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Friday, Dec. 26, 2008

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Steady Webb gives Toyama big boost


Staff writer

The Toyama Grouses' 6-12 record is deceiving.

Opposing teams can't — and won't — take anything for granted when they suit up to play the third-year franchise.

The Tokyo Apache (12-6) play host to the Grouses on Saturday and Sunday and know full well the visiting team won't be a pushover, as Apache coach Joe Bryant acknowledged during a recent postgame interview at Ariake Colosseum.

For one thing, the Grouses are 4-4 on the road. This creates an interesting subplot in the team's first visit to Tokyo this season.

The Apache are 6-2 at home, with one of those losses actually coming at Yoyogi National Gymnasium, which was more like a neutral court during a November series against the Osaka Evessa.

It will also be the teams' first series of the season, a chance for them to get reacquainted with each other.

In addition, Toyama's Rodney Webb is one of the league's top all-around forwards, but doesn't receive the media attention that standouts in bigger media markets — Tokyo's John Humphrey, Osaka's Lynn Washington and Ryukyu's Jeff Newton, for instance — get.

Averaging 21.3 points per game (sixth-highest total in the league), Webb is a consistent scorer who does most of his damage in the paint. The 201-cm power forward, who played for the Niigata Albirex BB last season, has almost as many dunks (17) as 3-point attempts (18). What's more, he's a regular visitor to the free-throw line, where he's knocked down a respectable 73.8 percent of his shots (79-for-107).

Webb is also among the league leaders in rebounds (10.6, 10th) and steals (1.1, eighth) and is a skilled shot-blocker, with 23 rejected shots to prove his point.

Collectively, the Grouses are a well-balanced scoring team. In addition to Webb's steady output, center Babacar Camara (16.6 ppg) and forward Terrence Woodyard's 13.9) are both averaging double digits in scoring. Shooting guard Masayuki Kabaya (9.0 ppg), however, has been an ineffective perimeter scorer in recent games, missing 20 of his last 23 3-point shots.

Veteran point guard Haruhito Shishito is quietly putting up solid numbers — 8.2 points and 4.5 assists. Overall, the Grouses proved to be a scrappy team from the get-go this season. Six of their first seven games were decided by nine points or less, but they lost six of those contests.

The team's first-ever head coach, Masato Fukushima, was fired last month and interim coach Hirokazu Nema has now handed the reins to Takatoshi Ishibashi, who played for Japan in the 1996 Olympics.

The Grouses posted their first back-to-back victories of the season last weekend by beating the Sendai 89ers at home. Yet despite all the changes in leadership, this much remains unclear: Who will become the team's go-to scorer in down-to-the-wire games?

All-Stars announced: Fan voting has determined the starting five for Team East and Team West for the 2008-09 All-Star Game, which will be played on Jan. 25 in Beppu, Oita Prefecture.

For the East, guards Cohey Aoki of the Tokyo Apache and Akitomo Takeno of the Niigata Albirex BB will start in the backcourt. In the frontcourt, Bobby St. Preux of the Sendai 89ers and Reggie Warren of the Saitama Broncos are the starting forwards. Hamamatsu Higashimikawa center Sun Ming Ming, the popular 236-cm giant, is also in the lineup.

For the West, Naoto Takushi of the Ryukyu Golden Kings and Kimitake Sato of the Oita HeatDevils are the starting guards. Kazuya Hatano of the Osaka Evessa and Gordon James of the Takamatsu Five Arrows are the starting forwards. Ryukyu Golden Kings center Jeff Newton also earned a spot in the starting lineup.

Newton, who collected three championship rings with the Osaka Evessa before joining the Golden Kings in the offseason, received the most votes (38,074), followed by Hatano (34,068), Takushi (32,863), Sun (30,526) and James (28,044).

League officials selected five backups for the East and five more for the West. The East's reserves are: guards Michael Gardener and Yuichi Ikeda of the Phoenix and Albirex, respectively; forwards Rodney Webb and Kazuhiro Shoji of the Albirex and Broncos, respectively; and center Chris Holm of the 89ers.

The West's backups are: guards Takamichi Fujiwara, Rasheed Sparks and Tsuyoshi Kawazura of the Shiga Lakestars, Five Arrows and Rizing Fukuoka, respectively; and forwards Michael Parker and Jeffrey Price of the Rizing and HeatDevils, respectively.

Free-throw shooting woes: The Saitama Broncos are the worst free-throw shooting team in the league. They have converted 222 of 376 foul shots (59 percent). Last season, they shot 72 percent from the charity stripe.

Post players Reggie Warren and Darryl Hepburn are both shooting at a 50-percent clip at the line. Warren is 63-for-126 and Hepburn is 21-for-42.

Guard Yuki Kitamuki is the team's most accurate shooter, knocking down 84.6 percent of his shots (22-for-26).

Looking ahead: The Oita HeatDevils, who are 0-8 at home this season, take on the visiting Shiga Lakestars (9-11 overall, 5-5 on the road) this weekend. Oita is 4-16 overall.

The Niigata Albirex BB (7-11) play host to the Takamatsu Five Arrows (13-5, 6-2).

Christmas holiday: Santa-san has given the Broncos, 89ers, Phoenix, Golden Kings, Evessa and Fukuoka much-needed vacations this week. But there's been no confirmation of the rumor that he put autographed pictures of Michael Jordan in each of their Christmas stockings.



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