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Friday, Nov. 21, 2008

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Sendai personifies team concept


Staff writer

Sometimes making a pass is better than taking a quick shot. In other words, patience does pay off on the basketball court.

Case in point: the Sendai 89ers are a patient basketball team, moving the ball around the perimeter, taking their time to find the open shooter and reaping the rewards of their hard work.

Coach Honoo Hamaguchi's team has won four straight games and enters the weekend tied for first place in the Eastern Conference.

Not surprisingly, the 89ers (6-4) had more assists than turnovers in each of those four home contests. The win streak includes two victories over the Saitama Broncos and a pair of triumphs over the Niigata Albirex BB.

When Sendai plays like a playoff-caliber team, ball movement is one of the team's most appealing trademarks.

Tokyo Apache coach Joe Bryant, whose team handed the 89ers their last loss on Nov. 2 (98-88), said the key to victory in that game was his team's heightened awareness on defense, which included limiting Sendai to just 10 assists.

"They are a high-assist team," Bryant told reporters, saying something each of the bj-league's other coaches would say if the topic came up. "So our strategy was to turn a good team into an individual team where everyone was trying to go one-on-one."

For the most part, the 89ers have not relied on one-on-one plays to be the focal point of their offense.

Need proof?

Five players have 20 or more assists, including point guard Takehiko Shimura and forward Rashad Tucker who share the team lead with 43.

Upcoming games: Expect a playoff-like atmosphere this weekend when the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (6-4) host the Takamatsu Five Arrows (6-4) in Asahikawa, Hokkaido. The series begins on Friday.

Four other series start on Saturday: Oita HeatDevils (2-8) at Saitama Broncos (5-5); Rizing Fukuoka (3-7) at Toyama Grouses (2-6); Shiga Lakestars (4-6) at Niigata Albirex BB (4-6); and Sendai at Ryukyu Golden Kings (9-1).

Shooter's mentality: It's been well documented in this space that Yu Okada of the Takamatsu Five Arrows is one of the bj-league's bright young Japanese stars. But from time to time, it's fun to point out the obvious: Okada loves to drift from spot to spot around the perimeter — you could call it his second home, really — and set up shop.

In last weekend's games against the Rizing Fukuoka, Okada attempted 34 shots from the field, 27 of which were 3-point attempts. He made 12 of them.

He finished the weekend with 48 points, including 27 in the series finale, to help the Five Arrows earn a split.

Okada scored 32 points on Nov. 2, a reminder of his pure scoring ability.

This reporter — and many basketball fans across the country — would like to have a front-row seat at a game in which Okada puts 50 on the board.

By the numbers: The Oita HeatDevils have scored a league-low 69.7 points per game. They are 0-4 on the road. . . . The Sendai 89ers, on the other hand, are 5-1 at home. The Evessa improved to 6-1 on the road by beating the Apache in the series opener on Wednesday at Yoyogi National Gymnasium. . . . The Golden Kings are 5-1 outside of Okinawa. . . . The Phoenix have the East's top average margin of victory (plus 11.0). Kazuo Nakamura's club is averaging 91.4 points and giving up 80.4 per contest. The Broncos, meanwhile, are on the opposite end of the spectrum, scoring 77.5 and yielding a league-low 77.1.

Getting to know . . . Babacar Camara: The Grouses big man is originally from Dakar, Senegal. The 27-year-old moved to the United States to become a college player (he attended Cal State Fullerton) before embarking on a pro career.

Camara, who previously played in China, is averaging 14.8 ppg for the Grouses in his first season in Japan.

While still in college, Camara showed his gratitude for the opportunity he had to pursue a basketball career.

"Every basketball player in my country thinks about playing in the NCAA," he was quoted as saying in Fullerton's 2001-02 media guide.

"Not many get the chance. There are good basketball players in Senegal, but they don't have the support there to get better.

"They don't have enough money to develop the programs. The good programs are here."

Parting thought: After Hall of Fame coach Pete Newell passed away on Monday at the age of 93 in California, Bryant issued this statement to The Japan Times: "Basketball has lost a special person."



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