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Friday, April 29, 2011

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Hamamatsu's Parmer named season MVP


Staff writer

When a team goes 40-6 in the regular season, its players deserve recognition for their success.

The Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix are getting that publicity, including the following: Forward Jeffrey Parmer was named the bj-league's regular season MVP on Tuesday.

Joining Parmer on the Best Five team are Phoenix guard Wayne Arnold, Shimane Susanoo Magic guard Takumi Ishizaki and forwards Michael Parker of the Rizing Fukuoka and Anthony McHenry of the Ryukyu Golden Kings. A true center was not selected for this year's squad in voting done by league personnel, including players and coaches.

The versatile 203-cm Parmer, a Florida Atlantic product, averaged 16.9 points, made 60.9 percent of his 2-point shots in 46 games and finished the season as Hamamatsu's leader in rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and minutes among the players still with the team. (Jermaine Dixon led the team in assists before heading back to the United States.)

"Jeff provides a lot of energy for our team, especially on the glass," Arnold said. "He's a fierce competitor and will go to battle against anyone. His energy on the court helped our team a lot throughout the course of the season. He also causes matchup problems for other teams because he is a 'tweener. He can play on the interior or the perimeter and that allows other players to get space."

Arnold scored a team-best 18.6 points and made 39.9 percent of his 3s. He adapted his role as the team's top guy off the bench (44 games, seven starts) and was named the league's top Sixth Man.

"Coming into the season I wasn't expecting to come off the bench at all," Arnold said. "I wasn't really prepared for it. I became comfortable with it quickly. I was always told it's more important to finish games than it is to start them=2C that=92s when you know your importance to a team. I watched guys like (NBA standouts) Jamal Crawford and Lamar Odom and last season the way (ex-Phoenix star and current Osaka player) Billy (Knight) would come off the bench and produce and tried to implement the things they would do to be prepared. It worked out for the best.

"It is very rare a guy leads his team in scoring from the bench. I take a lot of pride in being a game-changer. It's a special feeling when you can make a team call timeouts and change defenses to stop you. I love that feeling."

Ishizaki averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 assists for the Magic, who reached the playoffs in their first season. The high-energy McHenry, a key Golden Kings player for three seasons, averaged 11.1 points and was the team leader in steals and blocks and had the second-most rebounds and assists.

Parker picked up his third straight scoring title (27.3 ppg) and was tops in steals for the fourth consecutive year.

Tokyo Apache guard Kensuke Tanaka, who played 18 minutes last season, was chosen as the Most Improved Player. Under longtime NBA coach Bob Hill's tutelage, Tanaka emerged as a starter in January, and the Apache went 8-5 in their final 13 games with him in starting lineup.

Tanaka averaged 6.6 points, including back-to-back 21 points games in February. He had 82 assists against 49 turnovers, knocked down 41 3-pointers and made 32 steals. By December, his minutes had increased significantly as Hill saw his potential and worked diligently to utilize Tanaka=92s talents.

The Akita Northern Happinets and Shiamne Susanoo Magic supporters were both recognized as the league's top boosters this season.

After the palyoffs, look for in-depth coverage of the league's top 20 overall players and top 10 Japanese players in upcoming Hoop Scoop columns.

Playoff preview: The Western Conference's fourth- and fifth-place teams square off Saturday and Sunday as the Shiga Lakestars (30-20) play host to the Kyoto Hannaryz (28-20).

The Lakestars, winners of four straight and eight of their last 12 games since play resumed after the March 11 earthquake, are 4-2 against their Kansai rival this season, which gives Hirokazu Nema's club some momentum entering the playoffs.

Led by forward Gary Hamilton (15.2 rebounds per game), a glaring omission from the all-league team — there ought to be at least two Best Five squads it says here (see related Hoop Scoop column) — and backcourt stabilizer Mikey Marshall (18.1 points, as well as 19 steals in the past four games), Shiga has a dynamic one-two punch. A quality mix of strong role players makes the third-year franchise a difficult matchup for any foe.

High-scoring Lakestars forward Josh Peppers has been sidelined since early April with a foot injury, though he'll likely see some on-court time against Kyoto.

Here's how one astute observer broke down the series, raising key points and questions:

"For Shiga, can Peppers come back and what level will he play at Will his return help or hurt their chemistry? Mikey is playing at a high level, and if he keeps it up, Shiga advances.

"For Kyoto, Kibwe Trim has been impressive lately. (Gordon) Klaiber has been a great fit and they need (Taizo) Kawabe to make outside shots. But Kyoto often shows no interest in playing defense. If they decide to play D. and Mahmoud (Abdul-Rauf)=2C Reggie (Warren) or (Gordon) Klaiber get hot they can win.

