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Monday, Jan. 24, 2011

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Ishizaki impresses bj-league peers


Staff writer

OSAKA — Shimane Susanoo Magic point guard Takumi Ishizaki has made a terrific impression in his short time in the bj-league.

News photo
Center of attention: Osaka Evessa star Lynn Washington enjoys the spotlight after winning the 2010-11 bj-league All-Star Game MVP award on Sunday. ED ODEVEN

This was only enhanced by his stellar play in the 2010-11 All-Star Game at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium, where he helped lead the Western Conference to a come-from-behind 110-109 win over the Eastern Conference.

Ishizaki, the West's starting point guard, scored 11 points, dished out nine assists and turned the ball over only twice. A former JBL player, Ishizaki became the first active bj-league player to play on the national team when he competed in the Asian Games last fall.

Game MVP Lynn Washington, the Osaka Evessa's franchise player, spoke highly of Ishizaki's growing reputation as game-changing performer and a measuring stick for the league's Japanese players.

"He's the best Japanese basketball player I've ever played with, the best in this league," Washington told reporters after the game. "I've played with other national team players, but by far he's the best.

"He doesn't turn the ball over. He knows how to find players on the fast break and in the halfcourt sets. And probably the most important thing that he does, is that he knows how to finish over Americans, and that's very rare here in Japan."

Naturally, Washington would love to call Ishizaki his teammate in the future.

"I told him, 'Please come to Osaka. We'll welcome you with open hands,' " Washington admitted.

Evessa coach Ryan Blackwell, a rookie bench boss who guided the West to its second consecutive narrow victory in an All-Star Game — the East lost 105-102 last January in Rifu, Miyagi Prefecture — enjoyed the chance to hand the floor leader duties to Ishizaki, whose popularity has risen dramatically since he signed with the Susanoo Magic last summer.

"I love him. He's a great player, a good point guard," Blackwell said. "He's steady, controls the ball great, sees the floor well. He has good size (188 cm). . . . I really like his game a lot."

Repeat winners: Shiga Lakestars guard Yu Okada won the 3-Point Contest for the second year in a row, while Sendai 89ers forward Yoshihiro Tachibana, a popular showman, retained his Slam Dunk Contest title. The ever-popular skills contests began at 10 a.m., an awkward hour for competition, but one that exhibited the talents of several players and thrilled the fans.

Okada emerged victorious after a second final round in which he accumulated 16 points and drilled 14 of 25 shots, including two bonus balls (the fifth ball on each rack was worth two points for a made shot).

Osaka's Billy Knight, who has a smooth-shooting left-hander, placed second, scoring 13 in the championship round.

In the first final, Okada and Knight each scored 12 points, so it forced a one-minute tiebreaker.

Earlier, Okada and Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix's Masahiro Oguchi squared off to determine who'd face Knight, who led the six contestants with 15 first-round points, in the final round.

Okada beat Oguchi, who was the star of the playoff semifinals last spring (he sank 10 3-pointers against the Niigata Albirex BB at Ariake Colosseum), 11-4 to reach the final.

In the opening round, Tokyo's Jumpei Nakama scored 12 points and Kyoto's Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, the former NBA standout, finished with nine as their shooting rhythm was not as effective as it has been in many games this season.

Abdul-Rauf was far from ticked off after the contest.

"Well, it's nice that people appreciate what you do," the 41-year-old Abdul-Rauf said, "and feel that you are worthy to be here and compete in those competitions.

"Unfortunately, it didn't go so well for a lot of us today," he added with a laugh. "But see, that's the nature of it. When you only have a short time to shoot, as opposed to the second, third or fourth quarter, it's anybody's game. If you're on, you're on. . .

"But you enjoy it. You compete, but you try not to take it too seriously because things like this don't define your career."

Okada, meanwhile, said his physical condition was fine, that fatigue was not a factor during the contest, adding that typical workouts prepare him for the rapid-fire speed of 25 shots in a minute (five locations around the 3-point arc; five balls to shoot at each spot).

A bj-league standout since the Five Arrows' first season in 2006-07, Okada joined his hometown team during the offseason. He said it's a comfortable feeling playing in front of family and friends in Shiga and appreciates their loyal support.

"It gives me pride to play for Shiga," he added, also admitting he welcomed the challenge of competing against noted sharpshooters Abdul-Rauf and Oguchi, the Final Four MVP last May.

