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Saturday, March 1, 2008

HOOP SCOOP

Warren's play has Five Arrows primed for title run


"An accomplishment sticks to a person," someone once said.

Ed Odeven

The same speaker might've made this remark after watching Reggie Warren play basketball:

A slam dunk leaves a permanent impression on those he plays.

Warren is the bj-league's No. 1 dunker. Through 30 games, he's forced the ball through the rim with his big, strong hands 62 times. He's had eight games with four or more dunks. That's what you call a prolific, consistent, statement-making output.

The Takamatsu Five Arrows' starting power forward is a quick leaper, a relentless finisher. Above all, he insists on elevating the level of his job title to this: powerful.

Warren has scored in double-digits in all 30 Five Arrows games this season, helping the club take a 21-9 record into the weekend, good for second place in the Western Conference behind the Osaka Evessa.

He's posted 22 double-doubles in that span, too.

He's the league's third-leading scorer, averaging 22.8 points per game. And he's No. 1 in minutes played, 1,135 to date.

Warren was an All-Star in his first season in the bj-league in 2006-07. This season, it's clear that he's become one of the league's elite players.

Just ask Five Arrows coach Motofumi Aoki.

"I think he's the most consistent player for this season," Aoki said by phone from Takamatsu. "Last season, Reggie was one of the main players in the Takamatsu Five Arrows, but this year he's one of the main players in the bj-league.

"He's a representative of the (best) players in the bj-league, not only in this team, but this year within this league."

News photo
Five Arrows power forward Reggie Warren leads the team in scoring (22.8 points per game) and had a 40-point effort earlier this season. TAKAMATSU FIVE ARROWS/BJ-LEAGUE PHOTO

Aoki was asked what has helped Warren, who turned 27 on Feb. 8, become one of the league's top stars. Listen to the second-year coach's response:

"In his second season, he is getting used to the Japanese culture and one thing is because we now have a good team doctor and his (physical) condition has been very good compared to last season. As a result of that good condition, he can perform very well in the game and the practice, too."

* * * * *

The Five Arrows swept the Tokyo Apache last weekend at Ariake Colosseum, the site of last spring's bj-league title game. It was Takamatsu's first trip to the hardwood venue since making its surprise appearance in the championship game against the Evessa as a first-year expansion team.

For Warren, those two games provided a statistical snapshot of his stellar season.

In Saturday's game, he had 22 points, 15 rebounds, nine assists, four steals and one blocked shot.

And it doesn't take the basketball wizardry of, say, John Wooden to understand this: Anytime you get nine assists from your starting power forward, there's a good chance you'll win the game.

(Oh yeah, the Five Arrows routed the Apache, 94-73.)

In the rematch, Warren had a 25-point, 13-rebound, four-assist, one-steal effort while playing all 45 minutes of a 99-95 overtime triumph.

This weekend, Warren, just days after matching wits with Tokyo's Nick Davis, will compete in the paint with the Saitama Broncos' imposing frontline foursome of Mamadou Diouf, James Davis, Andrew Feeley and Gordon James.

The 206-cm Warren welcomes the challenge.

"Nick Davis and Gordon James, they are unbelievable rebounders," Warren said. "You've just got to battle.

"With Gordon's size (198 cm) he just amazes me sometimes with the rebounds he gets," Warren said, referring to James' league-best 15.1 boards per game.

When he's not fighting James for the ball in this weekend's intriguing series in Saitama, Warren will keep busy contending with the fleet-footed Diouf as well.

"Mamadou, he's relentless," Warren declared. "He's like a warrior. So I have much respect for that guy, too."

This season, the respect Warren has earned as he makes stops around the 10-team league continues to grow.

Opposing coaches praise him for his relentless play, his hard-nosed effort game after game, his blue-collar work ethic and, of course, his powerful dunks.

Add this item to the list: a textbook fadeaway jump shot.

That compliment came courtesy of Ryukyu Golden Kings coach Hernando Planells during a January interview in Sendai. Warren read about it in this publication and recounted how happy that made him.

"It just made me feel like somebody's watching and noticing what I'm doing over here," said Warren.

* * * * *

Warren, who attended the University of West Florida, detailed in glowing words his admiration for Five Arrows supporters, fans who have constantly encouraged him since he arrived in Japan before the 2006-07 season to play for the brand new team.

He added that the fans' never-wavering enthusiasm has inspired him to play the game one way: to dominate.

"They are just letting me know that I am doing something right," Warren revealed. " . . . So I am getting a lot of feedback and it keeps me hungry and focused."

"It's cool to love to win, but for me I hate to lose."

"That's why I am getting in that mind-frame. But I think it's better to hate to lose."

Warren's winning attitude and natural ability have prevented opposing teams from being able to consistently limit his productivity.

Game after game, he is a stat-stuffer, producing big numbers in all the important categories for a power forward.

But it's his potent slam dunks that provide a psychological jolt for the Five Arrows.

"When I try to dunk the ball, I try to make a statement with a dunk," Warren said.

Yet he's also demonstrated that he's the consummate teammate.

"I like to see when I make a great pass, a great pass for another teammate to get a score," he said in an excited tone of voice. "I love that just as well (as a dunk). Sometimes, I'm more excited than the player that made a shot."

Like many foreign players in the bj-league, Warren's passport has been stamped in locales spanning the globe. He's collected paychecks in Turkey, Israel (two divisions) and Venezuela and in the American Basketball Association.

He's also participated in a basketball tour in China, playing against Chinese Basketball Association squads, Russian teams and the China Junior National Team.

Warren, Takamatsu's forceful catalyst who spent the offseason in Orlando, Fla., working out and playing pickup games against several ex-NBA players, is enjoying the fruits of his labor.

"Professionally outside of the States, this is the best I've been playing," he decided, sizing up his career in one swift sentence.

"I can just see the hard work that I did in the summer and what I did before (has paid off). Different things I learned, from playing in different leagues, I try to use it in this league."

Call him a successful student.



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