Natalie Nakase of the Saitama Broncos grabbed the spotlight by becoming the first female head coach in bj-league history on Nov. 24.
Nakase, a former UCLA player and women’s pro basketball coach in Germany, will add another chapter to her ongoing season of accomplishments when she guides the Eastern Conference All-Star team in the sixth annual All-Star Game on Jan. 15 at Saitama Super Arena.
The East’s starting lineup, selected by fan balloting, will feature guards Masashi Joho (Toyama Grouses, a four-time All-Star) and Takehiko Shimura (Sendai 89ers) and forwards John “Helicopter” Humphrey (Saitama) and Daiki Terashita (Saitama) and ex-Bronco Kazuhiro Shoji (Akita Northern Happinets), the oldest All-Star at age 37. The All-Stars were named on Wednesday.
Chiba Jets bench boss Eric Gardow is the East’s assistant coach.
The East’s backups are guards Makoto Sawaguchi (Iwate Big Bulls) and Maurice Hargrow (Chiba), Takaki Ishida (Chiba); forwards Lee Roberts (Shinshu Brave Warriors) and Justin Burrell (Yokohama B-Corsairs); and centers Atsuya Ota (Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix) and Chris Holm (Niigata Albirex BB).
For the Western Conference, six-time All-Star and Osaka Evessa standout Cohey Aoki is the headliner in the backcourt, and he’s joined by All-Star debutant and Ryukyu Golden Kings rookie guard Narito Namizato. The frontcourt features a trio of well-known players: five-time All-Star center Jeff Newton (Ryukyu), Osaka’s Lynn Washington and four-time scoring champion and Shimane Susanoo Magic leader Michael Parker.
Shiga Lakestars bench boss Alan Westover is the West’s head coach, and Miyazaki Shining Suns sideline supervisor Koto Toyama is his assistant.
The West’s reserves are guards Shiga’s Yu Okada, Takamatsu’s Hiroyuki Kikuchi, Rizing Fukuoka’s Jun Nakanishi, Miyazaki’s Taishiro Shimizu; forwards Kevin Palmer (Fukuoka) and Wendell White (Oita HeatDevils); and ex-NBA center Lance Allred of the Kyoto Hannaryz.
The 3-Point Shootout contestants are Shoji, Sendai’s Dan Fitzgerald, Saitama’s Yasuaki Arai, Hamamatsu’s Wayne Arnold, Okada and Aoki.
The Slam Dunk Contest participants are two-time champion Yoshihiro Tachibana of the 89ers, Sendai’s O’Neal “Trey” Mims, Shinshu’s Edward Morris, Humphrey, Burrell and Osaka’s Lawrence Blackledge.
Solid start: To play .500 or better basketball is an ambitious goal for any first-year franchise.
Two of the bj-league’s four current expansion squads are at that level through Sunday: the Chiba Jets (9-7) and Shinshu Brave Warriors (8-8). The Yokohama B-Corsairs and Iwate Big Bulls are 6-8 and 3-13 respectively.
The Brave Warriors, guided by sideline supervisor Motofumi Aoki, have not had any long winning or losing streaks yet; their biggest stretch of success was three straight victories and they’ve lost more than two in a row only once (a recent three-game slide). They’ve won four games by single digits. They’ve also lost four games ranging from 20 to 28 points, but bounced back to win the next game in each of those instances.
“Coach Aoki always has his teams play an up-tempo style, and already Shinshu reflects that style and their coach’s personality,” one longtime hoop observer told The Japan Times.
“Over the years he has been a very good judge of talent, bringing in talented import players, but more importantly recognizing which Japanese players will thrive in his system.”
Shinshu has struggled at home, though, with a 2-6 record to date. But the club is 6-2 in road contests.
Roberts is the team’s top scorer (18.2 points per game). Sharpshooter Derek Raivio is averaging 16.6 and Edward Morris checks in at 13.8 ppg. Center Tyler Hughes is averaging 10.4).
Guard Takato Saito has started all 16 games for Aoki, who led the Five Arrows to a championship runnerup finish as an expansion team in the 2006-07 season. Saito has a 6.8 ppg average, 60 assists with 30 turnovers.
Coach’s assessment: First-year Niigata coach Matt Garrison offered this analysis of his team coming off a weekend split against the Brave Warriors:
“We are OK so far but getting better. Nagano this weekend played really well. They are a dangerous team who really needed a home victory. They played really hard on Sunday and made their free throws when they needed to. We played a bit fast in the fourth quarter and could have controlled the tempo a bit better. Our guys were down, of course, after the game, but know we are improving.”
Around the league: The Chiba Jets will become the first bj-league team to participate in the All-Japan Basketball Championship (also known as the Emperor’s Cup), when the event tips off in early January. The men’s field for the 87th annual championship, held at Yoyogi National Gymnasium, also includes all eight JBL teams, three JBL2 teams and four university squads. . . . Kyoto announced the signing of veteran center Babacar Camara on Wednesday. The 211-cm big man previously played for the Toyama Grouses and Takamatsu Five Arrows. . . . Parker will serve a two-game suspension this weekend after attempting to hit a Five Arrows player last weekend. . . . The Sendai 89ers are featured in the latest issue of Sports Graphic Number magazine, which hit newsstands on Thursday.
League accolade: Sawaguchi, who helped the Big Bulls record the first back-to-back wins in franchise history, is the Lawson/Ponta Player of the Week, the league announced Tuesday.
Sawaguchi, who turned 20 on Monday, had 16 points, including 3-for-5 shooting from 3-point range, and three steals in 22 minutes off the bench in Iwate’s win over Takamatsu on Sunday.
The Morioka native is averaging 12.1 ppg.