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Friday, March 14, 2008

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Apache's Aoki still the man at FT line


Staff writer

When the game clock stops, you can still score points in bunches.

News photo
Cohey Aoki of the Tokyo Apache is heading for his third straight free-throw percentage title in the bj-league this season. MANABU KOBAYASHI / TOKYO APACHE PHOTO

It is one of the most important aspects of basketball, though rarely does it make the highlight reels on the evening news.

Free-throwing shooting is an art form few have mastered. Tokyo Apache point guard Cohey Aoki is one of the masters.

Aoki is the only free-throwing shooting champion in bj-league history, having secured the title with an 86.4 percent success rate in 2005-06.

He won the title again last season, dropping down 93.3 percent of his foul shots (or 125-of-134).

Through 34 games this season, the 167-cm Aoki is the league's top foul shooter at 90.3 percent.

When Aoki steps to the line, good things happen for the Apache. His smooth, fluid shooting motion produces good results: points.

Last weekend, Aoki attempted 17 free throws and made all of them in his team's two-game sweep of the Ryukyu Golden Kings at Ariake Colosseum, including an 11-for-11 effort in a 103-94 win on Saturday.

This season, Aoki has attempted six or more free throws in 13 games. Tokyo is 9-4 in those contests.

Winners of three straight games, the Apache (18-16) and the Saitama Broncos (same record) are vying for the third and final Eastern Conference playoff spot. This race could go down to the final day of the regular season.

Along the way, look for Aoki to play a vital role in Tokyo's push for the postseason.

UP NEXT: This weekend's action tips off on Friday in Kyushu, when the Rizing Fukuoka (13-21) take on the Tokyo Apache.

On Saturday, these two-game series begin: Oita HeatDevils (15-19) at Sendai 89ers (24-10), Ryukyu Golden Kings (9-25) at Osaka Evessa (25-9) and Saitama Broncos at the Takamatsu Five Arrows (23-11).

The Niigata Albirex (23-13), who are second in the Eastern Conference, and the league's worst team, the Toyama Grouses (4-32), have the weekend off.

NEWEST GOLDEN KING: Guard Takuma Yamashiro recently joined Ryukyu. The 167-cm Yamashiro did not play in last weekend's series in Tokyo, his first in a Golden Kings uniform.

In a recent e-mail interview, Golden Kings coach Hernando Planells offered this assessment of the 22-year-old Okinawa native:

"Takuma is an extremely quick and fast guard that adds more speed to our transition game. He is young, eager and hungry, which will help him as he develops.

"Having him in practice really pushes our guards to learn how to defend a small, quick guard.

"Right now he is learning the system and how and why we do things in certain ways. . . . I think he has a future here in the bj-league because he is a very hard worker and is always trying to find ways to improve himself."

BOUNCING BACK: After suffering a 112-79 loss to the host Five Arrows on Saturday, Fukuoka rebounded with a 105-96 win a day later.

Rizing coach John Neumann said the series-ending win and recent victories over Osaka and Sendai are signs that his team is playing its style of basketball and can be successful doing so.

Motofumi Aoki, the Five Arrows coach, said, "It was a tough loss. But we still have games to go and would like to come into the next game with a fresh mind."

A COACH'S VIEWPOINT: Evessa coach Kensaku Tennichi watched his team get swept by the Broncos last weekend in Sakura City, Saitama Prefecture.

After the second loss, a 97-79 defeat on Sunday, Tennichi reflected on his team's performance.

"Saitama was more aggressive and more elaborate (than before)," Tennichi said. "We would like to come into the next game fixing things we are supposed to."

Indeed, this is one thing he would like to see: center Jeff Newton making a bigger impact on the boards this weekend.

Newton had a season-low four rebounds in 40 minutes against Saitama on Sunday. He is the league's third-leading rebounder (12.6 per game).

On the other hand, Saitama coach David Benoit summed up his team's victory by emphasizing that each player did his job and collectively the players' efforts paid off.

MISCELLANY: Albirex forward Rodney Webb will serve a two-game suspension on March 22-23 for unsportsmanlike conduct after a technical foul in Niigata's game last Sunday.

Tokyo backup center Dean Browne, who made his Apache debut on Feb. 9, is making a major contribution as a rebounder.

In 10 games, he's pulled down 48 boards in 142 minutes. That averages out to one rebound every 2.95 minutes. If Browne maintained that pace for a 40-minute game, he would have 118 rebounds.

Browne, 28, previously played for the Tochigi Brex of the JBL2.



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