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Monday, May 24, 2010
Old hand Oguchi leads by example
By ED ODEVEN
Veteran guard Masahiro Oguchi's leadership, defensive tenacity, scoring and passing skills helped the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix make a smooth transition from the JBL to the bj-league last season.
This season, he played a quiet but effective role as a defensive sparkplug and a dependable shooter.
Oguchi had a lifetime-high 35 points on Saturday — teammate William Knight said the cerebral leader revealed that fact to him, referring to scholastic, college and pro games — leading the club past the Niigata Albirex BB to reach the championship game. He made a jaw-dropping 10 of 14 3-point shots in the Eastern Conference final, establishing a league record for 3-pointers in a single game.
In the title game, Oguchi didn't need to shoot the lights out, though his contributions were appreciated by Phoenix coach Kazuo Nakamura, his teammates and the team's rowdy, red-clad fans at Ariake Colosseum.
Oguchi had eight points, six rebounds, four steals and three assists in the title game. He missed all four of his 3-point shots, but made all six free throws attempts in 32 minutes.
After their 84-56 victory over the Osaka Evessa in the title game, Oguchi was named the playoff MVP. In doing so, he became the first Japanese to earn the honor in the league's five seasons. (In the first three seasons, though, the league didn't have separate regular-season and playoff MVP awards.)
"I didn't play very good today, but I'm pleased that I won a prize like this," Oguchi said.
"I'm extremely happy," he added. "Osaka is a three-time champion and has good records on its resume. . ."
The 34-year-old Oguchi was the league's sixth-best 3-point shooter (37.3 percent, or 79-for-212) this season.
In short, he was at times an overlooked player on Hamamatsu's deep, talented roster, especially on offense. Case in point: He scored 10 or more points in back-to-back games in December and had only once had three straight double-digit scoring outings, in April.
Coach Kazuo Nakamura recognizes Oguchi's talents, but he also issued a challenge to all of the team's Japanese players before Sunday's final.
"I told our Japanese players, 'Since you guys have been working so hard all year it's got to be you guys that determine the game,' " Nakamura said.
Oguchi was one of the league's top backups. He came off the bench in 40 games, but that didn't hinder his productivity.
He made good decisions with the basketball all season, as evidenced by his 105 assists and 44 turnovers. He also had 83 steals.
He doesn't consider himself a vocal leader, but lets his actions on the court set a positive example for his teammates.
"I can't lead the team with my words," Oguchi said. "But I feel like was able to guide the guys by showing my attitude for things, like chasing loose balls."
In the final weekend of Hamamatsu's superb season, Oguchi's maturity and solid fundamentals were evident in both games. He was a calming influence on his teammates.
He admitted, however, the Phoenix didn't play particularly well early on against Osaka.
"We didn't necessarily get off to a great start in today's game as we did yesterday," he said. "But we won the game with good defense and offense. I particularly give the credit to our defense.
"This championship was won by everybody's effort."
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.