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Friday, Jan. 29, 2010

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Golden Kings confident despite losing Newton


Staff writer

The Ryukyu Golden Kings' championship aspirations took a major hit last weekend when Jeff Newton sustained a dislocated left shoulder in Saturday's game against the Kyoto Hannaryz.

The reigning regular-season and playoff MVP will be sidelined for several weeks.

The team is hopeful Newton will be ready to return to action in April, in time for the season's stretch run. Only time will tell if that assessment is accurate.

Barring a second-half collapse, the Western Conference-leading Golden Kings (19-9 overall, 11-5 on the road) will still remain one of the favorites to contend for a title this season. But many people around the league believe the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (21-5), the Eastern Conference's powerhouse team, will win their first title this season.

Newton's steady production (15.4 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game), leadership and respect from his peers (he's the only bj-league player to be a part of four championship squads) cannot be emulated, but Ryukyu has a versatile, talented roster, even without leading scorer Shigeyuki Kinjo (18.0 ppg), who last played on Nov. 27 due to knee injury.

Clearly, the off-season signing of Newton's former Indiana University teammate and center George Leach (14.3 ppg) becomes even more significant in the weeks to come.

Golden Kings president/general manager Tatsuro Kimura, the architect of the team's 2008-09 championship squad, remains confident that the team will emerge as a more resilient club later this season.

"Of course, the impact of Jeff's absence won't be small," Kimura said, "so that I may have to add new players. Even though we are having tough games lately, the Kings will be OK, and will be great again once Jeff and Kinjo come back in April, with other players (gaining) a lot of experience while they are absent.

"We will be tougher and deeper in the springtime for the playoff run, I can guarantee."

Already this season, we have seen Yosuke Sugawara (9.2 ppg) flourish as Kinjo's capable replacement. Forward Anthony McHenry (12.3 ppg), Bryan Simpson (9.3 ppg) and Tsubasa Yonamine (7.7 ppg) will also be counted on to pick up the scoring slack in Newton's absence.

For Sunday's All-Star Game, Newton was voted in as a starting forward for the Western Conference. He was to join Leach and fellow ex-IU standout Lynn Washington (Osaka Evessa) in the frontcourt.

On Thursday, a league spokesman said a replacement player will not be appointed to take Newton's All-Star spot.

Rizing Fukuoka star Michael Parker, the league's leading scorer (26.7 ppg) and Oita HeatDevils standout Ricky Woods, the No. 4 scorer (23.6 ppg) are listed as the Western Conference's backup forwards for the mid-season showcase game in Rifu, Miyagi Prefecture. One of them will step into the starting lineup.

But here's my suggestion: Make Hannaryz rookie forward Josh Bostic, one of the league's most exciting young players (22.6 points and 2.1 steals), Newton's replacement.

Around the league: Want to watch a dunk artist in action?

Simpson is showcased on YouTube's Golden Kings channel ( www.youtube.com/RyukyuGoldenKings ). Check out Bryan Simpson's Dunk Course Vols. 1-5. . . . Sunday's All-Star Game will be broadcast live on BS Fuji from noon to 2:45 p.m.). . . .

Forward Rodney Webb, who has previously suited up for the Toyama Grouses, Niigata Albirex BB and Sendai 89ers, is averaging 8.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 1.0 assists and 1.0 blocks per game while playing for the NBA Development League's Bakersfield Jam.

The bulky 201-cm veteran, who played college ball at Florida Atlantic University, has started 14 of the 23 games he's appeared in.

He's averaging 25.6 minutes per game. Bakersfield (5-19) has the worst record in the West Conference and returns to the hardwood on Friday against the Idaho Stampede.

Name revealed: Miyazaki's expansion franchise, which joins the league next season, will be known as the Miyazaki Shining Suns, it was announced on Thursday.

Previously, the Akita Northern Happinets and the Shimane Susanoo Magic, the other expansion clubs for the 2010-11 season, have revealed their team names.

Next season, there will be 16 teams in the league. Six squads played in the league's inaugural season, 2005-06.

The rumor mill: Veteran big man Nick Davis, cut by the Tokyo Apache a few weeks ago, is in discussions with another bj-league team, according to a source. Davis, who lives in Atlanta, has handled his own contract negotiations over the past few years without the help of an agent. . . . Center Chris Ayer, who helped the Golden Kings win a title last season, is looking to return to Japan for the second half of the bj-league season. Ayer was released by the NBA Development League's Utah Flash in mid-December.

League accolades: Oita's Ricky Woods was named January's Player of the Month. The Southeastern Louisiana University product averaged 26.3 points and 12.5 rebounds in month, helping his team win four of six games. Woods dropped 44 and 40 points on the Albirex on Jan. 16 and 17.

Hannaryz shooting guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf turned back the clock last weekend, draining a game-winning shot with 5 seconds left to lift Kyoto to a 68-66 win on Saturday over the Golden Kings. With the victory, the Hannaryz completed a weekend sweep.

Abdul-Rauf scored 15 points in the series finale after a 12-game performance in the opener. He is the Circle K Sunkus Player of the Week.

A former NBA player and LSU standout, the 40-year-old missed nine straight games with a calf injury before facing Ryukyu last weekend. He is averaging 16.6 ppg.

Parting thoughts (Part I): I realize keeping costs down are an important part of the bj-league's overall business strategy, but it's time for the league to expand All-Star rosters to 12 players per squad. Surely, the cost of a few extra All-Star uniforms and other related expenses are a wise investment for the publicity-starved league.

Consider: The league has added seven expansion teams since it began play in the fall of 2006 with six clubs. And the 13-team league will have three new squads in the fold next season. That's a lot of players, several stars and upcoming standouts, who are not given an opportunity to be realistically considered for All-Star roster spots.

It's an honor to represent one's team in an All-Star Game. It should be every player's dream. And hey, if more players were included, it would give more fans a chance to watch some of their favorite players in what should be a genuine showcase game for the league.

Keeping All-Star rosters at 10 players per team is as unappealing as expired milk.

Here's hoping logic prevails and more players are included in next season's game.

Parting thoughts (Part II): The bj-league has an opportunity to generate plenty of positive media coverage and be a leader in Japan's philanthropic endeavors at the same time.

How?

It can organize fundraising efforts to help Haiti rebuild from the poverty-stricken country's recent devastating earthquake. The effort can begin at Saturday's All-Star Game and continue throughout the season's second half at all league contests.

Throughout the world, athletes and entertainers have publicly pledged billions of dollars for Haiti, but it seems that Japan's celebrities have been completely silent on the issue.

(Of course, they support other worthwhile causes, but why hasn't a Japanese athlete or a Japan-based foreign celebrity been a vocal supporter of aid for Haiti?)

The bj-league can break the mold, the pointless silence, by reaching out to international relief organizations to offer assistance.



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