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Monday, Jan. 26, 2009

BJ-LEAGUE ALL-STAR GAME NOTEBOOK

Hometown hero Suzuki pips Garrison in 3-Point Contest


Staff writer

Oita HeatDevils guard Yukinori Suzuki triumphed in the 3-Point Contest, ending Matt Garrison's two-year reign as champion.

Suzuki scored 14 points in the first round on Sunday at B-Con Plaza, winding up in a three-way tie for second place along with Garrison and Tokyo Apache guard Cohey Aoki. After a quick rock-paper-scissors game decided the order, Garrison, a former Niigata Albirex BB standout who now plays for the Takamatsu Five Arrows, won the right to shoot first — a one-shot tiebreaker, that is.

Garrison was off the mark on a shot from the top of the 3-point arc. Suzuki, shooting second, nailed his shot from the right corner. Aoki took his shot from the same spot as Garrison, and missed it.

That narrowed the competition down to Suzuki and Saitama Broncos sharpshooter Kazuhiro Shoji, who led all players with 15 points in the first round. (As is customary in 3-point contests around the world, players take 25 shots in 60 seconds, five from each of the two corners, five from both the left and right wings and five from the top of the 3-point arc; balls are placed on a metal rack. One ball per rack is worth two points, the others are one point per make.)

In the final round, Suzuki scored 14 points, heating up at the end of the round.

"The left corner is my favorite spot," Suzuki said after winning the competition on the day of the bj-league's third annual All-Star festivities.

Shoji had a nine-point score in the final round. He was 0-for-5 from the right corner, a difficult start in any round of competition.

Other contestants included Hamamatsu's Michael Gardener and Ryukyu's Shigeyuki Kinjo, who were eliminated after 10- and nine-point rounds, respectively.

The 3-Point Contest began at 10:30 a.m., an earlier time of day than games are typically held. This early start didn't help the six contestants' cause.

"Everybody was kind of talking about that," Garrison said. "We had to check out of the hotel at 8 o'clock, so that was kind of an early start."

Was Garrison's shooting out of rhythm?

"We practice at 1 (p.m.), so it was different. We don't practice at 10. We're not even at the gym at 10," Garrison said, speaking of the Five Arrows' typical schedule. "Everyone was saying that, all the players were saying that: 'Man this is different.' "

This also affected the All-Star game as well, Garrison suggested.

"That's why the first few quarters were slow and raggedy a little bit," he continued. "Guys were kind of out of it. But once we got going (it picked up)."

Garrison smiled as he talked about the 3-Point Contest and admitted he's a better shooter when he releases his shots more quickly, calling 20 points a realistic target if he would've qualified for the championship round.

"I know I would have (done it) because I went too slow the first time and I usually go fast," he said. "When I go fast, I make them and I was going too slow and I then I was like, 'Oh, that's what I need.' If I go quick, I get into a rhythm."

Call Garrison a perfectionist if you'd like. Call him a veteran student of the game. And call him a shooter who never likes to make less than 50 percent of his shots.

"That's the way it goes," he said, summing up the contest. "It was bad.

"For 15 to win, that's just not good enough. All of us didn't shoot well. All of us can shoot better. It was pretty bad."

Garrison, however, has learned to appreciate the following he has gained among Japanese basketball fans. Indeed, he's carved a niche for himself here.

"A lot of people know me as the 3-point champ. A lot of the fans are like, 'Matto, 3-point, 3-point,' " he said. "Every time I go into the gym on another team, the fans say, 'Matto, no 3-point.' That's what I say."

Then, seconds later, Garrison demonstrated that he understands good sportsmanship.

"I'm happy for Yuki (Suzuki), though," Garrison said. "His family was here. This is his hometown.

"It's good for Yuki. It's good for him."

And now Garrison is counting down the minutes until he gets another chance to shoot 3-pointers. (He told this reporter that on Saturday he had the gym to himself for one hour and took 300 shots. That's one example of his never-wavering commitment to his craft.)

"I can't wait to get back into the gym and get another crack at it (hitting a 3-point shot)," he said.

The Five Arrows face host Shiga Lakestars on Jan. 31.

Mystery solved: Rizing Fukuoka small forward Michael Parker, who leads the league with 26.3 points per game, added a 29-point All-Star outing to his impressive season-long stat sheet.

After he received the MIP award after the game, the "I" in MIP remained a mystery to him.

"I thought it was (for) 'Important' but I'm really not sure," he said with several reporters surrounding him. "But I just know that it was given to whoever the best player on the losing team was."

Now he knows the official word: Impressive.

As far as the outcome of the game, "I think it would've been nice if it had been closer and we would've won, but you know how All-Star Games are: they are competitive, but it's more of a show for the fans," Parker added.

Amusing, true insight: After he was asked what would be the key to block one of Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix center Sun Ming Ming's 3-point shots, Parker offered his perspective.

"You have to jump even before he thinks about shooting it because you have to get your hands up there where his hands are," said Parker, without needing to elaborate on the 236-cm center's wingspan.

But he did.

"So when he makes the move to shoot, that's when you have to fully commit to jump, because I don't think he's going to pump-fake and dribble around you," Parker added.

Satisfying experience: HeatDevils guard Kimitake Sato, who had an eight-point outing in front of his team's hometown fans, summarized his All-Star experience by saying it was "great enjoyment and a great feeling," including the Dunk Contest and 3-Point Contest.

Dunk maestro: Golden Kings forward Bryan Simpson scored a perfect 50 points in the final round of the Dunk Contest to secure the championship hardware.

He began the round with a little help from a teammate, Jeff Newton, who climbed a ladder and worked in tandem on an unconventional alley-oop, lobbing the ball high and in the perfect spot for Simpson to leap, grab the ball and slam in through the net in one swift, forceful motion.

Simpson ended the round with an old-school style play: a full-court run and a leap from the foul line (a la Julius "Dr. J" Erving or Michael Jordan of yesteryear) and a climatic strong dunk. In between, Simpson dazzled the crowd by jumping over Golden Kings teammate Naoto Takushi en route to a dunk.

"I'm really happy that I was able to come here and win," Simpson said. "This is for all the people in Okinawa."

Toyama Grouses guard Yoshihiro Tachibana placed second in the final, scoring 46 points. Earlier, he donned a black cape, mimicking Black Jack, one of the bj-league's mascots, to surprise the fans. He was awarded 46 points in round one, while Simpson earned 47 and advanced to the two-man final.

In the first round, two-time champion Rasheed Sparks of the Five Arrows , the first participant, earned 40 points, never quite exhibiting the same electric athleticism that he's shown in previous contests.

Odds and ends: The 2009-10 All-Star Game will be played in Miyagi Prefecture and hosted by the Sendai 89ers; Both teams finished with 21 assists in Sunday's All-Star game. The East had 15 turnovers, while the West committed 10; Both teams practiced once — on Saturday — in preparation for the midseason showcase; Golden Kings center Jeff Newton attempted more foul shots (seven) than the entire Eastern Conference squad (three).



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