyama Grouses and Hasegawa are the co-favorites among Japanese All-Stars. Six members of the Naha High School girls basketball team provided the data, splitting their votes among the two standouts. Goya, of course, is a hometown hero in these parts; he attended Okinawa's Kitanaka Shiro High School. . . . The league's other Okinawa products are guard Hirokazu Nema (Grouses), shooting guard Shuhei Shiroma (Takamatsu Five Arrows), point guard Tsubasa Yonamine (Oita HeatDevils) and guard/forward Osamu Shimabukuro (Heat Devils). . . . The Nishihara High School marching band performed "Mambo Jambo" during the pregame festivities.
TWO THUMBS UP: The bj-league went all-out in printing its All-Star program, a 72-page glossy magazine. Each player's bio is accompanied by his head shot and two action shots. . . . The fans didn't need to print up their own scorecards to hold up for all to see for the slam-dunk contest. The league provided them already with a big 7, 8, 9 and 10 occupying pages 44-47 in each of the programs.
THE COMMISSIONER SPEAKS: After the game was over and hundreds of fans had received players' autographs and posed for pictures, bj-league commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi addressed the media.
What was his message? The day turned out to be a successful, historic day for the league.
"Before the game there were so many people in the lines," Kawachi said. "I saw that and I felt like it's going to be a very successful event. I am satisfied to make the All-Star Game in Okinawa."
Now Kawachi-san must contemplate where to hold the 2008 All-Star Contest.
"Because it's a very successful event, it's going to be so hard (to decide) where the All-Star Game will be played next year," he added.
Kawachi also praised both teams for their effort.
"The players and coaches were real emotional," he said. "Their thinking is they want to take a rest (this week because of the off-week), but the players played so hard because of the bj-league."
And, believe it or not, the fans' enthusiasm level all afternoon even surpassed Kawachi's expectations.
"I'm so surprised," he said. "They were very excited, much more my (imagination before today)."
He concluded by issuing this statement: "This is the first bj-league game for Okinawa's people, and they were satisfied."
NEXT WEEK: Look for an exclusive interview with Tatsuro Kimura, the general manager of the expansion Okinawa Golden Kings, in The Japan Times.