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Friday, Oct. 31, 2008

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Three clubs unbeaten as Week 4 play begins


Staff writer

Parity can be a good thing in sports, keeping fans' attention throughout a long season. And already that is what we are seeing in the bj-league this season.

After three weeks of games, there are three undefeated teams: the Ryukyu Golden Kings, Saitama Broncos and Takamatsu Five Arrows, sharing identical 4-0 records.

Only one team, the 0-4 Shiga Lakestars, an expansion team, has yet to win a game. But the Lakestars have lost two of their games by a combined four points — 81-78 to the Osaka Evessa in the season opener Oct. 11 and 91-90 in the series opener against the Five Arrows two weeks later.

Speaking of Osaka, coach Kensaku Tennichi's club, the three-time defending champion, finds itself in the unfamiliar position of being at .500. The Golden Kings forced the issue by beating the Evessa (2-2) twice last weekend in Kansai, including a double-overtime triumph in the opener.

Keep that fact in the back of your mind as the season progresses. Coach Dai Oketani's team may be emerging as a championship contender.

On the other hand, it'll be interesting to see how Osaka performs this weekend on the road against Takamatsu. The Evessa can rise to the challenge or slip into mediocrity.

But sometimes a team plays its best ball away from the comforts of home. The Evessa can take that us-against-the-world mentality to Shikoku for the Saturday-Sunday series.

Also on the weekend docket are the following series: Niigata Albirex BB (1-3) at Toyama Grouses (1-3); Sendai 89ers (2-2) at Tokyo Apache (1-3); Shiga at Rizing Fukuoka (1-3); Oita HeatDevils (1-3) at Ryukyu; and Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (3-1) at Saitama Broncos (4-0).

The Phoenix-Broncos series begins on Sunday, the others tip off on Saturday.

Second-year point guard Naoto Takushi, the top pick in the 2007 draft, is coming off an 11-assist game for the Golden Kings, and has 26 assists and nine turnovers to date.

Offensively, Ryukyu has a solid foundation in place to provide a major challenge for the opposition this season. Takushi, growing rapidly as a floor leader, has improved his assist total in each of the past three games.

Perennial All-Star forward Jeff Newton is the top point-getter with 28.5 points per game.

Newcomer Anthony McHenry, a former Georgia Tech player, has contributed 18.8 ppg to go along with 21 assists.

Shigeyuki Kinjo, meanwhile, has reprised his role as a valuable perimeter scorer, putting 14.8 ppg on the board.

Expansion talk: The bj-league will begin accepting offers from prospective expansion ownership groups on Saturday for the 2010-11 season. In August 2009, commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi will announce which franchise or franchises will join the league.

The league's 13th franchise, which will be based in Kyoto, will join the fold for the 2009-10 season.

In a news release issued this week, the league reiterated its bold expansion goal: 24 teams by its 10th season, 2014-15, as well as its long-term vision of having one team in each of Japan's 47 prefectures.

By the numbers: Phoenix center Sun Ming Ming has played 100 minutes this season. Consider it his first benchmark in Japan. In that time, he's averaging 11.5 ppg. He's pulled down 27 rebounds, attempted 19 foul shots (10 makes), taken 27 shots from the field (18 makes), made six dunks, dished out seven assists, blocked seven shots and turned the ball over seven times.

Fukuoka forward Michael Parker (26.0 ppg, 14.7 rpg) has become his team's go-to player on both ends of the floor. His ex-teammates Joshua Peppers and Michael Gardener are making major contributions for Hamamatsu this season, scoring 19.0 and 17.8 ppg, respectively.

Quotable: "Yuki-san is on fire," Broncos power forward Reggie Warren told fans after guard Yuki Kitamuki scored 25 points on Sunday, a day after he finished with 27, including a sizzling 7-for-10 outing from 3-point range.



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