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Friday, Jan. 15, 2010

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Fukuoka trio keeping Rizing in the running


Staff writer

Basketball aficionados speak about the value of a "Big Three" to a team's championship hopes.

News photo
Dependable scorer: Rizing Fukuoka guard Kohei Mitomo has made a solid impact for his team this season, averaging 11.3 points per game and scoring a number of big baskets to help coach Tadaharu Ogawa's club win 16 of its first 26 games. RIZING FUKUOKA / bj-league

In the 1980s, the Boston Celtics (Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish) and the Los Angeles Lakers (Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy) featured prototypical trios that produced NBA titles.

In recent years, the San Antonio Spurs (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili) demonstrated similar qualities.

In the bj-league, the Rizing Fukuoka feature a terrific trio of their own, one that has helped the team emerge as a formidable force in the Western Conference this season. Exuberant forward Michael Parker, the league's leading scorer (26.2 points per game), and Marlyn Bryant (17.5 ppg) have dominated the headlines for the much-improved Rizing Fukuoka. But veteran guard Kohei Mitomo, an 11.3 ppg scorer, has also played a vital role in the team's success.

The Rizing are 11-4 when Mitomo scores 10 or more points, including Jan. 24 when the dependable pro was 5-for-8 from 3-point range and scored a season-best 24 points in a two-point win over the Sendai 89ers.

"He is a good shooter," Osaka Evessa coach Kensaku Tennichi said of Mitomo. "He also can drive to the basket, even if there is big guy under the rim.

"But I think his biggest advantage is his mind-set. He is not going to be afraid of a big defender. He knows he is going to try to score (utilizing) his skills. He has an attacking mind-set, and that's what I like about him.

"He also has pretty good ball-handling skills, he's quick and he's a good player."

Statistically, you can't argue with Tennichi's assessment. Mitomo fills his role effectively for first-year coach Tadaharu Ogawa's club. He's a reliable free-throw shooter (78.6 percent, 55-for-70) in a league where only a few Japanese players consistently exhibit the willingness to attack the basket on a regular basis. He also leads the team in 3-pointers (45).

Takamatsu Five Arrows coach John Neumann, who coached the Rizing during the first two years of the team's history, has also taken noticed of Mitomo's exemplary performance in the 2009-10 season.

"Mitomo is a great player and Rizing made some good signings of imports to take the pressure off of Parker," said Neumann. "What can I tell you except that Mitomo started for me and Parker and Bryant are my players. . . . I am glad they are doing well."

First-year Fukuoka players Richard Ford Jr. (10.0 ppg), Isaiah Fox (6.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Brazilian center Thiago Cordeiro (6.3 ppg) have made solid contributions to the team's success.

While Parker's all-around numbers — No. 1 in the league in scoring after capturing the title last season, No. 1 in steal (2.9 per game), No. 1 in minutes (1,048) and No. 3 in blocks (2.3 per game) — will be a major topic in the weeks and months to come, the Rizing have ascended to the league's elite level this season by becoming a force on the road (8-4) and maximizing the efforts of their players, especially Mitomo, Parker and Bryant.

Fukuoka (16-10 overall) plays a two-game road series against the Saitama Broncos (10-12) this weekend.

Also on the books for Saturday and Sunday are the following matchups: Oita HeatDevils (9-15) vs. Niigata Albirex BB (11-11), Shiga Lakestars (13-13) vs. Sendai 89ers (14-10), Toyama Grouses (9-11) vs. Ryukyu Golden Kings (18-6).

Ambitious project: The Osaka Evessa have established the Young Star Basketball Program, a three-year project to promote basketball and increase youth and adult involvement in the sport.

The franchise will launch an Osaka Evessa II "satellite team" for the purpose of developing younger players, coaches and sports management personnel, as well as expanded basketball school opportunities in the future.

Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto attended pre-game ceremonies on Jan. 9 at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium, where the program's establishment was formally announced.

More information is available by calling 0120-937-625 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.

