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Friday, Nov. 28, 2008

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Loss of DeWitz makes Evessa's task tougher


Staff writer

Nick DeWitz gave the Osaka Evessa his best single-game performance of the season in a one-point loss to the Tokyo Apache on Nov. 20.

But now the three-time defending champions must wait a while for him to attempt to replicate that performance. DeWitz is sidelined with a right leg injury and is expected to be out of action for three weeks, according to a statement released by the club.

The 200-cm forward suffered the injury in the series finale against Tokyo. It appeared he picked up the injury after crashing to the floor following his reverse jam in the fourth quarter. DeWitz was helped off the court with 4:17 remaining but was back on the court for the final minutes.

DeWitz had season-best totals of 26 points, 13 rebounds and four dunks in the game, adding four assists, two blocked shots and a steal for good measure.

The Evessa (7-5) will look to get back on track this weekend in Kansai. The team is 1-3 at home this season, but now faces a pivotal stretch of games without DeWitz, starting with a two-game series against the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (6-6), the league's highest-scoring team at 90.7 points per game.

Osaka then embarks on back-to-back road trips, facing the Saitama Broncos and Ryukyu Golden Kings over the next two weekends.

Without DeWitz on the floor, the Evessa will miss his shot-blocking presence (he's the team leader with 21 swats). He's also one of the team's most versatile offensive performers, showcasing a wide range of polished moves and a shooter's touch from long range.

After the departure of three key players from Osaka's third championship club — guards Mikey Marshall and Matt Lottich and big man Jeff Newton — this season's squad now faces an early season challenge without its big offseason acquisition.

Kazuya Hatano and Naoto Nakamura, for example, had expanded roles last season when Lynn Washington went down with an early season knee injury.

It'll be interesting to see which players make bigger contributions in DeWitz's absence. And this stretch of games could provide a revealing look at the character of this club, which coach Kensaku Tennichi said will be in contention for a title at season's end.

Up next: Four other series are on tap for this weekend, including the Tokyo Apache (7-5) vs. the Ryukyu Golden Kings (11-1) at Ariake Colosseum on Saturday and Sunday, the second straight playoff-like showdown for Joe Bryant's club. He said as much before and after the games against Osaka.

Also, the expansion Shiga Lakestars (6-6) are at home against the Saitama Broncos (7-5); the Rizing Fukuoka (4-8) take on the Sendai 89ers (6-6) in Kyushu; and the Toyama Grouses (3-7) meet the Oita HeatDevils (2-10).

The Niigata Albirex BB (4-8) and Takamatsu Five Arrows (8-4) both get a break this weekend.

A coach's perspective: Golden Kings assistant coach Keith Richardson offered his assessment of the magnitude of Jeff Newton's greatest game as a bj-league player. Looking back on Newton's 40-point, 30-rebound game against the 89ers last Saturday, Richardson said "Jeff's play was nothing less than amazing."

Concentrating on his own coaching duties, Richardson didn't look at the halftime statistics and wasn't fully aware Newton was having such a spectacular game. But when the epic double-overtime game was over the truth emerged.

"When they announced 40 and 30, I could not believe it," Richardson said, adding head coach Dai Oketani and fellow assistant Tsutomu Isa shared the same sentiment. ". . . But when you know Jeff Newton the way we do and his work ethic and his 'never-give up' attitude it is not too hard to believe that he could get those kind of numbers for one game.

"It was definitely special to witness this record-setting performance and to get the win which I am sure means more to Jeff than the numbers actually do. Jeff is a team player, this I know, and big numbers in a win are just icing on the cake for him.

"The fans I think were in awe that he had gotten those numbers as well. I received many phone calls from the American fans that were in attendance just to verify what was announced as far as Jeff's numbers. They could not believe it."

Gracious in defeat: Sendai coach Honoo Hamaguchi's team spent a few days in Okinawa before it travels to Fukuoka to face the Rizing. The team's extended stay included an early Thanksgiving dinner with the Golden Kings.

Before his players stuffed their stomachs with American-style cuisine, Hamaguchi said he's impressed with how the Golden Kings are playing this season.

"Ryukyu was better than us in every portion of the game," Hamaguchi said on Saturday. "Compared with last year, they are a completely different team.

He added: "While having a new head coach, Ryukyu has become a really good team in which everybody knows about his role."

By the numbers: Tokyo Apache point guard Cohey Aoki is 22-for-22 from the free-throw line. He leads the league in that department, and won that title in each of the league's first two seasons. . . .

Chinese center Sun Ming Ming is averaging 11.3 ppg, including a season-best 17 in Hamamatsu's 102-101 loss to the Five Arrows on Sunday. He had a season-high four dunks in the game. In 10 games, Sun has played 245 minutes and has 66 rebounds, 41 free-throw attempts (23 makes) and 10 blocked shots. . . .

Phoenix coach Kazuo Nakamura would like each of those numbers to increase. But the 236-cm Sun isn't expected to carry the team's scoring load; five Phoenix players have double-digit scoring averages.

All-Star voting: Fans can vote for their favorite bj-league players on the league's Web site, www.bj-league.com. Click on the All-Star logo and then see the list of players for both conferences.

Voting ends on Dec. 21.

The last word: "We're relieved to win this game. The boosters might be excited with this close game. We wanted to battle to set the rhythm for us early on, but it was Sendai that got it," Oketani said after the 20T triumph.



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