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Friday, April 15, 2011

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Blazers pass on Swift after tryout this week


Staff Writer

The Tokyo Apache's season is finished, but big man Robert Swift's goal of returning to the NBA lives on.

Swift, Earl Barron and Dwayne Jones participated in workouts for the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday, according to published reports. As the sixth-seeded Blazers prepare to face the No. 3 Dallas Mavericks in the opening round, gear up for postseason play, another big body was at the top of the team's wish list.

Swift was one of Tokyo coach Bob Hill's two big foreign player projects this season; NBA prospect Jeremy Tyler, a potential first-round draft pick in June, was the other.

Portland, however, chose to sign Barron, a former University of Memphis center. He has played for Phoenix, Milwaukee and the Blazers this season (he started the season finale on Wednesday, scoring five points and grabbing 13 rebounds), 21 games in total. Barron's NBA career began in 2005. He played a career-high 47 games in 2007-08 for Miami.

The Blazers (48-34) closed out the regular season on Wednesday against the host Golden State Warriors.

"He asked to be released so that they could potentially sign him," Apache general manager Conor Neu said of Swift.

Neu expressed disappointment in Swift not landing a spot on the Blazers roster.

"It's too bad," Neu said. "It would have been great to see him get picked up for the remainder of the season."

Swift averaged 13.8 points and a whisker under 10 rebounds in 34 games for the Apache. The 216-cm center, who was plagued by major knee injuries early in his professional career, was drafted by the Supersonics out of high school in 2004. He played in 97 games (34 starts) for the franchise in Seattle and Oklahoma City from 2004-09.

This season, Swift made noticeable progress during the season, improving his fitness and returning a level that could attract NBA talent evaluators' attention. He had shed lost than 35 kg since last summer, he said in an interview on March 10, and put together 22-point, 18-rebound and 21-point, 16-rebound efforts against Akita on March 9-10 at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2, the latter effort coming in Tyler's first start of the season.

The pair was poised to make Tokyo a likely title contender in May's playoffs before the March 11 earthquake.

Swift, still only 25, had quit playing basketball last year and it appeared his career might've been finished after he left the NBA Development League's Bakersfield, Calif., team. But teaming up with Hill, his former Seattle coach, reinvigorated Swift as he made a productive return to basketball.

"I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him," Swift said of Hill.

Now, it remains to be seen if another NBA club will bring in Swift for a workout in the coming months or next season or if he'll pursue other options, including returning to the Apache next fall.

Elite player: It's hardly surprising that Takumi Ishizaki has been a tone-setter for Shimane this season. In fact, it wouldn't be a shock if Ishizaki doesn't garner serious consideration for the league's 2010-11 Best Five team.

Ishizaki is averaging a modest 12.8 points and 4.5 assists in 40 games. But this impact goes far beyond the box score. His leadership, poise and confidence make him a natural choice to be a go-to player in Susanoo Magic coach Zeljko Pavlicevic's demanding system.

By scoring 22 points on Sunday, Ishizaki demonstrated that doing it in style is a major part of his game. He was 9-for-11 from the field in the series finale against Akita. All told, he has 181 assists and 95 turnovers in the books, respectable numbers for an expansion team's point guard, especially one stacked with several rookies.

By helping to keep playoff-bound Shimane (22-24 through Sunday) in postseason contention all season, Ishizaki has added another chapter to his registry of on-court accomplishments.

Consider his earlier achievements: helping Hokuriku High School win an Inter-High School National championships and Tokai University nab a pair of Inter-College National titles. In addition, his time playing for the JBL's Toshiba squad and the Japan national team gave him solid experience before joining Shimane last summer. (He also played for Japan at the Asian Games last fall.)

"Other bj-league players have some - even more - of the same honors, like (Makoto) Hasegawa and (Kazuhiro) Shoji at Akita, or Naoto Nakamura at Kyoto, but all of those players entered the bj-league well after their prime, at the end of their careers," Happinets coach Bob Pierce said. "Ishizaki is 26, turns 27 this summer, and is in the prime of his basketball career."

Pierce views Ishizaki as a unique talent who isn't a prototypical point guard.

"Although listed as a point guard, and that's what he mostly plays, my own opinion is that he's more of a shooter who plays the point," Pierce said. "If he gets within the offensive operating zone, about 2-3 feet outside the 3-point line on in, he's very tough to stop. He shoots a very respectable 35 percent from the 3-point line, but that number goes way up when he's wide open. He was 4-for-5 from the 3-point line against us on Sunday, and a couple of those were daggers that just shattered our chances to make a comeback.

"Once Ishizaki is in that offensive attacking area he makes great decisions, passing the ball quickly to open teammates, shooting and scoring when open, or making strong drives to the basket. He made some impressive shots on drives this weekend where the defender was trying to block it but he used his body and the angles to get the shot off the backboard and in. He also has good size defensively and doesn't get beat easily."

That doesn't mean, of course, that Ishizaki doesn't room for improvement.

"His biggest weakness though is that he's not a great ball handler or super quick like some other truer point guards," Pierce said. "Against Fukuoka on April 2 he had five turnovers as (Masahiro) Kano, who is an outstanding, tenacious defender, really pressured him and forced him to make mistakes. On Sunday we began the second half with a 2-2-1 press and immediately caused an 8-second violation as Ishizaki tried to figure out what to do against the press.

