/ |

Ward, James take honors for January

by Ed Odeven

The best defense is a strong offense, someone with a clipboard, a whistle and a captive audience once said.

It’s safe to assume those words must have influenced Jerod Ward somewhere along the way.

Ward, the expansion Toyama Grouses center, capped a brilliant January by scoring 34 points in last Saturday’s bj-league All-Star Game in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, helping the East beat the West 126-97.

Ward scored 20 or more points in five of his team’s six games last month. He is second in the league in scoring, putting 25.1 points per game on the board.

Only Tokyo Apache scoring ace John “Helicopter” Humphrey is scoring more (25.7).

He is The Japan Times’ Offensive Player of the Month for January.

In his globe-spanning career, the 30-year-old Ward has spent time in the Toronto Raptors’ preseason camp. Last season he played for Agricola Gloria Montecatini of the Italian League’s second division and Sagesse of the Lebanese League.

Ward was widely considered the nation’s No. 1 high school player when he was a senior in Clinton, Miss., in 1994. He then attended the University of Michigan.

He had two serious knee injuries as a collegiate freshman and sophomore, but again became a player who caught the attention of pro teams in the years that followed.

DEFENSIVE DYNAMO: Gordon James is one of the best leapers in the bj-league. At 198 cm and 105 kg, his muscular frame is built for the rigorous duties in the paint.

And there’s plenty of work for the Saitama Broncos’ starting power forward on the low blocks. That’s his comfort zone.

James’ will and skill to get the loose ball and get his teammates back on offense is always an impressive sight.

He is The Japan Times’ Defensive Player of the Month.

James is tied for the league lead in rebounds (14.6 per game), an eye-popping statistic he shares with Osaka Evessa big man Jeff Newton.

In January, James continued to demonstrate that he’s one of the league’s hardest-working players — if not the league’s most consistent player. He had five double-doubles. Those numbers also included plenty of other contributions for Saitama.

Exhibit A: James had 15 points, 16 rebounds, three steals and one blocked shot on Jan. 6.

Exhibit B: He had 24 points, 11 rebounds, one steal and two blocks on Jan. 21, his team’s last game of the month before the All-Star break.

In six January games, James secured 49 defensive rebounds. That’s a lot of second chances he denied the opposition.

What’s more, he’s second in the league in blocks (1.9 per game), second in minutes played (805) and third in dunks (1.1 per game).

And this much is certain: He’s the everyday worker’s true role model.

James is a native of Guyana who later lived in Brooklyn, N.Y., and attended a Division III junior college (Orange County Community College in New York) and a Division II university (the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut).

IN THE PAINT: The Sendai 89ers-Saitama Broncos game will be televised lived by Gaora on Saturday. Tipoff is 6 p.m.

The Toyama Grouses-Niigata Albirex game also begins at 6.

The Takamatsu Five Arrows vs. Tokyo Apache and Osaka Evessa vs. Oita Heat Devils contests start at 7.

Sunday’s game times are as follows: Toyama-Niigata, 1:30; Takamatsu-Tokyo and Sendai-Saitama, 2; and Osaka-Oita, 3.

Five Arrows veteran forward Daisuke Yamada, 32, has joined the team’s coaching staff as an assistant.

Point guard Kazuyuki Nakagawa, 24, took Yamada’s spot on the roster, the team announced.

Nakagawa, who attended Senshu University, played for the Brooklyn Kings of the United States Basketball League (USBL) last season. He is from Yamaguchi Prefecture.