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Friday, Dec. 31, 2010
Hill says Tyler, Apache both works in progress
By ED ODEVEN
Tokyo Apache coach Bob Hill sees the big picture: Forward Jeremy Tyler is an integral part of the team's championship aspirations.
You could argue that the 19-year-old Tyler, projected as a future NBA player, is the team's X-factor.
Yet due to the team's awkward schedule — the Apache's first 12 games have been played away from the capital city — Hill has worked diligently to try and put the 210-cm big man in the right spots to be successful.
Inactivity hasn't helped Tyler.
After scoring 15, 27, 18 and 11 points in Tokyo's November games (three Apache wins), Tyler had 20 points in four December games — zero, three, six and 11.
On Sunday, Hill opted to leave former NBA center Robert Swift, who had two fouls in the opening quarter, on the bench for the entire second period in order to give Tyler a clear-cut chance to be the go-to guy for his club. Hill admitted it was a chance for the San Diego native to be the focal point of the team's inside play at both ends of the court, but the Apache lost momentum in the second stanza and never recovered.
"Jeremy Tyler has been up and down," Hill said in a post-game interview in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, adding the team is trying to "build up his confidence."
Earlier this season, Hill noted, the 116-kg Tyler's play was at a higher level. The challenge is for Tyler to regain that rhythm, the coach said.
Tyler is averaging 12 points and 5.3 rebounds in 12 games (16.25 minutes per game), all coming off the bench.
Offensive catalyst: When he drives through traffic, Tokyo guard Byron Eaton is one of the league's most dangerous scorers. He's a strong finisher and a physical presence in the lane as he attacks the basket.
"When we had won five games in a row, he had played exceptionally well during those five games," said Hill, referring to a stretch of games in which Eaton had 28- and 34-point efforts. The streak was snapped on Saturday against Saitama. "So anytime we can get an opportunity to put him in the pick-and-roll, whether it's in the middle of the floor or on the side, we are going to try and do it."
Hill's assessment: Asked if Tokyo's 6-6 record is an accurate measuring stick for his team's performance this season, Hill admitted it's been a unique challenge thus far, without any home games and long gaps between series.
He said his team has played well at times, but hasn't developed the consistency that it needs yet.
Interestingly enough, after Sunday's game the Apache had completed 76 practices and 12 games since the preseason.
"Physically, because of the number of practices, they may feel somewhat like in mid-season form," Hill said of his players, "but we really haven't played enough games to say we are in mid-season form.
"Games are easier than practice. Practices are hard and long. We haven't played enough games for me to say that I think we are in mid-season form, although because of the number of practices, physically we probably are. So that's a tough scenario to balance."
Building blocks: Any time a team switches to a new coach and a large cast of new players, there's a natural adjustment period that occurs.
For the Apache, coming off a 22-30 season under departed bench boss Motofumi Aoki, that involves developing chemistry on offense and finding the right mix of outside shooters and inside attackers.
Game film provides a useful learning tool for coaches as they analyze a team's recent performances. For example, after Saturday's loss, when Tokyo stumbled in the final moments of the fourth quarter, Hill used video footage to take stock of his team's offense. And Hill sees an offense that is still seeking to find its identity.
"We did a really good job of making the next pass, no matter who it was. The ball really moved around the perimeter," he said, referring to Tokyo's play in an 85-74 setback.
So the question is: Have the Apache figured out who should have the ball at key moments of the game?
"We've talked about that as a team, and I don't think that's a problem," Hill said. "Everybody understands Cohey (Aoki) is a capable shooter and Jumpei (Nakama) is a capable shooter and Kensuke (Tanaka) is developing into someone we have faith in . . . so along with Mike (Chappell) and Kendall (Dartez), I think they understand and have no problem making the pass to one of those guys.
"To really give that substance, it has to happen," he continued. "It has to become a reality of their existence instead of just a hope, which I think we are not there yet."
Up next: The Apache will play their first home games of the season on Jan. 6-9 against the Oita HeatDevils and Shimane Susanoo Magic at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2.
