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Friday, April 27, 2012
Staten an island of strength for Jets in inaugural season
By ED ODEVEN
With 50 games in the books, the Chiba Jets' first chapter is nearly written.
Their inaugural season will be remembered as a rocky introduction to the league, but the all-around excellence of power forward Jamel Staten has produced some of their top highlights.
Staten, a Minnesota State-Mankato product, is among the league's top 10 in four significant categories: points (21.1, fourth), rebounds (10.9, third), assists (4.2, tied for eighth) and steals (2.8, first).
In fact, Staten is poised to end Shimane Susanoo Magic forward Michael Parker's four-season reign as the league's top theft artist. No easy feat.
Parker, who'll still collect his fourth consecutive scoring crown, has made finishing atop the charts in scoring and steals looks as easy as eating an ice cream cone.
Since Parker entered the league in 2007-08 — a perfect fit for then-bench boss John Neumann's fast and furious Rizing Fukuoka squad — no one has been consistently better at anticipating where the ball will be and taking it away from opponents. He's third in steals this season at 2.4 per game.
In a big way, Staten's productivity has helped compensate roster deficiencies on Jets coach Eric Gardow's club.
The 208-cm Staten would probably be asked to do less on a winning team. For the Jets (18-32), however, his impact on the game has been the team's most constant trait.
Historically awful: The numbers are staggering, making the Takamatsu Five Arrows' current 23-game losing streak, a league record, almost an afterthought.
The Five Arrows (2-48) have only lost 10 games by single digits.
Marinate on those numbers for a minute. Then digest these facts: The team has lost by 20 or more points on 21 occasions, including defeats by 30, 32, 35, 36, 37, 38, 40 and 56 points.
Blowouts are the norm.
Close contests are the surprising exception.
Coach Kenzo Maeda's club has yielded 100 or more points eight times, including last Saturday's 120-64 thrashing by the host Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix.
Takamatsu has lost its last six games by a combined 162 points, including the last four by 20, 29, 56 and 26 points.
The team's winning percentage is .040, courtesy of the following averages: 68.3 points per game and opponents' 87.9 ppg. And a depleted roster that's screaming out for the addition of two or three veteran stars.
The 2008-09 Oita HeatDevils had the previous worst season under the league's current 52-game format, going 8-44 under Tadaharu Ogawa.
Will the Five Arrows fold?
Will the cash-strapped franchise overhaul its roster and find a way to become competitive for the 2012-13 campaign?
Or will more of the same be in order?
Whatever happens next, the Shikoku franchise, now wrapping up its third season of awful operations, has reached the point of critical mass.
Upcoming games: Nine Saturday-Sunday series are scheduled: Iwate Big Bulls vs. Chiba Jets, Sendai 89ers vs. Yokohama B-Corsairs, Toyama Grouses vs. Ryukyu Golden Kings, Shinshu Brave Warriors vs. Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix, Saitama Broncos vs. Niigata Albirex BB, Osaka Evessa vs. Shiga Lakestars, Rizing Fukuoka vs. Kyoto Hannaryz, Miyazaki Shining Suns vs. Shimane Susanoo Magic and Takamatsu Five Arrows vs. Oita HeatDevils.
Playoff-bound Akita (28-24) played its final regular-season game against Iwate last Sunday.
Postseason picture: Hamamatsu (35-16) and Ryukyu (37-13) have clinched the Eastern and Western Conference regular-season titles, respectively.
Yokohama (29-21) sits in second place in the East, followed by Niigata (27-23), Akita, Toyama (25-25) and Sendai (25-25).
In the West, Osaka, Kyoto and Shiga all have 33-17 records, and are vying for the coveted No. 2 spot to earn a bye and the right to host a conference semifinal series.
Fukuoka is 32-18 and Shimane (26-24) has locked up the sixth spot.
Playoff pairings will be determined after the conclusion of Sunday's games.
League accolade: Iwate Big Bulls forward Gordon Klaiber, who helped guide his club to a sweep last weekend over the Akita Northern Happinets is the Lawson/Ponta Player of the Week.
Klaiber had 25 points and 15 rebounds in the series opener and scored 20 points, including four 3-pointers, with six rebounds and four assists in the rematch.
Around the league: Lynn Washington's so-called retirement on April 9 from the Evessa has triggered an outpouring of support and nostalgia from some of the team's most die-hard fans. One longtime booster, Wolfy Nishioka, is selling T-shirts on his website (evess.net) to commemorate Washington's distinguished career with the franchise (six Final Fours, four championship game appearances and three championships in 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08).
The red T-shirt features white words on the front: "The best team and booster," it reads with three white stars just below. On the back, the shirt has Washington's old number (44) and "Thanks" appearing in two neatly stacked horizontal rows.
Fifty-six T-shirts had been sold at last check, and more were being prepared.
Alleged coverup: After its first-ever league-mandated drug testing was completed recently, the league did not release a single name of an individual who'd failed the test. Evidently, transparency for the most serious of issues was not a priority at the league office.
But even the least cynical of observers wouldn't believe that 100 percent of the league's players are clean.
Now, sources are coming out of the woodwork with stories to share.
"I want you to know that (one prominent player) has been smoking weed for several years in Japan," a source told The Japan Times. "The bj-league already knows, but conceals the fact. ... They deceive boosters."