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Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009

HOOP SCOOP

Top stars left out of bj-league All-Star Game


It's simply preposterous to believe Lynn Washington, John "Helicopter" Humphrey and Nick Davis are not among the bj-league's best 20 players. These guys have been a big part of the league's growth — and success — since Day One.

Ed Odeven

It's a disgrace and, well, a disservice to the fans that these guys will not play in the 2008-09 bj-league All-Star Game in Beppu, Oita Prefecture, on Jan. 25. The three talented foreigners have been among the league's pioneers and continue to play dominant roles for their teams.

Washington, you may recall, won two of the league's first three MVP awards. This season, the power forward is No. 2 in the league in scoring (24.5) and No. 3 in rebounding (13.2) for the three-time reigning champion Osaka Evessa.

So how could the league overlook Washington's numbers?

I can't concoct a theory.

Humphrey is the league's most consistent highlight-reel maker, soaring through the air for powerful dunks. He also has two scoring titles on his resume, a fact that should've been the determining factor in finding a spot for him on the Eastern Conference squad.

In addition, he's the No. 5 scorer entering this weekend (21.7 points per game), but has embraced the option of passing to his teammates and turned himself into a more well-rounded player thanks in part to occasional chiding from his coach, Joe Bryant.

A quick recap: Two of the league's top five scorers will not play in this season's All-Star Game.

This defies logic.

Remember this: All-Star Games are high-scoring affairs that put a premium on points.

Davis, on the other hand, played the biggest role in Tokyo's turnaround last season (the Apache went 12-28 in 2006-07 without Davis and 27-17 with him last season en route to a championship game appearance), and has helped his team climb to the top of the Eastern Conference standings this season.

Davis joined the squad after helping lead the Niigata Albirex BB to a spot in the league's inaugural title game. He is arguably the league's top passing center, and there's no question Davis' steady leadership and solid, not spectacular numbers (13.2 ppg, 10.3 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, the latter two of which are eighth- and ninth-best, respectively, in the league) can be overlooked.

But is it purely coincidental that Niigata, without Davis playing in the pivot, failed to advance past the wild-card game last season and is currently fifth in the six-team Eastern Conference?

I don't think so.

Two seasons ago, the bj-league's first All-Star Game was held in Okinawa. There were eight teams at the time. Now there are 12 squads — a 13th team, the Kyoto Hannaries, will join the fold next year — and it's reasonable to suggest that 20 players are not enough of a representative mix of stars. Too many good players will not be included.

Here's the simple solution: Expand the rosters to 15 players per side.

Akihiro Ejima, the league's public relations director, confirmed the league is considering raising the number of players per team to 12 or 15 next season.

Fans, of course, are responsible for selecting the All-Star starters, and give them credit for making some strong choices this season.

For the Eastern Conference, they picked the following: Tokyo's Cohey Aoki and Niigata's Akitomo Takeno in the backcourt, Sendai's Bobby St. Preux and Saitama's Reggie Warren at the forward spots and Hamamatsu Higashimikawa's Sun Ming Ming at center.

For the Western Conference, they made these choices: Ryukyu's Naoto Takushi and Oita's Kimitake Sato are the starting guards, Osaka's Kazuya Hatano and Takamatsu's Gordon James are the starting forwards and Ryukyu's Jeff Newton gets the nod at center.

On the other hand, the league's process for picking the All-Star reserves is slightly ambiguous. According to Ejima, "reserve players are selected by the league staff, but the final decision is made by the commissioner."

Ejima said factors such as a balance of Japanese and non-Japanese players, trying to have players from each team on the roster (but not mandatory), as well as "won-loss results, injury situation, statistics, info from team staffs and voting from fans" all were considered by commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi.

Unfortunately, the words "among the best players" were overlooked by the league when it made its final decision, which is why Washington, Humphrey and Davis will be spectators on Jan. 25.

Again: This mistake can be avoided in the future by expanding All-Star rosters and placing more value on a player's overall body of work and his impact on the young league's growth.



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