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Friday, April 20, 2012

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Geary displays coaching acumen for first-year club


Staff writer

Building a successful basketball team from scratch requires patience, enthusiasm, hard work and first-rate instincts.

News photo
Winning touch: Yokohama B-Corsairs coach Reggie Geary and captain Masayuki Kabaya have guided the bj-league team to a playoff berth in its first season. YOSHIAKI MIURA

Clearly, Yokohama B-Corsairs coach Reggie Geary was the right man for the job in Kanagawa Prefecture. The former NBA guard possesses all of these qualities.

What's more, he's positioned the expansion franchise for a potential run at the Final Four. No easy feat for a first-year club at any level.

Which is why Geary is an obvious candidate for the bj-league's Coach of the Year award. The B-Corsairs front office, led by general manager Naoki Ogawa, has also done its homework and assembled a team with good chemistry and complementary pieces.

Before the B-Corsairs opened the season in early October, Geary summarized his goals for the 2011-12 campaign.

"As an expansion team, my job first and foremost is to start laying the foundation for success here," he said at the time.

Success has been achieved; the B-Corsairs are 8-2 in their last 10 games. But the team has greater ambitions.

The next two weekends will be a big test for the B-Corsairs (27-21), facing the playoff-bound Sendai 89ers (25-23), starting with the Friday-Saturday series in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture. The teams square off again on April 28-29 in Sendai. If the B-Corsairs hold on to the No. 2 seed, they will earn a bye into the Eastern Conference semifinals and earn the right to host that playoff series at home. (The 89ers are currently in fifth place.)

The first-round playoff format remains the same this year, as the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds in both conferences will play host to the fifth- and sixth-place teams.

The majority of Yokohama's players were not in the bj-league last season, including Justin Burrell (St. John's product; an explosive finisher and double-double machine), Chas McFarland (Wake Forest; gifted defender, great shot-blocking anticipation), Draelon Burns (DePaul; astute operator in traffic) and Marcus Simmons (USC; lockdown defender).

Guard Kenji Yamada (JBL's Link Tochigi Brex), guard Satoshi Hisayama (JBL2 veteran) and forward Takeshi Hotta (JBL's Mitsubishi Electric Diamond Dolphins) add skills that have made an impact — points, assists, timely baskets, steals and defense. Rookie big man Pape Faye Mour has provided valuable contributions at both ends of the floor.

Captain Masayuki Kabaya was a key contributor for the Toyama Grouses, a 12.0 point-per-game scorer from 2007-09, before his second tour of duty with Mitsubishi. Forward Taketo Aoki, a journeyman since the bj-league's inception, joined Yokohama after suiting up for the Oita HeatDevils in 2010-11. Guard Minoru Kimura saw time in the backcourt for the now-defunct Tokyo Apache last season, benefiting from longtime NBA coach Bob Hill's tactics and superior hoop acumen.

Despite a schedule that's been less than ideal — home games in Odawara, Yokosuka and Hiratsuka and very few contests in a real basketball gym in their alleged home city — the B-Corsairs have made steady progress throughout the season under Geary's capable leadership.

Struggling Happinets: Akita slipped into third place by a mere three percentage points — the B-Corsairs took over the second spot — on Sunday after a loss to the host Shimane Susanoo Magic.

The second-year franchise (28-22), beset by a roster purge and a high turnover in import players for several months, is now finding its lack of stability catching up with it. Veteran coach Kazuo Nakamura's efforts to replicate what he accomplished with the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix — back-to-back titles in 2009-10 and 2010-11 — now appear to be an impossible feat with his hometown club.

"Well, they've lost five of their last six, and are only 10-10 in their last 20 games," a league insider pointed out. "But of those 20 games, they are only 4-10 against playoff teams, the other six wins against non-qualifiers."

Apology issued: After Saitama Broncos forward John Flowers' claims of widespread marijuana use in the bj-league during a mid-March interview with a Pittsburgh radio station were published in this newspaper and subsequent English and Japanese tweets transmitted the message near and far, the league office issued a delayed reaction.

Flowers was ordered to write a formal letter of apology to commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi, The Japan Times has learned. The league office confirmed receipt of this letter last Friday, nearly a month after Flowers' radio interview.

League spokesman Akihiro Ejima said Flowers' letter informed Kawachi it was a mistake to say what he did, and claimed he didn't know how many drug users there were in the league.

The league office denied a request to obtain a copy of the letter, citing Flowers' privacy as the reason.

It's beyond this reporter's comprehension, however, why it took the league so long to react, and why Kawachi didn't issue a swift statement denouncing what Flowers said in mid-March. After all, protecting the league's image needs to be a priority.