"Also teams that have Japanese players with good size and defensive skills, like Fukuoka, Osaka and Niigata, can match up with him and not give him open looks at the basket."

So where does Ishizaki stack up against the league's other Japanese players?

"(Ryukyu's Tsubasa) Yonamine and (Niigata's Naoto) Takushi, when he wants to be, are probably better point guards," the coach said. "This season (Tokyo's Jumpei) Nakama was a better spot-up 3-pointer shooter. And (Shiga's Masashi) Joho might be a more creative and quicker one-on-one scorer. But for the whole package, Ishizaki is the best. He has mental toughness, doesn't seem to go through the highs and lows like many players, plays at both ends, and is one of the best decision makers once he gets into that offensive operating area."

The linchpin: Though they appear to be a long shot to reach the Final Four, the Kyoto Hannaryz have one of the league's best interior players in veteran power forward Reggie Warren.

When he's playing with energy, passion and intelligence, Warren is one of the top players in Japan. He was a key player for the then-expansion Takamatsu Five Arrows' championship runnerup squad in 2006-07, and gave the Saitama Broncos a dominating presence inside in 2008-09 before suiting up for the Changwon LK Sakers of the Korean Basketball League last season.

Warren, a West Florida product, is averaging 12.8 points and nearly 10 rebounds in 34 games. He missed six games from mid-December to mid-January due to a broken bone in his hand.

He's regained his speed and defensive tenacity in recent weeks, giving Kyoto a big boost as it prepares for its first playoff berth in its second season. In the past three games, he strung together 20-point, 22-rebound, seven-assist, 19-19-4 and 18-19-2 efforts, the final two helping the Hannaryz complete a weekend sweep against the Oita HeatDevils last weekend.

"He is a true professional player," Kyoto coach Kazuto Aono said on Monday. "All coaches would love to have him. He's never been lazy and works so hard to prepare for the game every single day.

"He struggled with his injury and limited playing time when he came back from the injury. But he adjusted each game very quick lately and he is showing great inside present and mix with his mid-range game.

"But his strongest point is his defensive effort. He can guard multiple positions and never gives up on defense rebounds. It's great to have a player who is very quick for his size (204 cm) and does a lot of things." Previously, he carried the team in Saitama, doing that every game. But he's got great teammates this year so he can share and he can have better performances here."

Aono added: "Our team defense keep improving because of his effort seals other teammate's energy. He is absolutely ready for the playoffs."

Blackwell's perspective: Osaka coach Ryan Blackwell is pleased with new point guard Kenny Satterfield's play over the past two weekends, which has given the Evessa an added spark as it prepares for the playoffs.

"Kenny is a great playmaker," Blackwell said Monday of the Saitama Broncos veteran who joined the Evessa for the season's stretch run. "He sees the floor well. He's making it easier for guys to score and creating more shots for our players. Although our chemistry is still not there fully, Kenny has done a good job of coming in and meshing with our guys in a short period of time."

In four games in an Osaka uniform, the ex-NBA floor leader Satterfield is posting solid numbers (11.3 points and five assists). But the rookie coach is challenging Satterfield to work even harder.

"I think he got a little out of shape after the earthquake because they didn't have access to a gym for over two weeks in Saitama so he's getting his legs back under him," Blackwell said. "Defensively, I've told him and he realizes he needs to be better. We lost the best defender in the league in (Lawrence) Blackledge and (Kevin) Tyner was great defensively for us as well, so we need him to step it up in that area."

Upcoming games: This weekend's matchups are as follows: Akita vs. Toyama, Hamamatsu vs. Fukuoka, Shiga vs. Miyazaki, Osaka vs. Takamatsu, Oita vs. Shimane and Ryukyu vs. Kyoto.

The Niigata Albirex BB haven't played since April 3. They wrap up the regular season on April 23-24 against the reigning champion Phoenix.

Around the league: A well-connected source passed along a number of interesting news developments on Monday. He said Ishizaki and Hamamatsu center Atsuya Ota are among the players on the men's national team's preliminary roster for the coming months. . . .

In addition, The Japan Times has learned about this juicy rumor: "The two people most involved in the game-day operations of Toshiba's home games are going to be pulling double duty as they are going to be running the Yokohama B-Corsairs at the same time next season," one hoop insider said.

"They both work for the Kanagawa Basketball Association so they've been running the game-day operations for Toshiba for several seasons. They purposely made sure that Toshiba and Yokohama didn't have home games on the same weekend in the upcoming season. This will enable them to continue working Toshiba's home games while running the Yokohama BC.

"So I guess that means they won't be going on the road with Yokohama. This is a strange arrangement to say the least and I wonder how many seasons they plan on doing this."

Regarding the B-Corsairs' coaching rumors, it appears Brian Rowsom, a former Oita HeatDevils head coach, NBA and JBL player, is not expected to be hired.

"I heard that they are still looking for a head coach," the source said.

Quotable: "In my opinion, Satoshi Takada from Takamatsu is the best overall Japanese player still competing. He has good size and athleticism. He does a little bit of everything, good shooter, handles pretty good, can finish in traffic and on the break, and he's a good defender and rebounder. He plays hard all the time and isn't afraid." Blackwell, analyzing one of the league's most underrated players.

Quotable, part II: "(Fukuoka's) Akitomo Takeno is very skilled. He's a good shooter with good handles and can create his own shot and create shots for others. When he's aggressive he's as good as any Japanese player." Blackwell, describing what makes Takeno a rising star.

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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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