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Friday, March 28, 2008

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Rival point guards locked in battle for bj-league assist title


Staff writer

They may not speak about it day after day, but there's a spirited competition taking place for the bj-league's assist title this season between Oita Heat Devils point guard Tsubasa Yonamine and his counterpart from the Ryukyu Golden Kings, Naoto Takushi.

With six games remaining on each team's regular-season schedule, both players have a realistic shot at ending the season atop the charts.

Yonamine is currently in pole position with 6.0 assists per game and Takushi is a close second at 5.8.

Both players have shown the ability to raise the level of their team's play this season, though that quality has not always shown up in the box score.

The HeatDevils, 18-20 overall, are third in the Western Conference. The first-year Golden Kings are 10-28 and in last place.

Takushi, 26, attended Hosei University. He played for the Aisin Sea Horses of the JBL last season and was the No. 1 draft pick by the Golden Kings in last spring's bj-league draft.

He has displayed the type of all-around game that puts him on the proper path to stardom in the coming years. He's made 30 starts in 33 games, averaging 14.0 points.

Takushi has dished out 198 assists and turned the ball over 105 times, but picked up 71 steals and 117 rebounds in that time.

With Herb Gibson, a former University of Michigan player, on the floor at the same time, the 182-cm Takushi has the size, athleticism and shooting touch to shift over to off-guard position, as well.

Earlier this season, Takushi offered this insight to The Japan Times' Kaz Nagatsuka by telephone: "If the flow of the game goes bad for us, I like to be the guy that can step up then."

Takushi has demonstrated this ability time after time. Case in point: He has four games with 10 or more assists, including a season-best 12 on March 8. And he lit up the scoreboard for 32 points against the HeatDevils on Dec. 15.

As noted in this notebook earlier this season, Yonamine's ball-making decisions have been stellar.

That hasn't changed.

Yonamine leads the league with 219 assists and has limited his turnover total to 57, nearly a 4-to-1 ratio. He also has four 10-assist games, with a 13-dime effort on Dec. 16 his best output.

A native of Okinawa, Yonamine attended Nippon Sports Sciences University.

In his first season with the HeatDevils in 2006-07, he played in 29 games and was on the court for 527 minutes. His playing time has more than doubled this season.

Entering this weekend, Yonamine had played 1,118 minutes, a time in which he's solidified his role as Oita's point guard of the future and become a player head coach Dai Oketani can count on to run the team's offense.

"I'm not very tall," the 173-cm Yonamine told The Japan Times earlier this season. "So I'd have to say my trait is to play with heart, such as diving for loose balls. I'm asked to exhibit plays that change the flow of a game. That's something I'd like to show on the court."

That's precisely what he's done.

Yonamine turns 25 in May. He is now at an age where he can establish himself as one of the league's elite players for years to come. UP NEXT: The Golden Kings play host to the Rizing Fukuoka (14-24) on Friday and Saturday in Okinawa. In the previous two meetings between the first-year expansion clubs, Fukuoka holds a 2-0 series lead.

The four other weekend series — Tokyo Apache (22-16) at Saitama Broncos (19-19), Niigata Albirex BB (23-15) at Sendai 89ers (26-12), Osaka Evessa (27-11) at Takamatsu Five Arrows (26-12) and Toyama Grouses (5-33) at Oita — all begin on Saturday.

Sendai is 3-1 against Niigata this year. The teams are currently first and second, respectively, in the Eastern Conference.

In the Western Conference, Osaka holds a 4-0 record against the Five Arrows, the team it beat in the championship game last spring. SUPER SHOT: The Evessa's Naoto Nakamura drained 13 of 21 3-pointers last weekend, including 8 of 11 in the Evessa's 95-80 win over Fukuoka on Sunday.



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