Role players rarely dominate the headlines. But smart coaches and successful player-personnel bosses build teams that get potent production from lesser-known players.
Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix center Atsuya Ota, an integral part of the team’s back-to-back championship squads, fills that role.
The league’s tallest Japanese player, the 206-cm Ota is shooting a shade under 58 percent (99-for-171) from the field. He has 223 rebounds, 41 steals and 23 blocks for the Eastern Conference-leading Phoenix.
In 46 games, Ota, a Japan national team member, has made 15 starts.
Ota’s six-point, 15-rebound effort in 28 minutes on Jan. 22 against the Iwate Big Bulls illustrated his ability to be a game-changing force.
“Ota is the most underrated player in the entire league because he does so many things that other teams cannot,” Chiba Jets coach Eric Gardow told The Japan Times. “He causes mismatches defensively throughout the game, not just the second quarter.
“He defends well, rebounds and takes up space. I really like how he plays within himself in every aspect on the floor. . . . He has the ability to dominate portions of the game and has improved, especially when he controls the boards — and he might be No. 1 in offensive rebounds among the Japanese.”
The topic of underrated players came up in various interviews in recent days.
Oita HeatDevils center Taj Finger believes Jeral Davis, the Shimane Susanoo Magic’s shot-blocking menace, is a part of that group.
“From the players I’ve seen, I might say Jeral Davis is an underrated player,” Finger said. “I think that having a guy like him in the paint to block shots can really change a game. Even if he doesn’t score a lot, he can still make an impact.”
Rizing Fukuoka forward Gary Hamilton cited Niigata Albirex BB newcomer Bennet Davis as a player that’s overlooked.
“I like the kid Bennett Davis, only seeing him twice this past weekend, and he wasn’t even on the scouting report,” Hamilton said.
“He gets it done on both ends of the floor, but it’s primarily on his own.”
Iwate forward Shawn Malloy dished out praise for a fellow Tohoku player.
“A player that comes to mind is probably Johnny Dukes from the Sendai 89ers,” Malloy said. “This was a dude that was flying under the radar but is starting to get attention now. . . . He is a good ball handler and he gets his team involved and he also rebounds. He does all of this on top of being able to score when needed. When he plays good, Sendai plays good.”
Akita Northern Happinets coach Kazuo Nakamura responded to the inquiry — who is the league’s most underrated player? — in his own unique way.
Nakamura said, “I don’t know until the end of the season.”
“I consider team play more important than individual play,” he added.
“So nobody is more significant than others. There are contributions that don’t show up on stats.”
Weekly accolade: Yokohama B-Corsairs captain Masayuki Kabaya hit several timely shots last weekend in a sweep over the host Akita Northern Happinets.
Kabaya is the Lawson/Ponta Player of the Week. He scored 17 points and nailed 3 of 5 3-pointers in an 80-78 series-opening win. In the rematch, he scored 14 points, made 2 of 4 3s and was 4-for-4 at the free-throw line.
Kabaya has come off the bench in 25 of the 40 games he’s appeared in. His shooting touch could be one of the key factors in the season’s stretch run as the B-Corsairs vie for playoff positioning. (Yokohama will face the Sendai 89ers on back-to-back weekends to close out the regular season, the first series April 21-22 in Hiratsuka, followed by a showdown in Sendai.)
Upcoming games: The B-Corsairs play host to the Takamatsu Five Arrows, losers of 19 straight, on Friday and Saturday in Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture. Also this weekend, the following series are scheduled:
Sendai 89ers vs. Iwate Big Bulls, Niigata Albirex BB vs. Kyoto Hannaryz, Toyama Grouses vs. Osaka Evessa, Chiba Jets vs. Miyazaki Shining Suns, Saitama Broncos vs. Rizing Fukuoka, Shiga Lakestars vs. Shinshu Brave Warriors, Oita HeatDevils vs. Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix and Shimane Susanoo Magic vs. Akita Northern Happinets.
Around the league: The league-leading Ryukyu Golden Kings, who have lost four of their last six games, have the weekend off. . . . Former Tokyo Apache bench boss Joe Bryant is now the head coach for the ASEAN League’s expansion Bangkok Cobras. . . . Chiba Jets forward Jamel Staten appears on the verge of ending Shimane Susanoo Magic guard Michael Parker’s four-year reign as steals leader. Through Sunday, Staten has a league-high 2.9 steals per game, with the Magic star tied for second with Rizing Fukuoka standout Kevin Palmer (2.5 steals). The Jets and Rizing both have six games remaining, while the Magic have four. . . . Hamamatsu is 24-8 against Eastern foes and 8-6 vs. teams from the West.
Satterfield saga: Point guard Kenny Satterfield, who left Japan last Thursday, has written a flurry of tweets in the past several days ripping Saitama Broncos management.
Satterfield, who played for Saitama for two seasons with a stint with the Osaka Evessa last spring after the Broncos ended their season following the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake, had arrived in Venezuela to join Gigantes de Guyana. But the veteran floor leader said the Broncos would not release him. Therefore, he said he would leave the South American country and head home to New York.
“Team rules. What last place team has rules?” the former NBA point guard wrote, referring to Saitama.
“They trying to hold my rights, stop me from playing till they lose the rest of their season,” he tweeted.
The extended rip-fest via Twitter continued.
*”If u a ball player and u get a offer to play with the (Broncos) in Japan … it’s best to turn it down. Will be the worst organization u ever played with,” he tweeted.
*”Japan life is cool. It’s that f—— losing team that’s the problem … 13 hour bus rides when other teams fly or take the bullet (train),” read another.
*”I really do feel sorry to the Broncos boosters. They are really great fans and deserve a winning team but won’t get it with that guy (president Toshihiko Narita) running the team,” he declared.
*(I) asked them to release me months ago, so when I picked up and left they act like the (didn’t know) it was coming,” he wrote.
Making a difference: Since returning to the lineup after a four-game absence due to a muscle injury, Toyama Grouses guard Masashi Joho is averaging 14.5 points in the past six games. The Grouses are 3-3 in that span.
Joho rattled off 15, 10, 26, 17, 16 and three points in those games, starting with a March 24 contest.
In his three-point outing, Joho shot 1-for-6 from the field, but dished out five assists and collected two steals in 80-64 road Sunday win over Ryukyu.