Lynn Washington is ready to make a major proclamation.
For him, the Osaka Evessa’s season-opening series against the expansion Shiga Lakestars is the perfect time to do so.
“We have to make a statement to the whole league and play these first two games well,” said Washington by telephone en route to an Osaka subway station on Thursday evening.
Championship teams know the importance of making statements. For Washington and the Evessa, there have been many statements made in the past three championship seasons — big wins in the biggest games.
Washington collected his second bj-league MVP award last May, helping the Evessa defeat the Tokyo Apache in the championship game at Ariake Colosseum.
Five months later, Osaka coach Kensaku Tennichi is back to his old tricks, barking instructions to his players and assembling his assistant coaches for meetings and back-and-forth strategy discussions. But, in reality, not much has changed from from a coaching perspective for the Kansai powerhouse.
“He’s kind of like Red Auerbach,” said Washington, comparing Tennichi’s style to the legendary Boston Celtics coach. “He says we are not going to change our game plan, we are going to keep doing what we are doing and play well.”
Reliable role players Kazuya “Jay” Hatano and Naoto Nakamura at small forward and shooting guard, respectively, have made Washington’s job as the team leader easier. In other words, he knows what to expect from them practice after practice, game after game.
Newcomers have energized the Evessa during preseason training camp and provided healthy competition for the team’s returning players, Washington said.
Ex-Sendai 89ers forward Nick DeWitz, a strong outsider scorer and inside presence, has made a firm impression on Washington since he joined the team after a successful first year in the bj-league.
“Without a doubt, Nick’s a great player,” Washington decided. “I had to guard him last year when he was with Sendai. He’s a real offensive threat.”
Another newcomer, point guard Nile Murry, brings a productive offensive presence to the mix. He averaged 20 points per game two seasons ago for the expansion Toyama Grouses before spending last season in the Hungarian League.
“The new players are hungry and the old players want to prove a statement to the league,” Washington said, admitting his team has made steady progress during the preseason.
“We get better every week,” he added.
Washington missed 34 games last season due to a major knee injury. He returned to the lineup during the final stage of the regular season and the former Indiana University forward played well in the playoffs.
After a summer of rest, recuperation and pickup games in Sacramento, Calif., which featured current and former NBA players, Washington now says his physical condition is at 100 percent (he said he was around 75-80 for the playoffs last season).
As he looks ahead to this season and the challenges of vying for a fourth title, Washington said the team’s trademark defense must remain its strength.
“That’s the one thing about us,” he said. “If our offense is not clicking, we can still play great defense.”
Before he stepped into the subway our conversation included a brief discussion of former Osaka star Jeff Newton, who’s now a major component of the Ryukyu Golden Kings’ push for the playoffs in their second year of existence.
“I haven’t spoken to him about that,” Washington said, responding to my inquiry about his former teammate’s ability to help Ryukyu become a winner.
“But I know that Jeff is going to bring a shot-blocking presence in the middle and he is also going to bring a winning attitude and that’s exactly what Okinawa needs for a winning season. I wish Jeff the best of luck.
“I hope we can see them in the championship, and that would be a great story line for you guys,” he concluded.
Hey, sometimes players provided more than on-court drama. They can help fill in the blanks for journalists who are coping with writer’s block.