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Friday, Dec. 16, 2011

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Losing streak by Five Arrows nearing epic proportions


Staff writer

Considering their recent history, it's no surprise the Takamatsu Five Arrows are piecing together a season that resembles a comedy of errors. But the fact that the team has made zero roster upgrades or additions in recent weeks may come as a shock to even the biggest of cynics.

News photo
Rough stretch: Center Paul Butorac, seen playing for the Akita Northern Happinets last season, and the Takamatsu Five Arrows are winless through 18 games. The cash-strapped Five Arrows face the title-contending Ryukyu Golden Kings this weekend. YOSHIAKI MIURA

This is a franchise, after all, that went a combined 23-77 the past two seasons after posting an 88-49 record in its first three campaigns. Parent company Anabuki Construction Inc.'s financial woes and the team's respectability vanished at the same time.

This led to the team declaring bankruptcy, but then withdrawing the paperwork in court in Takamatsu.

A new management company was formed to run the team in 2009, and woeful attendance and lack of depth on its roster have been glaring problems ever since.

The Five Arrows enter a two-game homestand against the perennial title-contending Ryukyu Golden Kings this weekend riding an 18-game, season long losing streak. Twelve of those loses have been by 15 or more points, including defeats of 20, 23, 24 and two 26-point games, as well as a 48-point embarrassment against the Shimane Susanoo Magic on Oct. 23.

Three of Takamatsu's closest games (all single-digit losses) have been at home: a seven-point setback to Shimane on Oct. 22 and back-to-back defeats on Dec. 3-4 to the Iwate Big Bulls (nine and seven).

Forward Kevin Smith, a 22-year-old rookie, has missed each of the Five Arrows' 18 games to date due to foot fracture sustained in the preseason. At 196 cm, the University of Richmond product is the shortest of the team's import players and would help diversify the team's rotation on the court.

Post players Michael Nunnally (11.2 points per game), Paul Butorac (14.9) and Nyika Williams (11.8) basically all play the same position, so foes have been able to exploit the matchups.

The Five Arrows, led by first-year coach Kenzo Maeda, have 178 assists and 312 turnovers; they are 67-for-266 on 3-point shots.

The above numbers show the need for reinforcements — upgrades — in the backcourt and at small forward to complement veterans Hiroyuki Kikuchi and Shuichi Takada, Makoto Kita, among others. In other words the team is too one dimensional.

"With three pivots, it is not easy to play," Shimane coach Zeljko Pavlicevic said. "Kevin Smith is the key for winning some games."

Whether Smith will make an impact this season remains to be seen, but the Five Arrows' string of horrible seasons — now resembling the Yokohama BayStars' recent history — hurts the entire bj-league's image, sources have stated repeatedly.

Weekly accolade: John "Helicopter" Humphrey of the Saitama Broncos is the Lawson/Ponta Player of the Week, the league announced on Tuesday.

Humphrey scored 52 points, one point shy of Michael Parker's league record, in Saitama's win over the Shinshu Brave Warriors on Saturday. He sank all 24 of his free throws, a league record. A day later, Humphrey had a 24-point performance in a loss.

Room to grow: New Broncos coach Natalie Nakase, who has led the team to two wins in five games, recognizes the value of reaching out to experienced basketball minds as she works her way up the coaching ranks.

She counts Bob Hill, the longtime NBA coach and ex-Tokyo Apache bench boss, and his son, Casey, now an assistant for the NBA Development League's Dakota Wizards, as key mentors.

"I talk to Bob frequently, maybe like a couple of times a week, the same with Casey," Nakase said with a smile. "They understood the whole process of me transforming into this and are very proud and happy for me.

"At the same time, they knew my life was going to change. They said, 'Your stress level is going to go up.' There's a lot more responsibility in this position."

Nakase was an assistant for the Apache last season and also served in that role under former Broncos coach Dean Murray, who was fired in late November.

"So what I like is they prepared me for a lot of the negative that might happen," Nakase continued, speaking about advice she's received from Bob Hill and Casey Hill. "As much as everyone loves that I'm the first female this and that (in the bj-league), I have to be ready for the negative that people might want to say that she doesn't lose well because she's a girl, because she's a female . . ."

By the numbers: Fukuoka's Kevin Palmer is the league's top scorer (23.6 ppg), followed by Shimane's Parker (23.1) and Humphrey (20.9).

Saitama's Kenny Satterfield is No. 1 in assists (7.7 per game), Shimane's Edward Yamamoto is second at 6.0 and Akita's Michael Gardener is third (5.6).

The top rebounder is Niigata's Chris Holm (13.5 boards per game), followed by Osaka's Lawrence Blackledge (10.9).

Chiba's Jamel Staten and Palmer are tops in steals (3.0 apiece per game), with Parker and Humphrey in hot pursuit (2.6).

