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Sunday, Dec. 30, 2007
Kosuge shines in East's runaway victory
By ED ODEVEN
NIIGATA — The victorious East team had 34 assists in its runaway victory over the West in the 2007-08 bj-league All-Star Game on Saturday. But really, you could say, it finished with one big, collective assist, a well-deserved pat on the back for getting the ball to the right man at the right time.
Niigata Albirex BB shooting guard Naoto Kosuge, especially, was the recipient of smart passing and helping make this game a memorable shooters' showcase.
Kosuge scored 31 points, including 19 in the final quarter, en route to winning MVP honors and a ¥1,00,000 check.
The East beat the West 121-94 at Toki Messe before 4,529 spectators.
Kosuge said he plans to donate some of his prize money to help his hometown of Kashiwazaki City continue its recovery from the earthquake last summer.
Through three quarters, the East held a commanding 92-68 advantage. At that point, there was talk on the East bench about the team trying to help Kosuge earn the award.
His task? Deliver an impressive fourth-quarter effort.
Kosuge sank 5-of-12 3-pointers in the fourth, getting a steady stream of support from the home fans.
"Well, if anyone (on the East squad) had a chance to be MVP it was him, so we really wanted to push him over the top," said Albirex BB forward Matt Garrison, who finished with 11 points. "We wanted to push him to the forefront. We've got a guy who's born close to here, so it's a really special thing for him. So we decided to get that gift to him and get him shots, and he was making them, so we had to get him more and more shots."
So will Garrison put pressure on his MVP teammate to share the winner's cash prize?
"I hope I can get some Korean barbecue, I told him," Garrison said.
For Kosuge, this game was a thrilling occasion.
"In the regular season, I try to shoot the ball without hesitation," Kosuge said, "and I try to shoot as many 3s as I can. I had the chance tonight.
"The whole team created shots for me. . . so I appreciate my teammates," he said.
Even when he missed a 3, a teammate would grab the offensive rebound and pass the ball back out to Kosuge for another long-range shot.
He added: "I've gained a little bit of confidence from making nine 3-pointers and winning the MVP of the All-Star Game, so I want to gain momentum for the rest of the season."
The East team jumped to a 24-2 lead in the first quarter and never looked back.
Niigata forward Rodney Webb was the East's second-leading scorer with 22 points, followed by Saitama Broncos forward Gordon James (16) and Saitama Broncos guard Taishiro Shimizu (13).
For the West, Rizing Fukuoka forward Joshua Peppers scored a team-high 27 points, Takamatsu Five Arrows power forward Reggie Warren delivered a 20-point effort, including five dunks, and teammate George Leach, a center, added 18.
Shimizu scored 10 first-quarter points to lead the East. His performance was reminiscent of the East's effort at the 2006-07 All-Star Game in Ginowan, Okinawa.
"Last season, it was (Makoto) Hasegawa," James said of the Albirex veteran. "He started the game and hit three 3-pointers in a row, and didn't play much after that. But that just got everybody going."
"There was great concentration that (Shimizu) had," said Masaya Hirose, who coaches the Niigata Albirex BB and led the East team on Saturday.
In short, Kosuge capitalized on his scoring opportunities.
Said Hirose: "The theme for today was 'ichi-go, ichi-e,' (translated as "one encounter, one chance") meaning we make it really important for everybody to get together. I could see everybody helping him (Kosuge), and then he got the MVP."