Like any expansion team, the Shiga Lakestars have experienced the emotional highs and lows that are associated with being a first-year club.
With four games remaining, the Lakestars (18-30) will look to end their inaugural season on a positive note, including during their final two-game homestand this weekend. Fifth-place Shiga plays host to Rizing Fukuoka (20-28), the team ahead of it in the Western Conference standings.
And naturally, if possible, coach Bob Pierce’s club will aim to squeak into the playoffs. The Lakestars close out the regular season on April 25-26 against the Ryukyu Golden Kings.
Perhaps forward Yosuke Machida is the embodiment of the team’s growing pains. A former Toshiba Brave Thunders player, he entered the bj-league as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft, which carried plenty of pressure to live up to the hype.
Machida has also coped with the death of his father this season. The Lakestars, meanwhile, have shown their support for the 200-cm forward. The team has worn black tape on its uniform since March 5 as a symbol of its collective mourning.
“Machida’s father had cancer and had been getting worse during the fall,” Pierce wrote in a recent e-mail. “Machida went home over the New Year break, and we all understood that he might have to leave again if his father’s condition worsened.
“We went to Tokyo on Wednesday, March 4 to play the Apache. Machida spent the night with his father and family in the hospital, and his father passed away the morning of the 5th. I didn’t think he would come to the game that day, but he did. That was a good game, but we lost (92-82).
“On Friday we won an exciting game in overtime (85-77). Machida played well, and it was his 3-point shot with about 10 seconds left that put us up by two points. (Tokyo’s) John Humphrey tied the game with two free throws to send it into overtime, where Ryan (Rourke) and Bobby (Nash) took care of business. But we don’t win if Machida misses that 3. I know that was an extremely emotional game for him!”
Machida, who turned 26 last week, is averaging 6.4 points per game for the Lakestars, and has had three straight double-digit scoring performances, his best prolonged scoring output since a six-game stretch in the fall.
History tells us teammates can rally around a cause, and that can lead to inspiration and ultimately success. For the Lakestars, here and now, Machida’s late father could be that cause.
Weekend rundown: This weekend’s slate includes the following series: Sendai 89ers (28-20) vs. Tokyo Apache (30-18); Osaka Evessa (31-17) vs. Takamatsu Five Arrows (32-16); Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (32-16) vs. Saitama Broncos (19-29); Niigata Albirex BB (23-15) vs. Toyama Grouses (10-38); and Oita HeatDevils (8-40) vs. Ryukyu (37-11).
Around the league: The scoring title is still up for grabs between Fukuoka’s Michael Parker (26.9 points per game), Hamamatsu’s Michael Gardener (26.1 ppg) and Osaka’s Lynn Washington (25.2). . . . The Kyoto Hannaryz the league’s 13th franchise, who will play their first game next season, have released the design of their official logo. The team’s Web site (www.hannaryz.jp/) shows the new logo. Kyoto hasn’t revealed who will be the franchise’s first head coach.
Stay tuned. Originally, the franchise said it would spell its nickname this way: Hannaries.