Successful coaches are constantly looking ahead, constantly concocting new strategies on paper or in their heads as the hours tick away before their team’s next contest. Sure, they learn from past games, but they don’t dwell on them.
KAZ NAGATSUKA PHOTO
Such is the case with Osaka Evessa’s Kensaku Tennichi.
He has guided his team to a 16-6 record and a spot atop the bj-league standings as the second-year league entered its All-Star break. But he realizes the most important games have yet to be played.
“We’ve played only 22 games and we’ve got 18 games to go, so it doesn’t really matter for me that we are in first place at this point,” Tennichi said after his team defeated the Tokyo Apache 97-75 on Sunday at Ariake Colosseum.
“We always are thinking about how we play in the next game and we are thinking game by game . . . So frankly speaking, I never thought about being in first place (now).”
Osaka big man Jeff Newton sat out Sunday’s game with an injury. He hurt his right knee in the third quarter of Saturday’s game.
His teammates picked up the slack on Sunday, responding to Tennichi’s challenge to them. David Palmer (26 points) and Matt Lottich (24) led the way for the Evessa.
“Before today’s game in the meeting, we talked about Jeff being missed, so somebody has to step up,” Tennichi said, recounting his message to his players.
Newton, meanwhile, is slated to return to action next week.
FLASHBACK: In the series opener, Lynn Washington scored a season-high 36 points and pulled down 10 boards for the Evessa, who held off the Apache 84-81.
League-leading scorer John Humphrey’s 27 points paced Tokyo.
Now Osaka is 7-5 on the road to go along with its sensational 9-1 home record.
The Niigata Albirex snapped a four-game losing streak by beating the Sendai 89ers 87-70 on Sunday.
Three American players — Nick Davis (23 points, 13 rebounds), Matt Garrison (18 points, 13 boards) and Jack Hartman (16 and nine) — played vital roles in the win, which gave the Albirex a 14-8 record at the break.
With identical 12-10 records, the Takamatsu Five Arrows and Oita HeatDevils are tied for third place. Sendai is next in the standings at 11-11. Tokyo is 9-13.
The Saitama Broncos and Toyama Grouses are stuck in the cellar with 7-15 records.
Toyama, though, entered the break on a positive note, topping Saitama 102-89 on Sunday. Jerod Ward lit up the scoreboard for 35 points in the win.
The Broncos’ Andrew Feeley had a season-best 34-point effort.
Oita also had a strong final game before the bye week, grabbing an 86-81 victory over a tough Takamatsu squad.
Andy Ellis scored 30 for the HeatDevils.
MVP TALK: Washington took home the league’s historic MVP trophy last spring.
So who will earn the special hardware this season?
Tokyo coach Joe Bryant was asked to address that issue after Sunday’s game.
He said there are still a lot of games to play, but several players deserve consideration.
“Obviously, John (Humphrey) is the most exciting player in the league, and also, of course, Lynn Washington is what we would called a beast. He’s a difficult player to guard,” Bryant said. “You also have the player in Toyama, (Jerod) Ward, who is very good.
“And then when you look at the meat and potatoes of basketball (Saitama’s) Gordon James is averaging close to 15 rebounds a game. He’s doing a helluva job rebounding.
“All of them are doing what they do best.”
Another Osaka standout can’t be overlooked.
Newton’s name occupies several spots — key spots — in the league’s stat ledger. He’s first in blocked shots (2.1 per game), second in steals (2.0) and third in rebounds (14.0).
He’s had two or more assists in 14 games, not bad for a big fellow (205 cm, 108 kg). And, oh yeah, he’s scoring 16.6 points a game for the first-place Evessa.
It’s this reporter’s notion that he is the league MVP as this point.
QUOTABLE: Here’s how Bryant describes the way Apache player Dameion Baker performs: “He’s a tough cookie. We call him ‘Meat Grinder.’ ”
Bryant praised Baker for his all-out hustle, pointing out that he’s constantly diving for loose balls or setting picks. “He does things,” the coach said, “that don’t show up in the box score.”
Baker is averaging 15.3 points per game in six games since rejoining the team.
He’s been a steady performer on the boards, too, puling down 32 rebounds.
FINDING SHARPSHOOTERS: Like the other seven teams in the league, the Tokyo Apache could benefit from the addition of a player who makes mid- and long-range jumpers as frequently as the rest of us blink.
The athletic Apache get up and down the floor as quickly as any team in the league. They also miss as many jump shots as any team in the league.
Which is why improving the team’s shooting is a big objective for the Apache in the season’s second half.
“Yes, we are looking (for a pure shooter),” Bryant said Sunday. “We had a couple of bj-league tryouts over the past month or two, and we have another one tomorrow. But all the real good shooters are already signed with teams, so that is the problem right now.
“We’ve been active in talking to teams about making trades,” the coach admitted. “We’ve made calls to try to trade for some players throughout the bj-league.”
UP NEXT: Saturday’s bj-league All-Star Game will be televised lived by BS Fuji at 4 p.m. Look for an All-Star preview in Saturday’s sports section.
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.