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Ellis, Sparks earn February accolades

by Ed Odeven

If your name is Andy Ellis, you want February to continue for another two months. After all, your scoring prowess in the year’s second month has been impressive.

The 211-cm center had a season-best 40-point performance on Sunday against the Sendai 89ers.

News photoHeatdevils center Andy Ellis capped a strong month of offensive productivity by scoring 40 points in his team’s win over the Sendai 89ers on Sunday.
OITA HEATDEVILS PHOTO (H. Ono)

It was the crescendo of a brilliant one-act hardwood play, a monthlong showcase of fine offense, ending with a 15-for-27 shooting effort from the field and 8-for-11 from the charity stripe in last Sunday’s 92-88 Oita win, a game in which he also pulled down 11 rebounds.

Ellis, a former Texas Tech player under Bob Knight, the winningest NCAA Division I college basketball coach in U.S. history, had 34 points in the previous game. He had 30 on Feb. 18.

All told, he scored 30 or more points in five of the HeatDevils’ eight games in February, helping his team secure its place in the playoff race. Entering this weekend’s games, Oita (17-13) went 5-3 in February and is tied for third in the bj-league standings with the Niigata Albirex BB.

Ellis is The Japan Times’ February Offensive Player of the Month.

His low-scoring game for the month was 15 on Feb. 3.

So what he’d do a day later? He lit up the scoreboard for 31 against the league-leading Osaka Evessa.

Though he is much taller than most players in the eight-team league, Ellis plays the game like a combination center/guard. He has a penchant for spotting up on the perimeter and stroking 3-pointer after 3-pointer and muscling his way inside for a putback or a layup.

Ellis’ durability is equally impressive. He played 40 minutes in six of Oita’s eight games last month, and he leads the bj-league in minutes played (1,126). And he has been in the starting lineup in all 30 of his team’s games.

He is third in the league in scoring (23.5 points per game).

Ellis is a skilled marksman from 3-point range (56-for-161) and from inside the arc (222-for-435, 51 percent). He is also a quality free-throw shooter (94-for-124, 75.8 percent).

DEFENSIVE WINNER: Takamatsu Five Arrows point guard Rasheed Sparks is The Japan Times’ February Defensive Player of the Month.

Helping his expansion team improve to 18-12 at the month’s end, Sparks sizzled at both ends of the floor.

He is the league leader in assists per game (4.9) and also gives opposing players plenty of fits whenever they have the ball — or are about to do something with the ball.

Simply put, Sparks has great anticipation and instincts.

He is No. 1 among bj-league players in steals (a total of 78 this season, or 2.6 per game).

In a month of fine play, in which his team went 5-3, Sparks had 18 steals. In succession, he had games of two, five, one, one, one, three, two and three steals.

The ex-Morgan State (Md.) player is a capable scorer — he had 11 or more in four February outings — but he’s more dangerous when he’s doing other things with the basketball: making a pass, setting up a teammate’s bucket; or taking the ball away from an opponent, eliminating its chance to score.