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Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012
Some of best players show mettle when it comes to taking a charge
By ED ODEVEN
Dunks are basketball's flashiest plays. The in-your-face posturing, instant reactions from teammates, high-fives and chatter from the bench and the stands often follow a well-executed slam, and cable television and YouTube highlight reels make dunks an omnipresent part of modern sports culture.
Expect several memorable slam dunks in Sunday's bj-league All-Star Game at Saitama Super Arena. They are the plays that sustain excitement for generations.
Conversely, a defender's ability — and willingness — to take a charge may be basketball's most difficult play. But consummate professionals know that a charge can serve two purposes at once: An offensive foul is assessed on the perpetrator, and it results in a turnover, one laced with frustration.
There's nothing exciting about seeing a player take a charge. But a player's willingness to take a charge, to stand in the path of an opponent running at him at full speed, is a key ingredient on any championship-caliber team.
Shimane Susanoo Magic coach Zeljko Pavlicevic believes three of the bj-league's biggest hoop stars also happen to be the best at taking a charge. In order, he lists Osaka Evessa star Lynn Washington, Rizing Fukuoka standout Kevin Palmer and Shimane's Michael Parker as the top three charge takers.
Reigning MVP Jeffrey Parmer of the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix metaphorically threw his hat into the ring, saying he's always ready to sacrifice his body for his team on defense.
"From what I've seen, I would have to be one of the players on that list that takes charges the best," Parmer told Hoop Scoop.
Saitama Broncos coach Natalie Nakase, who replaced Dean Murray as the team's bench boss in late November, listed an unheralded player to add to this league-wide conversation.
For the Broncos, the best charge taker is veteran forward Masahide Haraguchi, Nakase said.
"He sacrifices his body every time he is on the court," she said. "He plays extremely hard and I can always count on him for defensive stops."
Though he's known for his 3-point shooting prowess and ability to make a steal at the most crucial moments of a game, Hamamatsu guard Masahiro Oguchi also impresses Nakase, and she considers him a skilled practitioner of this under-appreciated art form.
"He's a very smart and experienced player," said Nakase, "who is always around the ball. He's always in the right spots at the right time."
Footwork plays a key role in a defender's ability. Planting one's feet and staying in place are not the easiest things to do when pro athletes are moving at varying speeds in all directions. To take a charge, though, a defender needs to be stationery. At least that's what the rule book states.
Naturally, the flop can fool a seasoned or inexperienced official from time to time.
"I do feel the refs do a pretty good job on the calls," Shiga Lakestars coach Alan Westover said. "Some teams and players flop more than others, but the refs don't get carried away with the call."
Westover said his team's top charge taker is veteran guard Takamichi "Wara" Fujiwara.
Sendai 89ers coach Bob Pierce observed that some teams have the discipline and commitment to defense that leads to offensive fouls being called on their foes.
"Hamamatsu, Chiba, Miyazaki, Kyoto and probably Niigata (players) will always step in and take them," Pierce said recently.
He added: "(Jermaine) Boyette takes one about every game I've seen. I would put him at the top from what I've seen. Or else Oguchi from Hamamatsu . . . he throws his body in front of anything."
Of course, there's room for improvement in the way bj-league officials call charges and offensive fouls. In time, officials should become more experienced and make the right call more frequently.
For now, Pierce observed, "I personally feel the refs often give the benefit of the doubt to the defender and call charges where the defender is still moving . . . often when it's a Japanese defender moving under an import player driving to the basket..."
One coach voiced his disgust with the way bj-league officials handle this particular aspect of their job.
"With 22 games played," he said before Christmas, "and over 11 teams scouted, I have seen a number of quality charges taken, and I would say a minimum of 90 percent get called for a block because of the incompetency of the person blowing the whistle."
That's a lot of bad calls, it says here, and leaves a lot of room for improvement in the coming years. And it's a reminder of this: Annual clinics, one or two weeks long, featuring NBA officials should be required for all bj-league refs.
A new team — there are four expansion clubs this season in the Chiba Jets, Iwate Big Bulls, Shinshu Brave Warriors and Yokohama B-Corsairs — can build its identity around hustle and scrappy defense. In time, a high-powered offense can be an integral part of a team's trademark style of play.
For the Jets, guard Hiroki Sato's defensive smarts have helped him take the most charges on the team, according to Chiba coach Eric Gardow.
"There is no other (greater) sacrifice one can make for the team," Gardow said, speaking specifically about taking a charge.
All-Star contests put the spotlight on the sport's flashier side: offense. Defense, though, puts trophies on the shelf. And a team can never take too many charges, as any coach with a clue will tell you.S