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Friday, Nov. 12, 2010

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Parity keeps things interesting early in the season


Staff writer

A few trends have emerged in the season's opening month.

News photo
Fine partnership: Shimane Susanoo Magic point guard Takumi Ishizaki (left) and coach Zeljko Pavlicevic have helped the club begin its inaugural season with five wins in its first eight games. KYODO PHOTO

First and foremost, there are a number of teams still searching for their identity.

Through Sunday, 11 teams have between three and five wins, while three have a league-low two wins (Tokyo, Saitama, Miyazaki).

In addition, Shimane point guard Takumi Ishizaki has proven to be one of the league's most exciting players. He's a gifted floor leader who was a smart acquisition by coach Zeljko Pavlicevic's expansion team. Ishizaki and Ryukyu's Tsubasa Yonamine are tied for second in the league in assists (5.3 per game) behind ex-NBA guard Kenny Satterfield of Saitama (8.5)

Ishizaki is one of the Susanoo Magic's main scorers (12.1 points per game), too. Playing for a first-year club, he's been effective in making smart decisions with the basketball (42 assists, 20 turnovers).

Yonamine, on the other hand, has had jaw-dropping effectiveness as a passer and ball handler for the Golden Kings (42 assists, seven turnovers).

The recent additions of former All-Star center George Leach (Broncos) and former league MVP David Palmer (Golden Kings) injected new talent and verve into their respective squads.

Now it'll be interesting to see which other teams bring in proven talent from overseas and how that'll affect wins and losses.

Also, keep an eye on the Apache's Jeremy Tyler. Eleven of his 30 field goals have been dunks, including a five-slam outburst against Saitama on Sunday. He's just getting warned up, adjusting to coach Bob Hill's offensive system.

Weekly accolade: Rizing Fukuoka forward Michael Parker, who scored a league-record 53 points in Sunday's win over Takamatsu, is the Lawson/Ponta Player of the Week, the league announced on Tuesday.

Parker, now in his fourth season with Fukuoka, is averaging a league-best 31.5 points per game, exactly 10 more than Shiga's Mikey Marshall, the No. 2 scorer in the 16-team circuit.

A product of little-known Evergreen State (Wash.), the winner of back-to-back league scoring titles is living proof that there are jobs all over the world for athletes who put in the time and energy to improve their skills and are willing to compete in gyms, big or small, in any location.

Fantastic five: Here's a look at the league's top five teams entering the season's fifth week:

1. Osaka (7-1): The Western Conference's best team is clicking on all cylinders. Shota Konno had 14- and 24-point games in a weekend sweep of Kyoto. Billy Knight and Lynn Washington have combined for 127 free throws (110 makes); when a quality team can routinely score a lot of points with the clock stopped, it becomes even more dangerous.

2. Hamamatsu Higashimikawa (7-1): The Phoenix, the beasts of the Eastern Conference, are 4-0 on the road. They are winning games by large margins (12.1 points) and have a deep, effective rotation, led by sharpshooter Wayne Arnold (17.6 ppg).

News photo
Tsubasa Yonamine KAZ NAGATSUKA PHOTO

3. Shiga (5-3): The Lakestars have fared well against quality foes to start the season, going 2-0 against Kyoto and 1-1 against both Sendai and Fukuoka. What's more, the team is shooting 53 percent from inside the 3-point arc (228-for-430) and five Shiga players have made more than half of their 2-point shots: Gary Hamilton (59.8), Mikey Marshall (56.8), Lamar Rice (53.2), Shinya Ogawa (51.6, whose 31 shot attempts are the fewest in this quintet) and Masashi Joho (50.7).

4. Sendai (5-3): The 89ers have also been tested early and often this season, going 4-2 on the road entering this weekend. Coach Honoo Hamaguchi preaches the benefits of hard-nosed determination on the boards and the value of a pass-happy yet smart offense and 89ers fans are seeing these ingredients in place. Chris Holm (11.9 rebounds per game) and Mike Bell (10.1) are among the league's top seven rebounders, while Mac Hopson (19.9 points and 5.1 assists per game) has forced his way into the conversation about the league's best 15 players. The 89ers need a genuine second sparkplug off the bench behind Kenichi Takahashi (9.1 ppg).

5. Shimane (5-3): Guided by one of European basketball's all-time great coaches, Pavlicevic, the Susanoo Magic (4-0 at home) are one of only two unbeaten teams at home and presently in a three-way tie for second place in the Western Conference. Center Will Caudle (17.9 ppg) leads Shimane's scoring attack, which features six double-digit scorers.

All-Star voting begins: As has been the case in past seasons, fans voting will be used to select starters for the 2010-11 All-Star Game in Osaka.

Voting began on Thursday and will run through Dec. 13.

The All-Star Game will be held on Jan. 23.

Visit the bj-league website to vote for 10 starters, five from each of the two conferences.

Closing commentary: Parker's aforementioned 53-point outburst, indeed a big deal, hardly appeared as big news on the league's website after the fact.

As expected, no comments from Parker about his accomplishment were posted on the league's home page. No quotes from his teammates or opposing players about this terrific game, either.

This is essential information. But the bj-league fails to properly promote itself time after time, with this being the latest example of the league missing a golden opportunity to showcase its stars.

Post-game quotes are not the alpha and the omega of a league's historic archive. But the fact is, the league is now in its sixth season and hasn't upgraded its news-gathering methods beyond providing the most basic information.

There's no reasonable excuse for the league not to have interns or paid staff assigned to collect quotes from a minimum of two or three players per team after every game and then have those quotes uploaded onto the league site a few hours after the end of each game.

It should be a requirement. Tweets and Facebook rants shouldn't be acceptable substitutes for the league doing its job: providing fans, the press and others with proper news on a consistent basis.

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Do you have a story idea about the bj-league? Send an e-mail to edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp



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