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Friday, Feb. 24, 2012

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Knight still wonders why no team would give him shot


Staff writer

As the playoff chase picks up steam in the coming weeks, several bj-league general managers could be shaking their heads and asking themselves, "Why didn't I sign Billy Knight?"

News photo
Motivated: After waiting to get a call from a bj-league team that never came, veteran swingman Billy Knight signed with the JBL2's Hyogo Storks. HIROKO IWASA

It's clear the UCLA product could be a key difference maker for any number of teams, especially the 2-28 Takamatsu Five Arrows, whose ability to lose by 25 or more points is as strong as the Ryukyu Golden Kings' versatility. Playoff contenders could also benefit from Knight's all-around skills.

But the Feb. 3 signing deadline has passed. Now teams can instead have this thought in mind: "Maybe we should add Knight to our 2012-13 roster."

This winter, when he made his JBL2 debut with the Hyogo Storks, an expansion team, the 33-year-old swingman has been one of the top players in Japan.

After a 41-point, 18-rebound game last month, Knight told The Japan Times, "I am playing good and it's just too bad that no bj-league team wanted me. I was home for two months and teams signed players that weren't good and eventually fired players.

"It really made me sad that no team wanted me in that league that I dominated."

Knight was a two-time All-Star and one-half of the "White-Knight Show," along with Wendell White, that led the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix to the 2009-10 bj-league title.

He helped the Osaka Evessa reach the Final Four for the sixth straight season last May. He said teams insisted he was washed up at age 32 despite the fact that he played in all 54 of Osaka's regular-season and playoff contests last season. He averaged 17.1 points and 6-plus rebounds a game.

"They all said I was too old," Knight told The Japan Times, "and it's not about money because I didn't ask for much money — $2,000 per month. I played every game last year . . . so how am I too old, when young players are hurt and missing games all the time?"

"I emailed and called and personally talked to many bj-league teams and coaches last summer and all I heard was, 'no, no, no.' "

Knight was the bj-league's third leading scorer (19.6 ppg) in Hamamatsu's first championship season.

Through Sunday, the Storks are 15-9 and in fourth place in the JBL2. Knight is the league's No. 1 scorer at 27.9 points per game (more than 5 ppg more than the No. 2 scorer). He's second in rebounds (12.8 per contest), second in free-throw shooting (86 percent), third in steals (2.2 per game) and second in blocked shots (1.2).

You could say that Knight is on a one-man mission to show that the bj-league's talent evaluators made, in his view, a colossal error by not finding a spot for him this season.

"Yes, the fact that every bj-league team was against me really does fire me up," he said. " I want to dominate this league and show I can win a championship in this league and help my team win because that's the name of the game and that's what I am about — winning.

"Yes, I hope to play well with the Storks and make a push to the bj-league or stay with the Storks because they showed me loyalty when many, many bj-league teams have no loyalty but for only four players — (Osaka's) Lynn Washington and (Ryukyu's) Jeff Newton and (Hamamatsu's) Wayne Arnold and maybe (Shimane's) Mike Parker are the only players who get this loyalty.

"I love the Storks organization and I hope to bring many fans to the Storks and I hope the leagues do merge in 2013 so we can have one quality basketball league and stop confusing our basketball fans."

Japanese society's tendency to want everything (and everyone) to be exactly the same, in Knight's view, conspired against him.

"I think if a GM says a bad thing (about you) or doesn't want a certain player, then the rest of the GMs don't want that player as well," he said.

"All my life, I have won and never took shortcuts and I was true to the bj-league and that league let me down, but I am happy that the JBL2 picked me up, and now I can focus more on my career . . . and watch how the bj-league is in a confused state, with more teams to add to the confusion."

Upcoming schedule: This weekend's slate features nine series: Shimane vs. Oita, Yokohama vs. Miyazaki, Kyoto vs. Saitama, Iwate vs. Ryukyu, Akita vs. Niigata, Sendai vs. Takamatsu, Shinshu vs. Toyama, Osaka vs. Hamamatsu and Shiga vs. Chiba.

Weekly accolade: Rizing Fukuoka guard Jun Nakanishi, who has been in the league since 2005, scored 15 points in back-to-back games last weekend as the Rizing swept the Chiba Jets. Nakanishi is the Lawson/Ponta Player of the Week.

In the paint: Shinshu guard Derek Raivio sank all 20 of his free-throw attempts last weekend — 10-for-10 in both games — as the Brave Warriors earned a split against Kyoto. ... Tokyo-based Associated Press writer Jim Armstrong's profile piece on Saitama Broncos coach Natalie Nakase this week has been picked up by major media outlets around the world, including SI.com, Yahoo Sports and ESPN.com. Look for a Japan Times feature on Nakase in the coming days. ... Toyama guard Masashi Joho is the top scorer among the league's Japanese players (16.3 ppg, 20th overall). The next nine: Shiga's Yu Okada (12.6 ppg, 38th), Osaka's Cohey Aoki (12.2, 40th), Fukuoka's Akitomo Takeno (12.1, 41st), Miyazaki's Taishiro Shimizu (11.5, 45th), Niigata's Yuichi Ikeda (11.3, 46th), Ryukyu's Narito Namizato (11.2, 48th), Fukuoka's Jun Nakanishi (11.0, 49th), Ryukyu's Naoto Kosuge (10.7, 53rd) and Iwate's Makoto Sawaguchi (9.3, 64th).

Speaking to ... Osaka center Wayne Marshall. The Temple University product conversed with The Japan Times on Sunday at Saitama Municipal Gymnasium. Here are a few nuggets from our conversation:

*Quotable, part I: "I just try to be the anchor in the middle. I try to contest layups and make (foes) take tough shots, and just be a presence." — Marshall, describing his defensive role for the Evessa.

*Quotable, part II: "The team goal is to definitely win the championship. That is the No.1 goal for our team. Personally, I have no goals (other than) to be a better person, a better father, better friend, better teammate." — Marshall reveals.

*Quotable, part III: "I'm always pleased when I'm able to help my teammates win. Coach (Ryan Blackwell) gives me a lot of freedom to play the game, and he knows that I can play so it's definitely more pleasing with a victory." — Marshall admits.

*Quotable, part IV: "Lynn's emotions are always in the game. When he feels like there should've been a foul called and there isn't, the next play he's definitely going to send a message. So that will definitely help his game throughout (his career)." — Marshall explains, referring specifically to a sequence on Sunday when Washington complained about a foul called on him, and followed that play with a forceful slam dunk.

***

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



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