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Monday, Jan. 16, 2012

Western Conference wins bj-league All-Star matchup


Staff writer

SAITAMA — As expected, the bj-league's sixth annual All-Star Game was a light-hearted affair. Sure, a few of the players broke a sweat, but the amount of defense played in the prime-time showcase was far from typical if the comparison involved a regular-season contest.

News photo
Go for it: Lynn Washington goes on the attack during the bj-league All-Star Game in Saitama on Sunday. YOSHIAKI MIURA

That wasn't the point, though; of course, the fans expected dunks, no-looked passes, and plenty of street-ball acrobatics.

That's what they witnessed on Sunday at Saitama Super Arena in the Western Conference's 120-93 victory over the Eastern Conference. An announced crowd of 14,011 showed up for the mid-season showcase.

Saitama Broncos head coach Natalie Broncos, the former UCLA point guard, women's pro coach in Germany and Tokyo Apache assistant, ran the East squad, assisted by Chiba Jets bench boss Eric Gardow.

The East faced a 90-67 deficit entering the fourth quarter.

For the victorious West, Michael Parker, who has won the last three scoring titles, led all players with 26 points, including 10-for-13 from inside the 3-point arc, many of which were layups or shots within a few meters of the hoop. He could've been picked for the MVP award, and nobody would've said it was a bad choice.

Osaka Evessa franchise player Lynn Washington picked up his second straight MVP trophy, finishing with 21 points and 10 boards, the only player to notch a double-double. He also had five assists.

After the game, Nakase reflected on her experience, which she described with a big smile on her face.

"Me and Coach Eric (Gardow) and the guys on the East, we went into this wanting to win," Nakase said. "I'm not going to say we didn't. But I'm just proud of them the way they finished. I thought that was really good. I thought they maybe had a little nerves. A big crowd. I was very impressed with the 14,000. Very impressive. I think the guys were overwhelmed but also very excited.

"For me, it was just a great honor," she added. "I'm very excited to be around so much talent."

Was it fun drawing up plays for the All-Stars? she was asked.

"Oh yeah," she said. "Me and Eric wanted to keep it pretty much open and let them showcase their skills, but we gave them a couple sets. And it was like, 'OK, who should we go to?' They showed as much as they could out there and, again, they worked extremely hard. . . . I had a great experience. I definitely would love to do this again."

Most statistics were pretty similar across the board. The East was 7-for-33 from 3-point territory, while the West, winners of three consecutive All-Star Games, was 14-for-34. Those extra points from beyond the arc proved to be a big deal.

East All-Star forward John "Helicopter" Humphrey was given the Most Impressive Player accolade, presented annually to the top player on the losing team. Humphrey had 21 points and two slam dunks. He won the Slam Dunk Contest before the game.

Humphrey said, "I feel good. It was just fun to play with so much talent."

After collecting the MVP award, Washington acknowledged there were a few worthy candidates to nab the accolade.

"Honestly, anyone of the guys could have won it," he said. "We were moving it (the ball), sharing it, passing it, playing defense . . . I was just with a talented team today."

Shiga coach Alan Westover, who guided the West to the victory, tried to keep it simple.

"As coach, I wanted to give everyone good playing time," he said. "And I just asked that the players play hard, play together and make sure that they play defense. A good group of fellows, they all played together and passed the ball around, and I think it was a fun game for them to play, and easy for me to coach."

Asked to assess the Japanese players he coached and coached against — there were a combined 13 on the two rosters, Westover said: "I thought the Japanese talent was very good. I tried to rotate them around. My two points guards at the beginning (Cohey Aoki of the Osaka Evessa and Ryukyu Golden Kings rising star Narito Namizato) are both very popular and talented players. I think all six of my Japanese players in the Western Conference came in and contributed significantly and had an impact on the game.

"It was nice to have that experience to coach them and get to know them better, and there were several players on the other side yet that I hadn't seen yet this year, both Japanese and American, and I was impressed with their talent and the way they played in the game."

Yokohama B-Corsairs forward Justin Burrell and Shinshu Brave Warriors forward Lee Roberts each scored 20 points apiece for the East, giving the expansion teams' fans a thrill as well. Joho scored 11 points, including three 3s, and guard Maurice Hargrow of the Chiba Jets, another expansion team, scored eight and also made three steals.

Ex-NBA center Lance Allred, the Kyoto Hannaryz anchor, had 14 points and nine boards for the West. Fellow big man Jeff Newton, who led the Ryukyu Golden Kings to a championship in 2008-09, added 10 points and five boards. Oita HeatDevils forward Wendell White and Shiga Lakestars guard Yu Okada scored nine apiece. Taishiro Shimizu (Miyazaki Shining Suns), Kevin Palmer (Rizing Fukuoka) and Hiroyuki Kikuchi (Takamatsu Five Arrows) each had six points for the victors. Allred had 10 of the West's 30 fourth-quarter points.

