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Sunday, Dec. 30, 2007

BJ-LEAGUE

Garrison, Sparks leave crowd in awe


Staff writer

NIIGATA — Two winners repeated in their respective skills competitions during the 2007-08 bj-league All-Star Game weekend on Saturday.

Matt Garrison, a Niigata Albirex BB forward, put on a shooting exhibition that will be talked about for years to come — making 19 of his first 20 shots — in the final round of the 3-Point Shootout at Toki Messe.

Garrison finished with 21 points in the round and defeated Oita HeatDevils guard Yukinori Suzuki, who scored 16, to earn the winner's trophy.

"I go out there with the attitude that I have nothing to lose," Garrison said. "Shooting the ball relaxes me."

In the Slam Dunk Contest, Five Arrows point guard Rasheed Sparks performed an array of dazzling moves — punctuated by great finishes — to secure the title.

With a theatrical, center stage-like pizzazz, he jammed the ball through the net on one super play; in another instance, Sparks lobbed it off the backboard, caught it in mid-air and forced it through the rim, drawing oohs and aahs from the crowd.

He performed a perfect windmill dunk. And he left jaws dropped in astonishment on his title-clinching final dunk, when he jumped over Tokyo Apache guard Cohey Aoki (his knee grazed Aoki's head), who was standing in the lane, and jammed the ball through the basket.

"It's great to be in Niigata," Sparks told the crowd, adding that he enjoyed himself in the highlight-reel contest and thanked the fans for their support.

"Man, as long as Sparks is in Japan, he's going to win the dunk contest," Saitama's Gordon James declared.

"I don't know what it is, but whatever it is, he's got it. With my own two eyes, I've never seen anybody do stuff that he's doing. You see a lot of stuff on TV, but Sparks, that's why his name is Sparks."

Garrison admitted he was feeling pretty good shooting the basketball in the 3-point competition, but he's had better showings before when it officially counts: in games.

"No, actually I wasn't 'in the zone.' Last year, I hit nine in a game," said Garrison, a native of Billings, Mont. "That was 'in the zone,' but it felt good, though. I was kind of upset with myself on the last rack. I missed all of them except one."

Garrison, however, experienced pre-shooting contest jitters.

"I was nervous because Yuki (Yukinori Suzuki) hit all of them, but I hit some shots," said Garrison.

Suzuki officially picked up 20 points in the first round, missing only five attempts.

Players took 25 shots, from five locations around the 3-point arc.

Garrison admitted he's proud that he won back-to-back 3-Point Contest titles.

"I never used to be good at shooting," he said. "I really worked on it, so now it's kind of a reward to show my hard work, so I was happy about that."

For Garrison, shot after shot flew through the net with the same fluid motion and sound — swish, swish, swish — in a poetic repetition that excited the fans and players alike.

LOOKING AHEAD: The 2008-09 All-Star Game will be played in January 2009 in Beppu, Oita Prefecture, the home of the Oita HeatDevils, the league announced after Saturday's game.

THE LAST WORD: "Maybe I'll ask him again for a big-screen TV," Albirex forward Rodney Webb said with a smile, speaking about the Christmas gift wish he gave teammate Kosuge, who is ¥1,000,000 richer after winning the All-Star Game MVP check.



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