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Friday, March 12, 2010

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Sendai looking good as stretch run begins


Staff writer

Ten games represent nearly one-fifth of the bj-league season. It's a significant chunk of games, and at this stage of the season a fair measuring stick of a team's title potential.

Take the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix, Sendai 89ers and Osaka Evessa. All three clubs chalked up eight wins in their past 10 games.

As any coach will tell you, an .800 winning percentage is always a good sign.

The 89ers, coming off a bye week, have added additional firepower in versatile forward Nick DeWitz, an Oregon State product, for the season's stretch run. And already the team has the league's stingiest defense (71.8 points per game).

Sendai (22-12) meets the host Niigata Albirex BB (18-18) this weekend looking to continue its commitment to quality defense. Coach Honoo Hamaguchi's club has won five straight games, and during its 8-2 stretch the 89ers won six of those games by holding foes between 66-69 points.

Indeed, Albirex coach Masaya Hirose will stress the importance of putting points on the board — and in a hurry — against the 89ers in the upcoming series.

It wouldn't be a surprise if he said the words "70 points" at least 70 times during practice this week.

The 89ers, who are second in the Eastern Conference, have won both games against the third-place Albirex. Those games were played on Oct. 17-18, with the 89ers edging Niigata by four points twice.

Up-and-coming point guard Akitomo Takeno could be the X-factor for the Albirex this weekend. He had a 17-point game on Oct. 17, but scored zero points on 0-for-5 shooting in the rematch.

When Takeno, a 10.2 ppg scorer, scores points in bunches, Niigata becomes a dangerous team by forcing opponents to stretch their defense and not set up shop close to the basket.

Also on the docket this weekend: Toyama Grouses (13-21) vs. Shiga Lakestars (20-18), Saitama Broncos (13-21) vs. Oita HeatDevils (16-22), Kyoto Hannaryz (13-21) vs. Hamamatsu (29-7) and Ryukyu Golden Kings (24-14) vs. Takamatsu Five Arrows (11-25).

The Tokyo Apache and Rizing Fukuoka opened a two-game series on Thursday in Kyushu.

Player of the Week: Lakestars power forward Gary Hamilton leads the league in rebounds (14.5 per game), and also is the team's leader in assists (127), steals (70) and blocks (23). He shares the No. 2 scoring spot on the team along with newcomer Mikey Marshall (14.0 ppg).

In helping Shiga sweep Tokyo last weekend in Yokohama, Hamilton played a key role for second-year coach Bob Pierce's club. He had eight points, 19 boards and six assists in the opener and 14 points, 19 rebounds and three assists a day later.

Hamilton is the Circle K Sunkus Player of the Week, the league announced on Tuesday.

A former University of Miami (Fla.) player, he has started all 37 games he's played in. He's had a pair of 24-rebound games and three 22-board performances.

Hamilton takes pride in his rebounding skills.

"That's my game," he said in a post-game interview on March 6. "That's what I grew up doing."

Hamilton didn't play organized ball until his junior year in high school, so he said that his first priorities were rebounding and passing.

"I didn't have so many offensive skills," he admitted.

Now that he's established himself as one of the Lakestars' most important players, Hamilton has no problem reflecting on why rebounding is so important to him.

"I think rebounding is the key to winning," he said, "and I don't mind getting my hands dirty."

The pressure's on: The HeatDevils' final non-conference games are scheduled for this weekend against the Broncos. After that, first-year coach Brian Rowsom's team faces Ryukyu four times and plays two games apiece against Takamatsu, Kyoto, Osaka and Shiga.

In other words, Oita, now in fifth place, is still in the mix for a playoff spot.

The HeatDevils missed leading scorer Ricky Woods last weekend while he nursed a sprained ankle, but he'll likely play against Saitama. He had a league-record 52 points on Feb. 28 against Tokyo.

Miscellany: The Apache entered the week with a winning record (3-1) against only one team, the Broncos. . . . Kirby Lemons had a solid first series with Broncos after the team picked him up following his release from Toyama. He posted a double-double (16 points, 13 rebounds) in 23 minutes in the home opener against Takamatsu and had a 23-point, 22-rebound effort in the rematch, helping Saitama earn a series sweep.

Did you know?: Two former and one current bj-league player have been recognized for their overall impact as college players by being named to SI.com's All-Glue Team. Written by Seth Davis, the annual squad is now in its 11th season.

In 2002, UCLA's William (Billy) Knight of UCLA, who now plays for Hamamatsu, was named to the squad. In 2001, Marcus Toney-El of Seton Hall, who later played for Saitama, was also chosen. In 2000, the first-ever All-Glue Team included Duke's Nate James, who spent time with Toyama during its inaugural season. Only five or six players out of the hundreds who play for Division I teams in the United States are selected.

In his March 9 online story, Davis describes a Glue Guy as a player who is "hard to define but easy to spot,"

He wrote: "You won't pick him out by reading the stat sheet. He's the guy who sets screens, dives for loose balls and makes the extra pass. . . . He is a good leader and teammate. He has an unusual combination of skills, like a big guy who can shoot or a guard who gets rebounds."

Look for The Japan Times to compile its own similar list for bj-league players in the near future.



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