The West won a dramatic All-Star Game last January in Osaka, beating the Bob Hill-coached East, 100-99, on Matt Lottich's shot in the closing seconds.

In the opening quarter, Parker and Washington had 11 points apiece and Okada poured in nine. Washington was 3-for-3 from 3-point land and Okada was 3-for-4.

Washington got the festivities kicked off with a fadeaway 3-pointer from the right wing for the game's first points. It set the tone for a half of long-range brilliance.

Using a 15-2 spurt, the Western Conference jumped out to a 25-9 advantage after a Parker putback late in the opening quarter.

The West led 40-18 after one quarter.

Kikuchi extended the lead to 46-20 about 90 seconds into the second quarter on — you guessed it — a 3-pointer.

The East trailed 62-42 at halftime. By that point, Westover's All-Stars had buried 10 of 19 3s.

Humphrey led the East with 12 first-half points on 5-for-9 shooting.

Washington did not play in the second quarter. Neither did his former Osaka team mate and fellow Indiana University product Jeff Newton. Other players took turns carrying the West offense in the second stanza, including Shimizu, a former Saitama player, who had six points in the quarter on a pair of 3s. Palmer scored six points in the period.

Namizato, exhibiting razzle-dazzle dribble-drive skills, dished out a few laser-quick passes and showed his flair for the dramatic with instant decision-making, catching the ball from a teammate and passing it right off without letting the ball touch the court. This put the West ahead of the East's defenders on a few instances.

Namizato had four assists by halftime, leading all players in that department at that point.

Early in the third quarter, Aoki, who won the 3-Point Shooting Contest earlier in the day, delivered a crisp, long-court pass to Parker for a textbook-perfect layup for a 74-48 lead.

Seconds later, there was Toyama's Masashi Joho, Aoki's former Tokyo teammate, scoring back-to-back baskets, weaving in and out of traffic for a hard-earned layup and pulling up in the wing to nail a 3-pointer to cut it to 74-53.

Then there was Joho alertly feeding the ball to Humphrey on the wing for a 3-pointer. His 3 trimmed it to 81-60. Joho had a game-high six assists, and Sendai captain Takehiko Shimura had five. Akita Northern Happinets forward Kazuhiro Shoji, the oldest All-Star had 37, had zero points. He missed all three of his 3-point attempts.

With a national TV audience on BS Fuji and a big crowd in the same building that hosted the 2006 FIBA World Basketball Championship final between Spain (the winner) and Greece, many fans had their first opportunity to see Kyoto Hannaryz and former NBA big man Allred, a rock-solid example of fundamental basketball, compete in Japan. Allred's inside basket pushed the West's lead to 94-71 early in the fourth. He scored moments earlier on a nifty give-and-go.

Allred added back-to-back baskets on a straight-away bank shot and a layup to increase the lead to 98-73.

Former league MVP White's slam dunk made it 104-80 with just under 5 minutes left. What remained was the formal end of the game.

After changing back into his street clothes, Hargrow said playing in the game was "a great honor." He said it's impressive that Washington has added to his MVP collection (two full-season accolades along with the two All-Star honors now), and that all imports hear about what he has accomplished here over the years. "It's impressive," Hargrow said, succinctly.

"Everybody that comes out to this country that plays in the bj-league is acquainted with the name Lynn Washington," said Hargrow, "because of the success that he's had out here. But the guys keep it in perspective, Lynn keeps it in perspective. Today he just went out and made plays and had a good performance. and was welcomed with the MVP like he deserved."

Joho and Okada, the top Japanese point-getters, were surrounded by reporters in the post-game mixed zone, as was Aoki, the lone six-time All-Star.

Their presence in the mid-season extravaganza is becoming a yearly tradition as the league continues its growth from humble beginnings in 2005.

"If it wasn't for the fans, there wouldn't be an All-Star Game," Humphrey concluded, adding that the league has "grown by leaps and bounds" since the 2006-07 All-Star Game in Ginowan, Okinawa.

Quotable: "It was a very unique experience. Actually, it was the first professional contest that I've done. So I did a little practicing here and I've been shooting well this season, so I thought I was the one to beat. But Cohey (Aoki), he can shoot. I was just trying to focus on my own thing and close it out, but some of them didn't drop." — Sendai forward Dan Fitzgerald, describing the 3-Point Shootout. He finished second to Aoki.

"It's great to play in such a nice venue in front of such a great crowd. It makes me proud that I had the opportunity to be a part of it." — Westover.

Notable: The Tokyo expansion team, set to begin play in the fall, will host the 2012-13 All-Star Game at a to-be-announced site, commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi announced on Sunday.



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