Okada received a winner's check of ¥100,000.

In the Slam Dunk Contest, Tachibana outscored Shimane big man Jeral Davis 48-42 to claim the crowd-pleasing prize. He did it with flair, exceptional timing on his jumps and a few amusing costumes, including a surprise wardrobe underneath his uniform, which he pulled off with the timing of an action-book hero.

First-round dunk results were as follows: Osaka's Lawrence Blackledge (38), two-time winner Rasheed Sparks of Takamatsu (45), Tokyo forward Jeremy Tyler (45), Toyamafs Brian Harper (47), Davis (49) and Tachibana (50).

Davis, demonstrating a nice knack for spins and windmill dunks and strong finishes on his jams, and Tachibana had identical 48-point scores in the next round, as selected by a judging panel.

Then they squared off again, much to the delight of the fans.

For Tyler, meanwhile, his concluding thoughts on the All-Star weekend can be summed up this way: it was a rewarding experience. He also noticed Shimane's Jeral Davis, an impressive leaper, is "a crazy jumper."

He added: "It was fun hanging out with these guys. It was cool."

Then he dished out a little-known tidbit in Japanese basketball circles: "My dad went to high school (in Gulfport, Miss.) with Mahmoud.

"I've been hearing about him my whole life, and I finally get to meet him here."

Tyler, who hails from San Diego, participated in two dunk contests while in high school, with one event title to his credit.

"It was a lot of fun (today) and to be able to see all these guys and their athleticism was crazy," he added.

Terrific entertainment: Slam Dunk Contest winner Yoshihiro Tachibana, who donned a Spiderman costume for one of his dunks, has a fan for life in Tokyo Apache coach Bob Hill, who led the East All-Stars.

"I have to be honest with you the dunk contest with the way it was won, I thought it was totally refreshing. I mean, it wasn't about the guy who could jump the highest or wrap the ball around his neck five times, or under his leg. You know, this guy put on a show. It was awesome. I loved it.

"It's the best dunk contest. I've seen a million dunk contests, but this one, I thought the guy was really great.

"He didn't jump the highest. He didn't do the fanciest dunks, but he made all of his dunks, and that's important, and then all the theatrical stuff that he did to frame his dunks was what separated him. He was great."

What made Tachibana's routine so extraordinary?

"The first one he looked like he has his underwear on. He had wings on his sneakers, and that was great," Hill added with a big smile.

Beneficial experience: Hill sees a bright future for Akita Northern Happinets guard Makoto Sawaguchi, the youngest participant in Sunday's festivities. He turned 19 in December.

Sawaguchi scored six points on 3-for-5 shooting in 14-plus minutes. He also had two assists.

"I like Sawaguchi. I liked him before the All-Star Game, and I think he's going to be an outstanding player as he matures," Hill said. "I thought in the first half he did a really nice job. He seemed very comfortable.

"When the game got a little bit tight, he got a little nervous, which is to be expected because he's so young."

"I think this experience in the All-Star Game will help him get from here to here," the coach added, indicating from a solid level to an elite level as a player. "It's really going to help him. He's a good player."

Tyler, who competed in the dunk contest, will turn 20 in June. He was the second-youngest participant.

Staying motivated: Blackwell enjoyed the opportunity to compete against Hill, who worked in the NBA for much of his adult life as a head coach (Knicks, Pacers, Spurs, Sonics) and also as an assistant coach, serving on the opposite bench for Osaka's midseason showcase game.

"I have a lot of respect for him," said Blackwell, a rookie head coach after standout seasons as a Sendai 89ers and Evessa player. "(Coaching) at the level of the NBA and guys at the top like Tim Duncan and David Robinson, you have to have a lot of respect for someone like that.

"Like I said last night (at the banquet), I hope I can get to know him better and learn some things that I can work on coaching-wise."

Looking ahead: The 2011-12 All-Star Game will be held at Saitama Super Arena on Jan. 15, with the Saitama Broncos serving as the hosts. Broncos president Toshiko Narita was at Sunday's game for the formal announcement.

Quotable: "He made it exciting. He made it a good show to watch. He's the highest-jumping Japanese that I've seen," Tyler on Tachibana.

"If you take it too serious, you strip the fun out of it," Abdul-Rauf on All-Star Games and competitions.



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