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Friday, Dec. 4, 2009
Five Arrows fighting back after rough start
By ED ODEVEN
The Takamatsu Five Arrows have quietly crept into the conversation about the teams with the best chance to shake things up in the Western Conference playoff hunt.
Though they are in sixth place in the seven-team conference, the Five Arrows have made rapid progress since veteran coach John Neumann's club added foreign players to the roster following an 0-5 start (0-4 without any imports) and an offseason tarnished by uncertainty over the team's future.
As you may recall, there was even talk the team might skip the season due to a lack of finances and re-enter the league for the 2010-11 campaign. That, of course, was a major setback for the team as it sought to build a quality roster for the start of the season.
Quick update: Takamatsu (5-11) has won five of its past 12 games, not a fantastic feat, but it indicates the team has made improvements in recent weeks.
Point guard Michael Gardener is the clear leader of this squad after spending last season with the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix and the 2007-08 season as a backcourt standout for the Neumann-coached Rizing Fukuoka.
In Gardener's season debut on Oct. 17, a 15-point loss to the Kyoto Hannaryz, he scored 29 points. Since then, he has directed the team's fast-paced attack with confidence and a sense of urgency as the team climbs out of the unavoidable hole it fell in to start the season.
Gardener is the league's third-leading scorer (23.5 points per game) and No. 1 passer (6.8 assists).
Blessed with an explosive first step and excellent court awareness, his speedy excursions into the lane create scoring chances for himself and his teammates. And he's capable and confident to set up shop on the perimeter, where he's always willing and ready to take a shot.
Fourth-year Five Arrow guard Yu Okada is the team's top 3-point shooter (56-for-146) and is tied for No. 8 in the league in scoring with Oita's Mike Bell (20.8 points).
Under Neumann's watchful eye, Okada's growth as a defensive playmaker has also flourished. He's second in the league in steals (2.6 per game).
Big man Antoine Broxsie, another newcomer, has settled into his role as a shot-blocker. The 30-year-old made his season debut on Oct. 17 and made five blocks and has eight games with three or more rejections. He's the league's No. 2 shot-blocker (2.9 per game).
Shooting guard Satoshi Takeda is a dependable complimentary scorer (10.6 ppg), followed by Shuichi Takada (9.9 ppg).
Rounding out the top five in scoring is ex-University of Louisville center Terrance Farley, who played his first game on Oct. 31 and is scoring 9.1 ppg. Farley, 24, has nothing but upside as a youngster trying to make a strong impression here and build a better future for himself as a pro player.
Takamatsu has played 10 of its first 16 games on the road, posting a 2-8 record in those contests. Obviously, this number must improve if the team has a chance of qualifying for the playoffs.
For now, though, Neumann's focus is on the immediate task at hand: a two-game home series against the Rizing (10-6), his former club which didn't extend his contract after the 2008-09 season.
This weekend's other series are Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (12-2) vs. Osaka Evessa (8-6), Shiga Lakestars (8-8) vs. Ryukyu Golden Kings (9-3) and Oita HeatDevils (5-9) vs. Toyama Grouses (5-5).
The Tokyo Apache (5-7) and Niigata Albirex BB (2-8) resume their rivalry on Monday and Tuesday at the Yamato Sports Center in Kanagawa Prefecture. Neither team has played since Nov. 15.
League accolades: Phoenix swingman Wendell White, who averaged 29.9 points and 11.8 rebounds from Oct. 31 to Nov. 29, was named the league's November MVP. Rizing guard Tsuyoshi Kawazura, who scored 27 points (8-for-11 from the field and 10-for-11 at the free-throw line) in Sunday's triumph over the Hamamatsu after a zero-point effort in the series opener, is the Circle K Sunkus Player of the Week.
Overlooked: Unintentionally missing from the recap of Sunday's games in Monday's editions was a mention of Bobby Nash's brilliant effort for the Shiga Lakestars in a 95-54 win over the Kyoto Hannaryz. Nash had a season-high 34 points on 11-for-15 shooting, including 8-for-11 from 3-point range. Now it'll be especially interesting to follow Nash's progress in the weeks to come, seeing if this game served as a springboard for him on offense.