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Friday, Nov. 9, 2007

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Defense an integral part of Maki's game, no matter the sport


Staff writer

Darin Satoshi Maki made his mark in Sunday's win over the Saitama Broncos on the defensive end.

News photo
Toshimitsu Kawachi (left), the bj-league commissioner, and Vince Rawl, co-owner of the Oita HeatDevils, pose for a photo Thursday afternoon. Rawls' Palo Verde Holdings is a new investment partner for the league. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

He came off the bench and gave the Tokyo Apache and instant jolt of energy, picking up three first-half steals to go along with six points and four assists in his 18 minutes on the court.

Perhaps ball-hawking skills learned on the gridiron have helped Maki on the hardwood.

"Well, he's a former high school football player at cornerback. That's what he tells me," Apache coach Joe Bryant said with a laugh. "Darin in my opinion is probably one of the best defensive players in the league and he probably should get more credit for that.

"This is my third year with Darin and I think in the first two years he was thinking about that he had to score to be a part of the team, but I tell him to just do what you do best, which is play defense, and everything else will happen."

The Apache, led by balanced scoring, a strong bench and an anchor in the middle named Nick Davis (two 25-point outings in his debut weekend in Tokyo), improved to 2-0 and are tied with the Sendai 89ers for first place in the Eastern Conference. The unbeaten Osaka Evessa and Takamatsu Five Arrows share the top spot in the West.

The Ryukyu Golden Kings, meanwhile, became the first 2007-08 expansion team to get a win, earning a 96-87 overtime victory over the Oita HeatDevils on Sunday. Ryukyu outscored Oita 18-9 in the bonus period. Forward Danny Jones had 33 points, including a 13-for-16 effort from the free-throw line, to give Golden Kings coach Hernando Planells a memorable 31st birthday.

BENOIT'S OUTLOOK: First-year Saitama coach David Benoit, who wrapped up his playing career last spring with the Broncos, said a lack of offensive firepower played a pivotal role in his team's defeat on Sunday.

"We had a slow start in the first half," Benoit decided. "We weren't able to score any baskets in the second quarter."

Interestingly enough, Saitama small forward Kazuhiro Shoji, who led the bj-league in 3-point shooting accuracy last season (44.4 percent) didn't score a point. In fact, he didn't take a shot in his 19 minutes, but had four assists.

"I don't know, maybe Tokyo just had a good strategy to keep him from shooting the ball, so you have to give the Apache a little nod for being able to do that," Benoit said of Shoji.

"We definitely need his experience and his leadership on the floor because he can definitely be a very positive (influence) for the young Japanese players out there on the floor," he added.

On a positive note, Benoit commended the effort of the 26-year-old Taishiro Shimizu, who had 14 points in the season opener and an eight-point outing in the second game.

"Tai's been really consistent for us through all this time, so we just need a couple guys to catch up to him and hopefully we can give him a break every now and then," Benoit said.

Two games into his head coaching career, Benoit now can offer an assessment of what if feels like to be the boss.

Here's how he summarized those feelings: "It's tough, because sometimes I feel like I want to go out there and play. But I'm enjoying it. I think with my team it's still a relationship. I've just been a head coach for a few months now.

"We are still just trying to get that complete understanding on how I want them to actually perform every night, not just as individuals but as a whole unit."

HISTORIC GAME: After the Rizing's first-ever bj-league game on Oct. 30, coach John Neumann expressed pride in his players and kind words for his foe.

"We could surprise Osaka in the first half," Neumann said. "The Japanese players played well and that is the proof our team is in a pretty good condition. I'd like to congratulate Osaka for playing the game with poise."

A crowd of 2,465 attended the event, getting a firsthand look at the two-time champs from Kansai and their new team.

What they saw was impressive: Fukuoka forward Joshua Peppers scoring 26 points, Jeffrey Price adding 17 and the Rizing collecting 11 steals; and there was Osaka's Lynn Washington scoring 28 and Naoto Nakamura getting 17 in a well-balanced effort.

"We could play as we expected from the first half," Evessa coach Kensaku Tennichi said. "We could keep running until the end of the game."

DID YOU KNOW?: Planells' Web site, www.hernandoplanells.com, gives an ever-expanding look at his team. It also includes a nice photo of his recent birthday cake.

UP NEXT: Sendai plays host to Tokyo on Friday and Saturday and Ryukyu entertains Saitama both days. In a rematch of last spring's finalists, Takamatsu pays a visit to Osaka on Saturday and Sunday, while Toyama at Niigata and Fukuoka at Oita are the other matchups.

STAT LINES OF THE WEEK: In 16 minutes on Saturday, Five Arrows forward Isaac Sojourner had seven points, seven rebounds, two steals and five blocks.

Small forward Mikey Marshall had a 23-point, eight-rebound, eight-assist, four-steal outing on Sunday in Osaka's 94-80 win.



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