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Blackwell key component in success of Sendai this season

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The Japan Times will be featuring periodic interviews with individuals in the bj-league — Japan’s first professional basketball circuit — which is in its third season. Ryan Blackwell of the Sendai 89ers is the subject of this week’s profile.

Position: Guard/forward
Age: 31
Ht: 200 cm
Wt: 105 kg
College: Syracuse
Hometown: Champaign, Ill.

Q: Which player did you idolize growing up and try to model your game after?

Blackwell: When I was younger, I grew up watching Magic Johnson. I loved him because of his versatility. He was a big guy, bringing up the ball and he got everyone involved. Growing up, I played guard/forward.

I tried to be like him and do some of the things he did: passing, rebounding . . . I bring the ball up the court, guard bigger guys down low, penetrate and pitch (the ball back out to the perimeter). I do a little bit of everything I guess.

(Entering Friday’s series opener against the Rizing Fukuoka, Blackwell was averaging 17.6 points per game for the 89ers, who have the Eastern Conference’s best record (14-4) after winning Saturday’s game. He has scored 27 points twice this season and had 25 on Jan. 6.)

How would you rate your performance this season?

We are in first place right now. You can’t really complain when you are winning. The numbers are down this year, (he averaged 19.8 ppg in 2006-07), but we have more options.

We have four solid Americans and the Japanese guys are stepping up. That’s going to happen when you don’t have to do as much.

What has been the key for Sendai’s fast start this season?

(Blackwell described the team’s infusion of new players as a plus, saying that the returnees have made a strong impact, too.)

The Japanese guys we have coming back are more experienced and the new guys, Bobby (St. Preux), Pat (All-Star center Patrick Whearty), Nick (DeWitz) and Hide (Hideki Katsumata) are all solid all-around players.

I ended up playing center last year. Now with Pat here, that opens up things. It allows me to be able to do things on the perimeter . . . Those additions make us a better team all around.

What has been Sendai coach Honoo Hamaguchi’s mind-set on adding foreign players to the roster?

He’s very concerned about getting good guys here who will get along with the Japanese guys. He wants guys who can adapt to living here, guys who can adjust to life in Japan.

(This offseason), he incorporated me in the process. Bobby, I knew from Florida . . . and hooked up Bobby with our agent.

I met Pat over the summer. I did a workout tape over the summer with him. I filmed a tape of Pat doing a workout. It was a tryout video to send over here in Japan . . .

Our agent, Lee Cohen, actually found Pat over the Internet. He looked on Eurobasket (which maintains an Internet data base of available players) when we said we needed a center.

What do you think is the 89ers’ trademark?

We are sharing the ball. We are leading the league in assists up until last week, very fundamentally sound. Honoo-san preaches that a lot. We have very smart players, who know how to play the game, very unselfish . . . everybody scores.

(In many games), there are five, six guys in double figures, and that’s a good sign.

How did longtime Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim and playing in the ultra-tough Big East Conference prepare you for your future as a professional?

I always had to be ready each game, because whenever we played St. John’s, Connecticut, Georgetown . . . you always had to have your game ready mentally and physically.

As a coach, Boeheim was the type that let us grow up more as men in college. He kind of let us have a little more freedom than a lot of coaches are giving to their players . . . I think that is kind of good in a way.

What’s the biggest compliment you’ve ever received as a player?

(Blackwell made 100 starts for Syracuse between 1997-2000.)

Like Boeheim told me in college, if you keep working you’ll be a great pro player one day . . . I’ve been told that my knowledge of the game is special.

Physically I am not as gifted as other athletes, but mentally I’m a step ahead and I can beat them that way.

Where have you played professionally?

I’ve played in France, in the CBA with the Gary (Ind.) Steelheads, Portugal, England, Uruguay and Japan.

How would you rate the development of the bj-league in the two years you’ve been here?

I think it is getting better. It is run really properly. It is probably the most professional league I’ve played in from a management standpoint.

How has team interpreter Rieko Suzuki helped the foreigners begin to learn Japanese on a daily basis?

Bobby and Nick, they’ll try to have small conversations (in Japanese). She’ll say a few words and I’ll hear her repeat a few words the next few days, and they’ll learn that way and it is pretty good.

I try to learn a little bit. I’m not as aggressive as they are. (He laughs). I should be. It’s my second year in Japan.