Shimane's Jeral Davis leads all players in blocked shots (4.1). Blackledge is No. 2 at 3.2 and Sendai's Rashaad Singleton, who has become more productive in recent weeks, is third at 2.2.

The four most accurate 3-point shooters are Akita's Kazuhiro Shoji (50 percent, 34-for-68), Osaka's Cohey Aoki (48.1, 25-for-52), Niigata's Yuichi Ikeda (47.4, 36-for-76) and Shiga's Yu Okada (45-for-100).

Upcoming schedule: This weekend's action began on Friday as the Yokohama B-Corsairs play host to Shiga. Eight series tip off on Saturday: Iwate vs. Fukuoka, Akita vs. Osaka, Sendai vs. Miyazaki, Niigata vs. Saitama, Chiba vs. Toyama, Hamamatsu vs. Shinshu, Oita vs. Shimane and the aforementioned Takamatsu-Ryukyu matchup.

Around the league: Kyoto Broadcasting System had a short segment during Thursday evening's 9:25 to 9:50 news program about the Kyoto Hannaryz, who have won 10 consecutive games. The Hannaryz are off until Christmas Eve, when sideline supervisor Kazuo Nakamura and the Northern Happinets show up for the series opener. ... Correction: It was reported in Monday's online edition that Ryukyu's Reggie Okosa picked up two technical fouls in Sunday's game. He was penalized for doing this on Saturday. ...

Asked to think about who has the league's best hook shot, a longtime hoop observer dished out the following insight: "Not too many guys use the hook shot. (Kyoto's) Rick Rickert uses it a lot. So does (Dzaflo) Larkai in Okinawa. Okosa has a jump hook, so maybe not a real hook. And I've seen (Toyama's Masashi) Joho use the hook shot on drives. I can't think of too many others."

What are three things that can make the bj-league better? This is a questions this reporter has posed from time to time to individuals around the league in a variety of capacities.

One player, who requested anonymity said, "The three things I think would make the league better is (improved) officiating, more publicity to attract and build up the league's fan base and I think they should get rid of the sport court, too."

Osaka power forward Lynn Washington responded to this question by saying, "...There is a way of doing business in Japan to where the owners do not provide a syllabus of sorts. It is my way or the highway.

"I have never heard of any coach, player or league official being asked what the league can do to uplift league operations. Crazy.

"There are many things the league can do to make it better, but one thing that really stands out is to trying to pick off a JBL team every year to corner and monopolize the market in Japan."

You've got to start somewhere: After allowing the Broncos to shoot 42 free throws (41 makes), shell-shocked Brave Warriors players returned to their locker room on Saturday in Gyoda, Saitama Prefecture, and got ready for Sunday's rematch. Before leaving the gym, a few of them spoke to reporters, including power forward Lee Roberts, whose 40-point performance was overshadowed by Humphrey's brilliant effort.

But the Broncos' 107-91 victory didn't shock Roberts.

"We're kind of inconsistent to have an 8-8 record," he said. "We're having trouble winning the first game and it's kind of up and down right now. We're trying to level out, and we're struggling with that just a little bit."

Why?

"I think our focus is just a little bit off in our first game, and we haven't really figured out why, but the excuse is not being inexperienced anymore," Roberts said. "For the first couple of series, we could fall back on that (excuse), but now we're getting into midseason and we have to change something and start winning some games."

The Brave Warriors are aiming to make the playoffs as a first-year franchise, Roberts said.

Roberts acknowledged that bj-league veterans Takanori Goya, who had 10 points and six assists on Saturday, and captain Takato Saito give the team stability and leadership as the team works to build a cohesive unit.

"They bring some experience to the team, which is good, because ... all of our Americans hadn't played in this league before. So we are adjusting and they are helping us as leaders.

"It's nice to kind of have a chauffeur into the league with those two guys."

Dynamic duo: Forward Rick Rickert and center Lance Allred both joined Kyoto this season and bring a smart, team-first approach to the game. Both went through the process of being drafted by NBA clubs, with Allred spending two years in the NBA.

Together, they form a terrific one-two combination in the Hannaryz frontcourt. Both guys are 211 cm.

"The two of them are at an NBA level when they are on the court together," Chiba Jets coach Eric Gardow said after his team was swept by the Hannaryz last weekend.

"When there is only one out there it is not that big of an issue, even for us and we are small. Two heads are better than one really, but it's significantly noticeable how well they work together and complement each other's strengths and weaknesses. It's definitely an NBA-like headache to match up with them."

The last word: "I think she's doing a great job. These guys had to deal with losing a head coach and switching up and not only that but having the first female coach in the history of the league. So it's a testament to her to be able to step up and take that role and do well and still have success. My hat's off to her." -- Roberts, reflecting on Nakase's new role with the Broncos.

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



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