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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Super sub Oguchi uses time on bench for analysis

Staff writer

Since the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix entered the bj-league in the fall of 2008, veteran guard Masahiro Oguchi has answered the call of duty primarily as a backup player.

News photo
Strong move: Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix guard Masahiro Oguchi (right) is an instrumental part of his team's success since it joined the bj-league in 2008. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

Some stars would despise this role. Oguchi, however, has found a comfort zone as a game-changing presence off the bench. Last season, for instance, he made 12 starts in 52 games, and he started once in his 40 appearances this season for the league's top team.

From his courtside seat, the 35-year-old spends his time wisely, studying the action on the court as carefully as a police detective looks for clues to solve a crime. His observational skills are as strong as his 3-point shooting prowess. For example, Oguchi buried a league-record 10 3-pointers (14 attempts) in the Eastern Conference final last May against the Niigata Albirex BB, the same foe reigning champion Hamamatsu will meet in Saturday's conference final at Ariake Colosseum at 2:05 p.m.

The winner will meet either the Ryukyu Golden Kings or the Osaka Evessa in Sunday evening's championship game.

Whether its the season opener or a playoff contest, Oguchi prefers to analyze the flow of the game before he steps onto the court and does his part to tilt the momentum in Hamamatsu's favor.

"OK, first of all, at the beginning of the game, I just take a look at the whole game," Oguchi said in a Wednesday telephone interview. "(This includes) noticing what kind of rhythm we have or the energy we have, and then I find out the dangerous spots (mismatches) and go into the game and try to do something for the team."

Not being one of the five Phoenix starters doesn't bother Oguchi. Instead, he revealed, "I'm very satisfied to sit on the bench at the beginning of the game."

Oguchi, a scrappy player with an old-school commitment to fundamentals, sticks to this routine every game. It has helped Hamamatsu win 112 of 145 regular-season games and three Eastern Conference regular-season titles since the team known as OSG Phoenix defected from the JBL.

The 2009-10 Final Four MVP's game breakdown includes identifying which players are in rhythm and which players, on either team, aren't.

He also knows that any good team must be able to thwart the opposition's high-scoring spurts in order to earn victories.

"If the enemy has good rhythm, we have to stop it," the Osaka Prefecture native said.

Without a doubt, Hamamatsu is the beast of the East. This is true, Oguchi said, because of the team's commitment to making little improvements.

"We are getting much better, getting stronger, because everybody is playing together and thinking about playing as a team," he said. "That's the main reason we are getting better and stronger."

Oguchi has played this game long enough to recognize the value of teammates, knowing that strength in numbers produces tangible results. And that's why he looks back fondly at what occurred on May 22, 2010, when his 10 3-pointers etched his name into the annals of Japanese basketball history.

Yet he understands the need to focus on the current game, not forcing himself or his teammates to replicate past accomplishments.

"I just try to shoot from a wide-open (position) if I can get the shot," Oguchi said. "But that's not my first priority. Defense is my first priority. I don't care about how many 3-point shots I can make. It's just about winning the championship, that's all."

To advance to the title game for the second straight year, Oguchi and his teammates don't have a brand new strategy in place against an Albirex squad featuring twin towers George Leach and Julius Ashby, Japanese standouts Naoto Takushi and Yuichi Ikeda, among others, despite two weeks' preparation time.

Instead, Phoenix coach Kazuo Nakamura has guided his charges in typical fashion, demanding excellence but sticking to the same formula that's worked repeatedly.

We want to play as usual," Oguchi said. "Of course it's a big game. I want to play as normal, play usual, and then the result will come."

Looking at the West's Final Four participants, Oguchi admitted it's not easy to predict which team is stronger. He did say, however, that the addition of ex-NBA point guard Kenny Satterfield, who played for the Saitama Broncos before the March 11 earthquake, had made Osaka a more well-rounded team.

The Evessa are getting better right now," Oguchi added.

Also, Oguchi said, the uncertainty of Ryukyu big man Jeff Newton's ankle — he missed the Kings' previous playoff series against the Shiga Lakestars on May 7-8 — contributed to his response.

"Both teams are tough," he said, "but I don't know who will win."

Ultimately, the Final Four teams all share something in common — championship game experience — though the Albirex have never won a title. Coach Masaya Hirose's team lost to the Evessa in the bj-league's first title game in 2006, its lone title game appearance.

Hamamatsu, meanwhile, has no plans to give up its crown without a fight.

"We earned the championship last season," Oguchi concluded. "But we are ready to get another one."

And, of course, he's ready to leave the bench to make that happen.

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