"It's a great first-round matchup, natural rivals with hundreds of years of history."

The source, a hoop insider with an unmatched track record of knowing what's going on around the league, added this comment to hammer home the view shared by many: "This should be a real two-out-of-three (home-away-home) series."

Instead, we're stuck with the current two-day, two-game format, with a possible 10-minute mini-game tiebreaker after the second game, to decide which team moves on to the Western Conference semifinals next weekend.

Back to the series, Shiga boosts plenty of scorers in Marshall, Peppers, Lamar Rice (15.1 points), Masashi Joho (13.1), Hamilton (12.7), hometown favorite and former Takamatsu star Yu Okada (8.1) and Ray Schafer (7.8). Broncos mainstay Daiki Terashita was a late-season pickup who can bolster the team's points output.

Kyoto, meanwhile, has retooled its team after the departure of 2009-10 MVP Wendell White last month and won six of its past 10 games. Klaiber, the Saitama Broncos' top perimeter threat before their season ended, made his Hannaryz debut on April 9 and scored 22 and 26 points last weekend. He was 9-for-11 on 3-point shots in the two games.

Power forward Reggie Warren is a team leader on defense and an aggressive scorer (13.4 points) and presence in the paint, as evidenced by his being selected as the league's April MVP (18.5 points and 16.3 rebounds). The 42-year-old Abdul-Rauf, a 15.1 ppg scorer, still knows how to find his shot and set up his teammates, while big men Kibwe Trim (12.4 points) and Michael Fey (7.9) give the team added scoring punch, as do Naoto Nakamura (7.4) and Sunao Murakami (7.2). Kyosuke Setoyama led the team in assists (179).

Veteran point guard Hikaru Kusaka, one of Sendai's longtime players, has done a fine job since joining the Hannaryz for the season's stretch run. In six games, he has 19 assists and four turnovers in 85 minutes, as well as five steals.

Kyoto coach Kazuto Aono knows his team, which went 12-12 on the road, has a tough opponent this weekend.

"Shiga is one of top teams in the Western Conference," Aono said. "They've been building an outstanding team defense mind-set for last few weeks. This team must be in a great mood, have respect one another and work as a unit now."

"We have to be ready and expect the game will be a really high level of basketball. It is not going to be an easy game for either team."

Aono said his team will need to find ways to break Shiga's full-court press and zone defense and slow down its transition offense. He added that Joho, Hamilton, Marshall and Peppers are focal points of Kyoto's defense.

Abdul-Rauf did not play last Sunday due to a foot injury, though the veteran guard is expected to suit up against Shiga.

Around the league: The following e-mail arrived in my inbox the other day from a rabid Ryukyu supporter, and it goes to show that Abdul-Rauf still enjoys a strong following:

"I am partial to my Indiana guys and the Kings, but hands down I enjoy watching Mahmoud more than any player in the league. He is no doubt the best ambassador for basketball in Japan. I told Reggie Warren on his last visit to make sure Mahmoud does not retire this year. What is amazing is that he is not just running up and down the court he is still competing and he is having fun."

The Rising Suns, featuring players from the bj-league and elsewhere plan to participate in the elite-level streetball Quai 54 World Championship in late June in Paris. The team, making its third consecutive annual trip, is looking for sponsors to help offset the cost of travel to Europe.

Tokyo Apache guard Darin Satoshi Maki is this year's team captain, while ex-Apache John "Helicopter" Humphrey is expected to suit up for the club. Visit Risingsuns.jp for more information. ...

The Saint John Mill Rats, a Canadian basketball team from New Brunswick, hosted an exhibition fundraiser on Sunday against the Sendai All-Stars.

The Sendai team included 89ers big man Chris Holm and forward Terrance Woodyard, as well as Tokyo's Jumpei Nakama and Jonathan Inoue and ex-Apache and Rera Kamuy Hokkaido forward Kenji Hilke. Ex-Toyama Grouses bench boss Kohei Eto coached the team. The Mill Rats, joined by an assortment of other players, beat the Sendai All-Stars 109-92. Woodyard scored a game-high 36 points.

Closing commentary: It will be a disgrace — an outrage, really — if Toshimitsu Kawachi, the league commissioner, does not hold a news conference during Final Four weekend at Ariake Colosseum. For a league that insists on expanding at a rapid pace the face of the league needs to be available to answer tough questions and face public scrutiny, and also have a chance to defend the league's practices and policies in the media spotlight in this key week of the year.

The fact that Kawachi took no questions from the media last year on championship weekend was, well, a bad idea. To repeat that situation would be completely ridiculous.

Nobody told the bj-league it had to go from six teams to 20 in less than a decade. That was its decision. But the league has brushed aside the hard questions and the criticism it often deserves by simply ignoring them.

* * *

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



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