With a superbly consistent anchor in the middle, the Osaka Evessa captured their third title in as many bj-league seasons on May 4.
It’s no accident that this has happened. Center Jeff Newton, who first earned notoriety as a solid all-around player at Indiana University, is an integral part of the Evessa’s success.
Exhibit A: Newton was the league’s No. 1 shot-blocker in 2007-08, rejecting 148 shots (3.4 per game). And he was the rebounding runnerup, averaging 13.3 boards per game.
Exhibit B: In the championship game against the Tokyo Apache, Newton swatted six shots. His team won the defensive battle by 10 points.
A capable spot-up shooter, Newton is especially dangerous around the rim, where he works the glass to his benefit tipping in shots, and scoring putbacks when a dunk (he had 61) isn’t option No. 1.
He averaged 19.0 points per game and finished with 33 double-doubles, and the Evessa won 23 of those contests, a sign of his immense value to the team.
Newton is The Japan Times’ 2007-08 bj-league Most Valuable Player.
By all accounts, Newton’s game has improved by leaps and bounds since the league began play in the fall of 2005, and at age 27, he has yet to reach his prime.
Here is a rundown on The Japan Times’ All-League Teams and awards winners:
COACH OF THE YEAR: Tokyo’s Joe “Jellybean” Bryant orchestrated a masterful turnaround for his squad.
Plagued by injuries and a roster missing key pieces to the puzzle for success a year ago, the Apache finished with a league-worst 12-28 record.
Before the season tipped off in late October, Bryant told this reporter that the Apache had the right mix of players to win the title.
He was right. And they nearly pulled it off.
The Apache played exciting, disciplined, team-oriented ball en route to a 27-win regular season, and then got past the Niigata Albirex BB and Sendai 89ers in the playoffs.
HONORABLE MENTION: Rizing Fukuoka’s John Neumann. The ex-ABA and NBA player guided the expansion franchise to the playoffs, pulling off a stunning upset of the host Takamatsu Five Arrows in the Western Conference wild-card game to earn a ticket to Tokyo for the Final Four.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Oita HeatDevils power forward Andy Ellis scored a league-high 25.1 points per game.
On nine occasions, Ellis dropped 30 or more on Oita’s foes. He scored in double-digits in all 40 games he appeared in.
Simply put, he’s become an elite scorer.
Now if he raised his free-throwing shooting to the 80-percent neighborhood, he could score 30-35 points a game in this league.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Osaka guard Mikey Marshall. Ninety-three steals, 41 blocks and the ability to defend point guards, shooting guards and forwards with equal effectiveness were all on display this season from the ex-Texas Tech player.
Marshall fueled the Osaka fast break with lock-down defense on the other end of the court.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Newton, Apache center Nick Davis (top three in both blocks and rebounds) and Rizing Fukuoka forward Michael Parker, who led the league with 2.6 steals per game.
TOP MIDSEASON ACQUISITION: Parker. When he made his Rizing debut on Jan. 11 (an eight-point, three-rebound, two-steal, one-assist effort), it didn’t grab the headlines. But by season’s end, Parker had proven that he’s one of the league’s top athletes.
Parker racked up steals and blocks in a hurry. And his made scoring look easy, giving Fukuoka 17.0 ppg and making nearly two-thirds of his shots (204-for-320 from 2-point range).
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: Tokyo forward Dameion Baker has found his niche playing for Bryant, diving for loose balls, cleaning up on the glass, earning trips to the charity stripe, setting screens. . . hustling.
Baker elevated his game in 2007-08 to the tune of 12.8 ppg and made a league-best 60.4 percent of his shots.
ALL-LEAGUE FIRST TEAM: Newton gets the nod at center. Five Arrows power forward Reggie Warren (21.5 ppg, 12.3 rpg and 82 slam dunks) joins him in the post.
At small forward, Fukuoka’s Joshua Peppers nabs the honor. Peppers was the expansion team’s go-to scorer, providing 22.2 ppg.