In most pro leagues, Flowers would've been fined, suspended, or both, as soon as the league found out what he had said, especially after a league-imposed gag order was supposedly in place regarding the issue of drugs, according to league insiders. The bj-league's modus operandi often defies logic, it says here. This situation illustrates that point.

Upcoming games: In addition to the Yokohama-Sendai series, the following matchups are on the docket this weekend: Ryukyu Golden Kings vs. Chiba Jets, Iwate Big Bulls vs. Akita Northern Happinets, Niigata Albirex BB vs. Shiga Lakestars, Toyama Grouses vs. Miyazaki Shining Suns, Shinshu Brave Warriors vs. Rizing Fukuoka, Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix vs. Takamatsu Five Arrows, Osaka Evessa vs. Kyoto Hannaryz and Oita HeatDevils vs. Saitama Broncos.

League accolade: Evessa guard Cohey Aoki, who has helped the team win a league-high 20 road games to date, is the Lawson/Ponta Player of the Week.

Against host Toyama last weekend, Aoki had 22- and 16-point efforts as Osaka earned a sweep.

Looking ahead: Osaka (33-15) returns home to play four games to close out the regular season, ending with a series against Shiga set for April 28-29.

The Western Conference-leading Golden Kings (35-13), meanwhile, appear to have an easier stretch before the playoffs commence. The Jets are 18-30 and the Grouses, next week's foe, are 24-24 entering this weekend's action.

If Ryukyu stumbles down the stretch, the Evessa still have a shot to win the West. But the league's quirky tiebreaker (overall point differential average) would favor the Golden Kings if the teams were tied at the end of the season.

Osaka is averaging 76.3 ppg and yielding a league-low 73.1, which makes its point differential plus-3.2. Ryukyu is averaging 82.5 ppg and giving up 74.2, a point differential of 8.3.

Jets talk: Chiba bench boss Eric Gardow said guard Maurice Hargrow and forward Jamel Staten, two of the league's top 10 scorers, are unquestionably the team's co-MVPs.

"Absolutely, they are co-MVPs, for sure," Gardow said, "because without them we are not where we are at. Let's just be honest, those two are our co-MVPs; without them, our team dynamics completely change and everyone in the league knows it."

Center Gaston Moliva, meanwhile, enjoyed watching the team-produced video shown after Sunday's two-point loss to the Shining Suns. He said it showcased the team's family-like atmosphere.

That strong team bond, he said, has helped the team cope with loss and frustration that are par for the course for an expansion club "because it wasn't an easy ride. We had a lot of ups and downs ... but off the court we were always the same."

This was Moliva's first experience playing for an expansion team. It wasn't easy, he said, as the team struggled, but admitted continuity may be a good thing for the franchise in making plans for the 2012-13 season.

"It would be great for the organization to have us back, because I think it would be an easy transition," Moliva said, "and we already know what we need to work on. I think it would be beneficial for the Chiba Jets."

In the spotlight: Kyoto center Lance Allred, the NBA's first hearing-impaired player, recently did a lengthy interview with Deafathletejapan.net.

Here's one revealing excerpt from that interview:

"How did it feel to be the first deaf NBA player?"

He responded by saying, "Oh, it was definitely an honor. But there were a lot of other 'labels' that I had to overcome. People said I wasn't athletic enough, or that I didn't come from a big enough school, or that I finished my collegiate career at the age of 24, and thus too old and many other things.

"People will give you a million reasons why you cannot do something. It is up to you to decide what to listen to. And at the end of the day, I had to teach myself, through a lot of disappointment and hardship, that it is none of my business what other people think of me."

Allred was also asked to analyze the differences in Japanese and American basketball.

"The Japanese style appears to be much more analytical and almost careful compared to the American style," he said. "There are some aspects of the American style that bother me: sometimes the players don't think enough and just shoot and think later. As well, sometimes I feel the Japanese style gets complacent or passive with too much analysis, afraid to make a mistake. I would say I am somewhere in the middle..."

To access the full story, visit www.deafathletejapan.net/041lance-usa.html

Good challenge: Before the 89ers' series finale against the Big Bulls last Sunday, Sendai coach Bob Pierce had a brief talk with forward Takuya Komoda, one of the league's most improved Japanese players.

Good timing. Komoda, still only 24, has the potential to be a quality forward for the next decade or more and join the ranks of Japanese stars such as Aoki and Toyama's Masashi Joho.

"I talked to him before the game about the great play of Joho and Cohey Saturday, and that he needed to start seeing himself in that class," Pierce said. "Of course, that's a lot of pressure for a young player, so I reminded him at halftime that we needed him to shoot, that even if he missed it was OK, but we needed him to be aggressive. And he responded by starting off the third quarter with five points on 2-for-3 shooting along with grabbing three rebounds."

Komoda finished with nine points in the 89ers' 83-51 win and increased confidence, too.

* * *

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



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