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Takamatsu’s Okada a real sharpshooter

by Ed Odeven

Eventually, a Japanese player will lead the bj-league in scoring for an entire season. And it will be a terrific achievement, an inspiration to this nation’s youngsters who possess a jump shot and a dream.

In the league’s first four seasons, no Japanese player has finished in the top 10 in scoring. It’s an admirable goal to have for each of the league’s native sons. And it’s the type of statistic that creates a buzz among fans and writers alike — after all, everyone likes to talk about scoring standouts.

This season, it’s worth noting, Takamatsu Five Arrows shooting guard Yu Okada has consistently been among the top 10. He’s currently averaging a career-high 19.8 points per game.

Okada commands attention as a consistent scoring threat from the perimeter. In fact, he’s taken 228 3-point shots (38.6 percent), or 12 more than he’s attempted from inside the arc. And here’s one telltale sign of Okada’s development as a scorer and maturation as a player: He’s been held to single digits in points only three times this season, and in each of those instances he’s responded by scoring 25 or more points in the next game.

Naturally, the Japan Basketball Association should be paying attention and immediately offer Okada a tryout for the national team as soon as possible. This, of course, could make him the first bj-league player to be on the squad.

A number of Japanese players have made their names as free-throw shooters since the league kicked off its inaugural season in the fall of 2005. That has continued this season, notably among the statistical leaders.

Of the league’s top 10 free-throw shooters through games of Sunday, eight of them are Japanese, led by Sendai 89ers guard Kenichi Takahashi (87.2 percent, the same percentage as Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix guard Limar Wilson, who sits atop the charts; Wilson is 41-for-47, and Takahashi is 75-for-86).

Of the league’s top 10 3-point shooters, eight of them are Japanese, including No. 1 marksman Masahiro Oguchi of Hamamatsu (44.2 percent) and Saitama Broncos guard Yuki Kitamuki (42.1).

Everyone likes accurate shooters. Prolific scorers also serve a troika of tangible causes:

1. They put fans in the stands, at home and on the road.

2. They take pressure off their teammates to score.

3. They make an opponent’s job more difficult.

In summary, it’s the notion here bj-league teams need to place a greater emphasis on the development of great Japanese scorers — the sooner, the better.

Upcoming games: Five weekend series are on the docket this week: Hamamatsu (20-4) vs. Tokyo Apache (6-16), Niigata Albirex BB (11-13) vs. Toyama Grouses (10-12), Kyoto Hannaryz (9-15) vs. Ryukyu Golden Kings (19-7), Osaka Evessa (11-13) vs. Oita HeatDevils (11-15) and Takamatsu (8-18) vs. Shiga Lakestars (13-15).

With the All-Star Game scheduled for Jan. 31, Saitama, the Rizing Fukuoka and Sendai will have an extra week off to concoct their plans for the season’s second half.

Offensive outburst: Ricky Woods, a former Southeastern Louisiana University star, ignited the HeatDevils over the weekend, scoring 44 and 40 points in a home sweep over the Albirex.

Besides being the league’s third-leading scorer (24.3 points per game), Woods is the Circle K Sunkus Player of the Week, the league announced on Tuesday.

Woods’ gaudy numbers didn’t come as a result of a specially designed game plan against the Albirex. Simply put, he took over and dominated both games.

“There was not anything we did particularly different for Ricky to have such an impressive offensive output,” Oita guard Matt Lottich told The Japan Times. “We have been working a lot on learning to play as a team and getting more ball movement. I think the extra movement gave Ricky more space to maneuver and get to the basket.

“When he has space and room to get to the rim he is a very dangerous player, as was evidenced this weekend. He is definitely our first option on offense and we look for him a lot throughout the game.”

Furthermore, Lottich expects Woods to be a constant threat to shatter ex-Osaka teammate and current Ryukyu big man Jeff Newton’s single-game scoring record of 50 points, which he set last season in the playoffs against, coincidentally, the Evessa.

“I am pretty confident that this is not the best Ricky Woods is going to play this season,” Lottich said.

Around the league: The Takamatsu Five Arrows’ front office shakeup came into focus on Monday, when the team’s top two officials formally submitted their resignations at a shareholders meeting.

Chairman Hidetaka Anabuki and team president Tomoji Anabuki, his son, are no longer in charge, the Shikoku Shimbun reported on its Web site on Tuesday. They resigned on Jan. 7, but the move was finalized on Monday.

Toshiro Motoni was appointed as the team’s new chief executive, though he was referred to as the new “representative” of the owner. How much authority he’ll exert on day-to-day decisions is unknown.

Motoni had previously served as a team vice president.

The Five Arrows’ financial problems were well-documented in The Japan Times over the summer. And now, as the team continues to search for new sponsors, it’s unclear if Motoni’s appointment is simply a stopgap measure or a sign that the team’s existence is a big question mark for the future.

Anabuki Construction Inc., the major force behind the establishment of the Five Arrows in 2006, filed for bankruptcy in November, reporting it owed debtors ¥140 billion. . . .

The Golden Kings had 15 blocked shots in Sunday’s 76-63 win over the Grouses. Do-it-all forward Anthony McHenry led the charges with seven swats, George Leach and Newton had three apiece and Bryan Simpson and Taketo Aoki each had one. This helped Ryukyu compensate for its flat-out lousy shooting effort at the charity stripe (17-for-29), and served as a strong reminder to the rest of the league that the defending champions are as committed to defense as they were last season. . . .

BS Fuji will televise the All-Star Game on Jan. 31 from noon to 2:55 p.m.

Closing commentary: This weekend, Hannaryz shooting guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is expected to return to the hardwood after a monthlong absence due to a calf injury. The 40-year-old took part in shooting drills last week in Tokyo, and appeared to be in good enough condition to play in the capital city for the first time. But the Hannaryz opted to give him another week’s time to let his aging body heal.

It’ll be a disappointment to league fans that Abdul-Rauf, a prolific scorer during his college days at LSU, won’t be competing in the 3-Point Shootout Contest at the All-Star Game on Jan. 31 in Rifu, Miyagi Pref. His presence on the court would’ve been a helpful boon for a league starving for publicity.

In fact, Abdul-Rauf’s absence from any major league-wide marketing campaign is a bit baffling. It almost seems as if the league has gone out of its way to not promote the fact that Abdul-Rauf is playing here.

That may not be the case, but the easygoing, friendly Abdul-Rauf has been approachable and articulate during interviews, and doesn’t appear to be a guy who would refuse to appear in a few public service announcements or TV commercials.

Who knows if he will return to Japan next season, but while he’s here, his team — all expansion teams need vigorous promotion — and the league should make a concerted effort to spread the word that a former No. 3 overall draft pick in the NBA (1990) is playing ball in Japan.

Editor’s note: The Web version of the bj-league notebook is uploaded on Friday afternoons and contains a plethora of additional material that is not featured in the print edition.