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East beats West as All-Star game delivers spectacle

by Ed Odeven

BEPPU, Oita Pref. — Sporting events — universally known as fun and games to 8-year-olds and octogenarians alike — are expected to be entertaining spectacles. All-Star games, on the other hand, are supposed to be wildly entertaining, taking that concept to a higher level.

And this was true on Sunday.

The Eastern Conference squad led by 32 points with just over a minute remaining in the 2008-09 bj-league All-Star Game. In a normal game, this would mean that one team is seconds away from a blowout victory.

This one, however, was different.

There was still plenty of time to entertain, and so Sun Ming Ming, the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix’s 236-cm starting center, spotted up for a 3-point shot from the left wing, released the ball and — as longtime NBA play-by-play announcer Marv Albert would say — “Yessss!” The shot was good, delighting the crowd at B-Con Plaza.

Seconds later, the Eastern Conference squad completed a 117-96 victory over the Western Conference All-Stars, but not before another laughter-inducing moment.

With 35 seconds remaining, the East squad called an unnecessary timeout, done, of course, in the spirit of fun.

After the win, Team East coach Joe Bryant, now in his fourth season as floor boss of the Tokyo Apache, offered specifics.

“We called a timeout and we ran a play for Ming to shoot a 3 at the end, the one he missed at the top of the key,” Bryant said at courtside moments after posing for pictures with Oita HeatDevils coach Tadaharu Ogawa and his family.

In normal circumstances, a 236-cm center is expected to take short-range shots, preferably as many dunks and layups as possible.

“The first one he made wasn’t by design,” Bryant said with a smile, “but we talked to him at practice and said if you get a chance to shoot a 3, shoot a 3. Why not?”

After his team’s 19-point win, Bryant couldn’t complain.

“It was a good game,” Bryant concluded. “I’m very happy. It was fun. All-Star games are fun.”

Phoenix coach Kazuo Nakamura served as Team East’s assistant coach. Next weekend, he’ll match wits with Bryant. On this day, however, they weren’t rivals.

“He’s a very good coach and he’s been around a long time,” Bryant said of Nakamura. “We both respect each other and both wanted to win this game.”

The Eastern Conference’s 10 All-Stars made that happen.

Game MVP Bobby St. Preux of the Sendai 89ers scored a team-best 20 points, pulled down nine rebounds and dished out four assists. Seven teammates also scored in double figures: Reggie Warren (Saitama Broncos, 17 points), Sun (13), Chris Holm (Sendai, 12), Yuichi Ikeda (Niigata Albirex BB, 12, including 4-for-5 on 3-pointers), Michael Gardener (Hamamatsu, 11), Cohey Aoki (Tokyo Apache, 11) and Rodney Webb (Toyama Grouses, 10).

The East outscored the West in each of the four quarters, taking a 25-16 lead into the second period, a 57-48 advantage into halftime and an 84-66 margin into the final stanza.

Aoki, who led all players with eight assists, zipped the ball to Sun inside the lane on the game’s first scoring possession, and the big fellow jammed the ball through the basket. Sun scored a layup seconds later to make it 4-0.

The Eastern Conference never trailed.

Led by Webb’s 15 rebounds and Holm’s 14 boards, the Eastern Conference controlled the glass by grabbing 62 rebounds to the West’s 48.

Small forward Michael Parker of the Rizing Fukuoka scored a game-high 29 points and was named the game’s Most Impressive Player, a cash prize to the top player on the losing team. Ryukyu Golden Kings point guard Naoto Takushi added 15 points, seven assists and a game-high three steals. Golden Kings teammate Jeff Newton had 13 points, Rasheed Sparks of the Takamatsu Five Arrows had 12 and Tsuyoshi Kawazura of the Rizing Fukuoka 10.

In the true spirit of an All-Star game, few fouls were called — 12 in total — and the game was played at a quick pace despite the earlier-than-usual game time of 12:30 p.m.

St. Preux, who earned a ¥1,000,000 check as the game MVP, credited Bryant with putting him and his All-Star teammates in a position to win the game.

“Coach Bryant did a great job of orchestrating us,” said St. Preux. “He came out before the game and told us exactly what we needed to do, and we did it. He did a great job of getting everybody together although we had a lot of scorers.”

For Golden Kings coach Dai Oketani, who previously coached the Oita HeatDevils but joined the Okinawa club in the offseason, it was a day of mixed emotions.

“Before we played the game, I was nervous, but all our players scored points,” Oketani said, “During the game I was relaxing and it was very exciting. The boosters were also very excited, and that is today’s best point.”