Penalized: Osaka Evessa power forward Lynn Washington received a one-game suspension for throwing a punch in last Saturday's game against Ryukyu. He will serve the suspension by sitting out the Jan. 23 game against the HeatDevils, according a press release issued by the league.

Weekly accolade: Tokyo Apache point guard Cohey Aoki, no stranger to late-game heroics, played a familiar role for his team last Sunday, scoring 14 fourth-quarter points in a 70-58 road win over Niigata. He was 8-for-8 from the free-throw line and had 20 total points.

Aoki, in his fifth season with the Apache, is the Circle K Sunkus Player of the Week, the league recently announced.

On Saturday, Aoki scored 10 points in a seven-point loss to the Albirex. He's averaging 14.7 ppg.

Newton update: Golden Kings All-Star forward Jeff Newton, the league's reigning regular season and playoff MVP who injured his ankle on Jan. 9 against the Evessa, is questionable for this weekend's games against the Grouses, according to Ryukyu general manager/president Tatsuro Kimura.

He didn't play in the series finale against Osaka, his former club.

The initial prognosis is that Newton will be sidelined for one to two weeks, but it could be a game-time decision if his condition improves, Kimura said.

Rare opportunity: Journalist Takao Ando sat down with injured Hannaryz guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and Kyoto interpreter/assistant coach Kazuto Aono for a lengthy interview after Wednesday's Tokyo-Kyoto game at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2.

Their interview session included a wide of topics: rowdy fans at European venues, more subdued fans at Japanese games, his overall favorable impression of the expansion Hannaryz and the bj-league and his desire to return to competition.

Ando's blog (in Japanese) can be seen at hoopdream.jp/

Abdul-Rauf, a former college star at LSU and ex-NBA player, said he appreciates the fact that Japanese fans tend to show genuine respect for basketball players.

"In the United States, you can be averaging 30 points per game through 20 games and you can struggle in your 21st and 22nd games, and your own fans will boo you," he said.

"Here, as long as your work hard and try (fans support you), and I think it's beautiful."

For a league with so many young players, all-embracing support of the players is a key for their development and confidence, Abdul-Rauf said.

As far as the team's growth, he said "we're making some definite improvements with some of the last games we've had."

Wednesday flashback: The Hannaryz limited Tokyo center Julius Ashby, an All-Star, to five shot attempts (two makes) in the series opener. This was by design, Kyoto coach David Benoit admitted after his team's 76-55 victory.

"We really just wanted to make the situation tougher for him to get good shots," Benoit said before commending his team's quick, tenacious defensive recognition and overall aggressive play in holding Ashby to four points.

"When he gets started, he can put up a lot of points."

Benoit, also former NBA player, employed a strategy that countless coaches have turned to over the years. He said there are certain players "you should not let them be who they really are."

With Ashby taken out of the game offensively, the Apache's reliance on 3-point shots (8-for-36) diminished the value of the hosts' possessions.

At the other end of the floor, meanwhile, Kyoto put up 60 two-point attempts to Tokyo's 30. What's more, the Hannaryz had 23 offensive rebounds, including nine by newcomer J.R. Inman, a former Rutgers University forward.

Inman finished with 16 rebounds and 13 points in 24 minutes in his third game in a Kyoto uniform. His presence in the lineup is helping the Hannaryz give Reda Rhalimi ample time to slowly work his way back into the rotation after a 10-game absence due to an ankle stress fracture injury. Rhalimi appeared rusty in the game against Tokyo, and his shooting touch was off the mark; the Moroccan center was 3-for-7 from the field and 0-for-2 at the foul line.

"That's just a credit to him just having that ability," Benoit said of the Inman, who turns 23 in March. "For a kid coming just straight out of college, he wants to really prove himself to be a professional player. So that's always good and (demonstrates) his talent and desire to play professional basketball."

Editor's note: The Web version of the bj-league notebook is uploaded on Friday afternoons and contains a plethora of additional material that is not featured in the print edition.



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