Upcoming schedule: Only four of the league's 16 teams are playing New Year's weekend games. The Rizing Fukuoka play host to the Oita HeatDevils on Sunday and Monday and the Ryukyu Golden Kings take on the visiting Kyoto Hannaryz on the same days.
Solid connection: Saitama forward Gordon Klaiber and point guard Kenny Satterfield form a dynamic duo for the retooled Broncos.
They played together on the IBL's Albany Legends last summer, helping the squad win a championship.
Now, they bring a strong partnership to Saitama in their effort to help transform the club into a winner.
That was evident on Sunday, when the duo found gaps in the Tokyo defense on several occasions, which led to good looks and high-percentage shots.
"Kenny and Gordon have played together for a year," Broncos coach Bob Nash said, "and so they know each other and when Gordon is on, Kenny knows how to find him in a good spot where he can score."
"He looks for me when the opportunity is there, of course," Klaiber said of Satterfield. "And sometimes he might force it, but today it wasn't so much Kenny, it was the way the game was going, the flow of the game."
To prove a point, Klaiber finished 7-for-10 from the field on Boxing Day, when several family members were in attendance from the United States.
True challenge: A quick glance at the standings shows that Saitama is 7-15, but three straight wins moves the team within striking distance of being in the playoff hunt.
Coach Nash and Saitama players point to the team's signing of center George Leach as a stabilizing move, one that gives the Broncos a much-needed veteran presence in the middle. He's a player who can create problems defensively for opponents and clog up the middle as well.
Now, Klaiber and Co. are motivated to keep focused on the task at hand: winning.
"We've been a work in progress for sure and every weekend we've been trying to do better than the weekend before, even if we won or lost," Klaiber said. "We've just been trying to improve on what coach is teaching us and get adjusted, get adjusted to the new players and also the lineups."
This much is certain after talks with several Broncos: There's no sense of complacency. No time to dwell on the recent wins, either.
Or as Klaiber put it: "Right now, we are not where we need to be, but we are in a good position to carry on into the second half of the season."
League accolades: Satterfield, who led Saitama to a weekend sweep over the Apache, is the Lawson/Ponta Player of the Week, the league announced on Tuesday.
The ex-NBA floor leader, averaging a league-best 7.1 assists per game, had 24 points and seven assists in the Broncos' Christmas Day win over Tokyo. He was 6-for-11 from 3-point range. A day later, the New York City native had 14 points, nine rebounds and four assists, spearheading Saitama's offense in an impressive shooting effort against Tokyo, a runaway victory for the hosts.
Sendai forward Mike Bell received the December MVP award, leading the 89ers to a 5-1 record in the month.
Bell averaged 19.8 points and 9.7 rebounds in December, including three double-doubles. He also had 10 blocked shots, seven dunks and six steals. On the season, Bell is the league's ninth-leading scorer (18.1 ppg).
By the numbers: The Phoenix are a league-best 11-1 at home. The Broncos' 1-9 road record is the worst, while the Susanoo Magic and Shining Suns are both 2-10. The Grouses are averaging a league-low 72.8 ppg, while the Rizing are No. 1 at 89.7.
On the defensive end, the Albirex, tough-minded club, are the stingiest team, yielding 72.8 ppg, while the Shining Suns are giving up the most points (89.3). . .
Sunday's Rizing-Hannaryz game provided a rare treat: A pair of 40-point scorers dueling and vying to lead their clubs a win.
Wendell White finished with 45 points on 19-for-24 shooting for Kyoto, which dropped a nine-point decision to the out-of-towners.
Reigning scoring champion Michael Parker, meanwhile, led Fukuoka with 41 points despite misfiring on all eight of his 3-point shots. He was 18-for-28 from inside the 3-point arc while playing all 40 minutes.
The last word: "I can't say enough about J (Kazuya Hatano). He just comes to work every day and just gives his all. He's very deserving of the All-Star selection. He's just a dream to come because he shows up every day and works extremely hard. I'm really proud about his selection to the All-Star team."
— Nash analyzing the effort of Hatano, who's slated to start at small forward for the Eastern Conference in the Jan. 23 All-Star Game in Osaka.
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