In the backcourt, Rasheed Sparks of the Five Arrows re mains the league’s most gifted passer and all-around athlete. The two-time Slam Dunk Contest champion had a relatively quite season statistically (8.9 ppg, 4.9 apg, 2.1 spg, 264 rebounds, 81 steals), but he remains the key catalyst for Takamatsu, which won 30 regular-season games.
Evessa guard Matt Lottich, who can play as effectively as a two guard as he does at the point, has three champion ship rings to list at the top of his CV. His team-high 20.2 ppg are not too shabby, either.
TOP SIXTH MAN: Sendai 89ers swingman Bobby St. Preux (20.0 ppg, 269 re bounds, 110 3s, 80-percent foul shooter) is blessed with brilliant athleticism, and he uses it in a way that provides a spark for his team. St. Preux made 18 starts; in his other 26 games, he provided a boost off the bench for the Eastern Conference champions.
HONORABLE MENTION: Apache backup center Dean Browne
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Ryukyu Golden Kings point guard Naoto Takushi, the league’s top assist man, (5.8 per game) guided his team during a difficult first season. But he showed flashes of brilliance along the way and the ability to be a complete guard, a player the Golden Kings can built the team around.
SECOND TEAM: Davis was Tokyo’s most vocal, consistent leader. The veteran center’s productivity — 15.1 ppg, 12.6 rpg, 134 blocks and 122 assists — caught everyone’s attention, too.
Saitama Broncos power forward Gordon James, whose offensive game showed stellar improvement this season, secured his second straight rebounding title, pulling down 14.4 rpg.
89ers small forward Nick De Witz, who led his team with 21.0 ppg, provided a strong scoring punch from the perimeter, in half-court sets and in transition. Defensively, he got the job done, too.
Apache point guard Cohey Aoki made a major impact as a starter and as the team’s sixth man down the stretch. His 190 foul shots (170 makes) made a bold statement: He’s a force to be reckoned with in a big man’s game.
Sharing the second spot at shooting guard are Five Arrows marksman Yu Okada (13.6 ppg, 115 3s) and the Rizingfs Michael Gardener (18.1 ppg, 2.1 spg).
Wallace beats illness
Cleveland AP It was the Boston Celtics, not Ben Wallace, feeling dizzy after this one.
Wallace started Game 3 despite occasional dizziness from an inner ear infection and had one of his best performances since joining Cleveland in a midseason trade.
His defensive presence inside was a major factor in the Cavaliers’ 108-84 win, which pulled them within 2-1 in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
“I’ve been in the playoffs. I know what’s at stake,” Wallace said. “I know if you go down 3-0, it’s tough to fight back from that mentally and physically. We didn’t want to face that.”
Wallace helped hold Kevin Garnett to 17 points, blocked shots and drew offensive fouls as the frustrated Celtics never could overcome a 13-point first quarter.
Wallace finished with nine points — a season playoff high — along with nine rebounds, including seven offensive rebounds, two blocks, a steal and two assists.
An airball on a free throw attempt in the fourth quarter was his only ugly moment. A few seconds later he left the game to a standing ovation.
“Ben Wallace is a guy who ignites their defense, gives them energy. It was huge,” Celtics forward Paul Pierce said. “He got them off to a great start tonight.”
It appeared earlier in the day that Wallace wouldn’t play. He missed the morning shootaround, and following the workout, coach Mike Brown said his best interior defender probably would sit.
However, Wallace had no problems while warming up, and about one hour before tipoff said he would try to play.
Wallace started Game 2 but played less than 4 minutes before leaving when he became dizzy. He had tests on Friday at the Cleveland Clinic.
Wallace said the symptoms have been tough to tolerate.
“It’s like I’m in a wash cycle,” he said. “My head starts spinning from time to time.”
The Cavs described his ailment as a combination of allergies and an infection in his left ear.