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Friday, March 26, 2010


Takada's promotion giving Evessa a boost

Staff writer

Quality coaches make the most of down time.

They'll use this invaluable time — a long offseason or a bye week — to add new wrinkles to a team's offense and defense, reflect on a team's strengths and weaknesses and, possibly, contemplate a shakeup of their player rotation.

For Osaka Evessa coach Kensaku Tennichi, mid-January, or precisely two weeks before the All-Star break, proved to be a much-needed time to step back, take a deep breath and properly analyze the season. (Osaka was 11-13 at the time.)

After that break, Tennichi inserted rookie guard Hirohisa Takada into the starting lineup and the move has paid dividends.

The Evessa are 11-3 since then, all games in which the former Ritsumeikan University player has started.

Takada has had a pair of double-digit scoring games in that span, including an 18-point effort (6-for-9 from 3-point range) on Feb. 14. He's played as few as 12 minutes and as many as 29 since earning a spot in the starting lineup. He scored nine points on 3-for-3 3-point shooting in a blowout win over the Kyoto Hannaryz last Sunday.

If anything, Takada's emergence as a starter enables Tennichi to keep other players fresh and energetic for the fourth quarter.

The Evessa have five double-digit scorers: Lynn Washington (19.0 points per game), David Palmer (14.3), Nile Murry (13.8), Ryan Blackwell (12.5) and Jason Klotz (10.0).

Klotz is the team's new center. Averaging 8.0 rebounds, he's appeared in 10 games.

At 33, Blackwell is the Evessa's oldest regular player and one of the league's smartest players. He has settled into his role as a backup with nine starts in 34 games.

Takada, meanwhile, is gaining valuable experience and learning all about the physical and mental demands of being a pro player.

The Evessa's success also stems from their ability to take care of the basketball. They have 578 assists and 422 turnovers to date.

Forwards Washington (95 assists, 62 turnovers) and Blackwell (115 assists, 85 turnovers) play pivotal roles in the team's inside-outside game, which in turn makes point guard Murry (178 assists, 78 turnovers) more effective. Call it a triple-threat passing attack.

The more productivity Tennichi can get from his other players, namely Takada, Jun Nakanishi, Shota Konno, the better chance his team will remain energized as the playoff race heats up.

Osaka (22-16), which sits in third place in the Western Conference, visits the Takamatsu Five Arrows (11-29) this weekend.

Other Saturday-Sunday matchups include Rizing Fukuoka (24-16) vs. Kyoto Hannaryz (14-24), Saitama Broncos (13-25) vs. Niigata Albirex BB (18-20), Toyama Grouses (14-24) vs. Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (30-8) and Ryukyu Golden Kings (26-14) vs. Oita HeatDevils (20-22).

Weekly honor: Tokyo Apache center Julius Ashby carried his team in the fourth quarter of last Thursday's series finale against the Broncos at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2. He scored 16 fourth-quarter points on 8-for-8 shooting and finished with 26 points in a two-point victory.

On the previous day, the native of Trinidad and Tobago scored 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in an 88-82 Tokyo triumph.

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

In his second season with Tokyo, Ashby, an explosive finisher, is averaging 19.8 points and 10.0 rebounds per game.

The Apache (14-24) began their two-game series against the Sendai 89ers (26-12), who brought a nine-game winning streak to Kanto, on Thursday.

With his team's playoff hopes still a realistic possibility, Ashby recognizes that it's his job to be a top scoring option when he has the hot hand.

"I just kept hitting them," he said after his terrific fourth-quarter effort on March 18. "When it keeps going in, you've got to keep shooting."

Ashby was asked what it felt like in that frantic fourth quarter, when his shot was unstoppable despite a variety of selections — post-ups, hooks, layups, jumpers.

He called it "indescribable."

After playing in the bj-league finals in 2007 (for the Five Arrows) and last spring for the Apache, Ashby remains as hungry as ever to win his first title.

Tokyo's goal, he said, "is to see if we can squeeze into the playoffs" after a tumultuous start to the season.

Making an impact: Washington believes Hannaryz guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf's decision to play here this season has been a win-win situation for the league.

"Abdul-Rauf is a guy that demands respect when he is on the court because of everything he has accomplished on the basketball court," Washington said of the 41-year-old. "The play of ex-NBA players is needed in this league as the sport becomes more popular in Japan. When you play against him you have to guard him and pay attention to him on every possession. He can still play. That right there says a lot about his health and the way he takes care of himself.

"Younger guys need to take a pen and pad with them when they see Abdul-Rauf to pick his mind."

Did you know?: Since a 20-point loss to the Golden Kings on Valentine's Day, Sendai has won its past nine games by an average margin of 15.6 points.

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