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Ikeda’s 3-point shooting provides big spark for Albirex offense

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Yuichi Ikeda excelled as a 3-point shooter in December, having the type of month that most specialized shooters can only dream about.

Ikeda made 26 of 46 3-pointers (56.5 percent) to help the Niigata Albirex BB win four straight games to end the year and go 6-2 overall in December. His 3-point shooting played a major role in the Albirex’s recent success. Niigata has climbed into second place in the Eastern Conference standings under first-year coach and former Albirex player Matt Garrison, who won the 3-Point Contest during the league’s first two All-Star Games, in Okinawa and Niigata Prefecture in January and December 2007, respectively.

What’s more, the 28-year-old Ikeda leads the bj-league in 3-point shooting accuracy at 50.5 percent. Akita’s Kazuhiro Shoji is No. 2 at 50 percent. With Ikeda, who dons jersey No. 32, draining long-range shots with regularity, it opens the floor for the team’s other primary scorers, including Nile Murry (15.0 points per game) and Erron Maxey (14.2). Ikeda is third on the team in scoring at 11.7 ppg.

Ikeda, a Tokai University product, averaged 13.6 ppg in December. He shares The Japan Times’ Offensive Player of the Month award for December with teammates Murry and Chris Holm, both of whom made key contributions to the team’s offense in the season’s third month.

Ikeda has played for Niigata since 2006. He entered the season as a career 34.7 percent shooter from beyond the arc (392-for-1,131).

Murry, who has suited up for the Toyama Grouses, Osaka Evessa and Rizing Fukuoka in past seasons, averaged 16.6 points and 4.25 assists in December to lead Niigata’s offense.

Holm, an All-Star center, leads the 19-team league in rebounds (14.3 per game). He hauled in 39 offensive boards in December, which led to numerous second-chance scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates.

Saitama Broncos star John “Helicopter” Humphrey also garnered serious consideration for this accolade. He had 37- and 52-point performances in December. Those were the two games the Broncos won during the month. They lost eight times and are currently 7-15.

Humphrey’s 37-point effort led the Broncos to a win in their final game of 2011 as they defeated the Iwate Big Bulls 98-75 on Thursday. His 52-point outburst came against the visiting Shinshu Brave Warriors on Dec. 10, a game in which he made all 24 of his free-throw attempts. It was the second-highest scoring game in league history and featured the most free throws made by an individual in a single game.

These performances caught this reporter’s attention, too:

*First-time All-Star guard Takehiko Shimura, the Sendai 89ers captain, continues to take care of the basketball and direct the offense efficiently. His 42 assists against 12 turnovers in December are consistent with his totals since the season began — 109 assists, 29 turnovers. Sendai, however, struggled in the month, going 2-6.

*Indeed, the do-it-all Kyoto Hannaryz, winners of 12 straight games, could be selected as team winners for both honors. Their overall excellence in recent weeks has been a team effort, a collection of individuals thriving together under bench boss Honoo Hamaguchi.

Defensive recognition: On the other side of the ball, Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix forward Herve Lamizana, a key backup, is The Japan Times’ Defensive Player of the Month.

Since a nine-point outing in 12 minutes in his Phoenix debut, Lamizana has quietly made a big impact for the two-time defending champions. His productivity may get overlooked on a team with several big-time producers. Yet his 16 blocked shots — including five in a five-point win over the Shinshu Brave Warriors on Dec. 18 and six against the Saitama Broncos in a four-point triumph on Christmas Eve — in the month are numbers that the Hamamatsu coaching staff realize are significant contributions. His seven steals in December, when the Phoenix went 5-3, were not meaningless, either.

While playing a modest 135 minutes in those eight games, the 207-cm Lamizana demonstrated his ability to be a valuable player in this league.

In addition, Shimane Susanoo Magic forward Michael Parker, a stat stuffer in every sense of the phrase, continued his outstanding season in December. This included five games with two or more steals, eight total blocks and 31 defensive rebounds.

Noteworthy: Anchored by big man Jeff Newton, the only player in league history with four championship rings, the Ryukyu Golden Kings held foes to an average of 72.3 points in eight December games and went 6-2 to improve to a league-best 17-5.