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Friday, Feb. 6, 2009

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Ongoing block party key for Golden Kings


Staff writer

"Who's to say where the wind will take you?/Who's to say what it is will break you?/I don't know which way the wind will blow." — U2's Bono sings on "Kite," a song from "All That You Can't Leave Behind."

In the bj-league's topsy-turvy fourth season, there are few, if any, guarantees. Perhaps "Kite" should be this season's theme song.

One of the few constants, however, has been the Ryukyu Golden Kings' tremendous shot-blocking.

No team has a stronger mix of shot-blockers than Dai Oketani's squad.

Forward Anthony McHenry, the league's ninth-ranked shot-blocker (1.8 per game, 45 total) is the lone Golden King among the league's top 10. But Chris Ayer and Jeff Newton are in the mix as well. Both have 47 rejections to date.

Ayer has picked up his 47 blocks in 707 minutes. Newton's current total was accrued in 1,054. And you've got to believe they have a friendly competition going to see who will finish with more blocks.

Block after block has led to win after win for the Golden Kings (22-6). No other statistic has been more vital to their victory total.

And hey, it's simple mathematics. When a team has two or three bona-fide rejection artists on the floor at the same time, the opponent's offense can run as smoothly as an 18-wheeler on a bumpy road.

Just ask the Takamatsu Five Arrows, Rizing Fukuoka and Oita HeatDevils, who are a combined 0-12 against Ryukyu.

Inside presence: Rizing Fukuoka center Shawn Taylor blocked 10 shots in a two-point win over the Oita HeatDevils on Sunday, accomplishing the league's season-best total in 28 minutes. Teammate Michael Parker also had a six-block outing.

Taylor swatted six shots in the series opener.

Let's recap: Taylor had 16 block shots in two games (56 total minutes). That's a Superman-level rate of efficiency. And his inside presence could be the X-factor for Fukuoka coach John Neumann's team in the season's second half as it strives to remain in playoff contention.

Taylor, 24, has played in 13 games since joining Fukuoka in early December. He's quickly made his mark as one of the league's top defensive talents. The well-traveled pivotman attended the University of Alabama (2004-05) and Chipola College in Florida (2005-06) before wrapping up his collegiate career at Fresno State.

Looking ahead: Ten teams are in action this weekend, but none of the five series features two teams with winning records.

The weekend docket is as follows: The Toyama Grouses (7-21) vs. the Saitama Broncos (12-16); the Shiga Lakestars (11-17) vs. the Osaka Evessa (18-10); the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (18-10) vs. the Sendai 89ers (14-14); the Oita HeatDevils (5-23) vs. the Takamatsu Five Arrows (19-9); and the Ryukyu Golden Kings (22-6) vs. the Rizing Fukuoka (12-16).

Astute observation: "This is kind of the tough part of the season . . . the dog days of the season," Tokyo Apache coach Joe Bryant said, citing players' health as the biggest factor.

Midway through the bj-league season, Bryant noted, Apache standouts John "Helicopter" Humphrey and Nick Davis are injured, and NBA players Andrew Bynum (Lakers), Jameer Nelson (Magic) and Chris Paul (Hornets) also are sidelined due to various ailments.

By the numbers: The Phoenix, winners of 10 straight games, have a league-best plus-11.6 point differential, averaging 92.0 points and allowing 80.4. . . . Grouses point guard Haruhito Shishito has 119 assists and 46 turnovers in the books.

Stat line of the week: It's worth repeating that Albirex guard Akitomo Takeno was 8-for-8 from the field, including 5-for-5 on 3-point attempts, and 5-for-5 from the free-throw line in Wednesday's game against the Apache. In other words, he made all 13 shots in a sensational 19-minute performance.

Wow.

But I was left with this question the next morning: Did the 23-year-old purchase a lottery ticket before the clock struck midnight?



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