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Friday, Nov. 27, 2009

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Sticky fingers help Phoenix to fast start


Staff writer

Take the ball away from your foe. It's one of the oldest strategies in any playbook, and opportunistic defense has helped the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix triumph in 11 of their first 12 games.

Coach Kazuo Nakamura's club relies on good old-fashioned anticipation to force takeaways. That aggressive defense serves as the catalyst for the team's high-octane offense as it has ascended to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

Furthermore, steals have been a collective effort, not a standout statistic for one or two Hamamatsu players. Swingman Wendell White leads the team with 26 steals.

Veteran William Knight is chasing him for the team lead, with 20 takeaways to date, followed by Masahiro Oguchi, Limar Wilson and Shingo Okada with 19 apiece.

Kazutoshi Ota rounds out the top six with 10 steals.

All told, the Phoenix have collected 121 steals to go along with 25 blocked shots. This illustrates the team's reliance on quickness more than sheer size to beat opponents. It's time to credit Nakamura for preaching the value of defense and then motivating his players to execute it effectively on the court.

The Western Conference-leading Ryukyu Golden Kings (7-3) on the other hand, have three gifted shot-blockers in Jeff Newton, George Leach and Anthony McHenry, as evidenced by the team's 56 rejections through 10 games. But they've also made 53 steals, a reminder of their defensive fortitude and activity on the perimeter and in the lane.

Hamamatsu plays host to the Rizing Fukuoka (9-5) this weekend. Other Saturday-Sunday series are as follows: Sendai 89ers (9-5) vs. Saitama Broncos (6-8), Kyoto Hannaryz (3-9) vs. Shiga Lakestars (7-7) Osaka Evessa (7-5) vs. Takamatsu Five Arrows (4-10) and Oita HeatDevils (5-7) vs. Ryukyu.

New name unveiled: The Shimane franchise, which will join the league for the 2010-11 season as it expands to 16 teams, will be known as the Shimane Susanoo Magic.

Susanoo is "the Shinto god of the sea and storms," according to Wikipedia.

Originally, there were 898 team nickname ideas submitted to Shimane's management company. The list was trimmed to 500 and then to three finalists during the intriguing, time-consuming project.

The Akita Northern Happinets and a to-be-named Miyazaki franchise will also begin play next fall.

Weekly honor: Saitama center Terrence Roberts is the Circle K Sunkus Player of the Week, the league announced on Tuesday. Roberts scored 14 points in a victory Saturday over the visiting 89ers and had 13 points in the series finale to help the Broncos earn a weekend sweep.

League leaders: Rizing forward Michael Parker is the No. 1 scorer (29.3 points per game) entering this weekend's games.

Five Arrows point guard Michael Gardener is tops in assists (6.0).

Toyama big man Kirby Lemons is first in rebounds (15.4).

Parker is also No. 1 in steals (3.4), while Oita center Rashaad Singleton leads in blocks (4.6).

Greene update: Former bj-league referee Tim Greene is working in the NBA Development League this season. The season is set to tip off on Nov. 27. Greene served as a replacement official during the NBA preseason, when the league's regular officials were involved in a labor dispute and a league-imposed lockout.



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