In the rugged Western Conference, the Kyoto Hannaryz face a rough road ahead in their quest to reach the Final Four for the first time in franchise history.
The Hannaryz, however, have shown that they’re capable of long stretches of success.
New coach Honoo Hamaguchi’s club has rattled off six straight wins, including a double-overtime triumph over the Shimane Susanoo Magic on Sunday. It’s a reminder of the veteran’s team’s potential to be a serious contender this season.
The Osaka Evessa and Ryukyu Golden Kings, who share the league-best record at 11-3, are the West’s undisputed elite teams. But now with Hamaguchi, the longtime Sendai 89ers sideline supervisor, at the helm, the Hannaryz (9-5) are trying to force their way into that conversation, too. And the same could be said for Shimane (7-7), the Rizing Fukuoka (8-6 overall, 6-2 on the road) and the Shiga Lakestars (9-5).
Meanwhile, Kyoto’s next foe, the Miyazaki Shining Suns (6-8) are playing as well as they ever have in the franchise’s brief history. After a bad start, coach Koto Toyama’s team has won six of its last eight entering their home series, including a confidence-boosting sweep of the Evessa last weekend.
This makes the upcoming showdown in Kyushu a big series for both teams, perhaps the most significant series in Miyazaki’s two-year existence.
The Hannaryz retooled the roster into a veteran-dominated rotation for their third season. Kyoto forward Rick Rickert, who was named the Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP after a pair of terrific games against the Magic last weekend (23 points and 19 rebounds in the series opener and a 22-point, 14-rebound effort in the rematch), is 28 years old. Center Lance Allred is 30. Guard Jermaine Boyette, the team’s second-leading scorer (14.5 points per game), turns 33 on Dec. 7.
When it’s successful, Kyoto relies on everyone getting involved in distributing the basketball; five players have 30 or more assists. Allred’s sharp passing skills help keep the offense operating at a high level. As the team’s top scorer (15.1 ppg) and a cerebral understanding of the game, Allred, who had a brief NBA playing background, also sets his teammates up with equal proficiency, as evidenced by his numbers last weekend (20 points and six assists in the first game against Shimane and 15 points and five assists in the series finale).
Rickert, a hard-working, blue-collar type when the game clock is running, enters December, the season’s third month, with 13.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, the latter of which puts him fourth in the league in that category.
Lee Cummard is the Hannaryz’s fourth double-digit scorer (10.1 ppg). Among the team’s role players are veterans Taizo Kawabe (7.5 ppg), Naoto Nakamura (5.9), Kyosuke Setoyama (4.4) and Sunao Murakami (4.1).
Rebounding is another area of strength for Kyoto, with Rickert, Allred, Boyette and Cummard setting the tone for their teammates.
League accolades: Point guard Jermaine Dixon, instrumental in the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix’s current nine-game winning streak, was named the November MVP, the league announced Wednesday.
Dixon averaged 18.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists in November, leading his team to an 8-0 record in the month.
Upcoming schedule: Chiba and Osaka began their two-game series on Thursday night in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture. Two other series get under way on Friday: Fukuoka vs. Hamamatsu and Oita vs. Yokohama.
On Saturday, the following matchups commence: Akita vs. Ryukyu, Sendai vs. Shimane, Shinshu vs. Niigata, Shiga vs. Saitama, Miyazaki vs. Kyoto and Takamatsu vs. Iwate.
Closing commentary: For its ongoing All-Star voting, the league does not provide a distinct breakdown among the game’s five positions. Instead, all guards are lumped together in one oversized category, and the same occurs for all forwards and centers.
The beauty of basketball is the way the five positions work together within the flow of the game on offense and defense. Each position has special players in this league and to not categorize players by their proper positions is a glaring oversight.
Players deserve the opportunity to earn All-Star spots based on their real position. And fans should have a chance to cast their votes for players at their true positions, going up against other players listed at their proper positions, too.
A starting center, for instance, should not be competing against a small forward for one of the coveted spots on the Eastern Conference or Western Conference All-Star rosters.
The league keeps growing — adding seven new teams over the past two seasons — but the powers-that-be have not demonstrated they have a true understanding of the game. And that’s a shame.
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