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Experienced heads put Cinq Reves in playoff contention

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

The Tokyo Cinq Reves have taken their fair share of bumps and bruises during their inaugural season, but coach Motofumi Aoki is guiding the team in the right direction.

With an 8-12 record to date, the Cinq Reves (French for “five dreams”) are within striking distance of a playoff spot. Never an easy task for an expansion team.

Tokyo’s size (216-cm center and University of Kentucky alum Jared Carter, 211-cm post player Jonathan Jones, 201-cm forward Dennis Carr and 201-cm forward Akihito Inoue) and experience (guard Cohey Aoki has been in the league since its inception in 2005) have paved the way for success.

“We’re a veteran team,” Carr said on Sunday after a home loss to the Iwate Big Bulls. “We have guys that know how to play the game, so right now we are just putting things together.

“We have all the pieces to the puzzle, and right now we are just putting it together piece by piece, and by January 2013 we are definitely hoping to be the team that everybody is afraid to play against.”

Jones is the league’s leading scorer (22.2 points per game) and Aoki is first among all Japanese players (14.6). Carr is the third-leading rebounder (12.4 per game) and Aoki is second in free-throw shooting accuracy (94.5 percent), while Carter is tied for fifth in blocks (1.8 per game).

Carr recognizes that his relentless rebounding is a big part of Tokyo’s overall game plan and he embraces this role.

“Me being the top rebounder, if it’s helping the team, that’s what I’m going to continue to do,” he said.

To be a successful rebounder, hard work is a key trait.

“Several teams I’ve been on, I’ve been the only foreigner on the team,” Carr said, “so my work ethic has always had to be above average.”

Carr, 31, has also played in Austria and Israel in the past decade. Now he wants to help lead the Cinq Reves to the playoffs as a first-year franchise.

“My personal goal is to get this team to the playoffs and hopefully a championship,” the Embry Riddle alum said. “Throughout my entire career as a professional athlete, I’ve always been the go-to (leader), and coming to Tokyo I’ve accepted that role to do whatever it takes to help this team win and I’m definitely proud to be (near the top) as a rebounder. . .”

Remarkable numbers: Sendai guard Takehiko Shimura has 111 assists this season with only 12 turnovers.

89ers coach Bob Pierce marveled at those staggering numbers, writing in an email, “By the way, Take now leads the WORLD in assist-to-turnover ratio. . .”

“Take has always been pretty good taking care of the ball,” Pierce noted. “His assist-to-turnover ratio has been somewhere around 4/1 most of his time in the bj-league.

Here’s his totals: 2008-09 (167/43), 2009-10 (144/36), 2010-11 (76/22, “The season Mac Hopson dominated the ball at PG, and of course the earthquake,” Pierce said, referring to the end of Sendai’s season due to the March 11 disaster) and 2011-12 (269-77).

“Last year we were one of the worst teams in terms of number of turnovers, so reducing them was a priority as we prepared for this year,” the coach added. “Take was never the problem last year, but he has really cut down on the number of risky passes, and works even harder to get to spots where he has good passing angles. So while his numbers were very good last year, they are unbelievable so far this season. It also helps that he has great control of the ball, and uses his size, speed, and strength to avoid having the ball taken from him. His most recent game, 12 assists with zero turnovers, is just the latest example of how good he’s been.”

Change on the horizon: Osaka (2-16) is poised to make a coaching change in January, according to a league insider. The Evessa are on the road for their next two series, including Jan. 5-6 at Toyama — before playing host to Shiga the next weekend.

Zoran Kreckovic lasted four games (all losses) as the bench boss before he was replaced by Takao Furuya in October. A foreign coach will replace Furuya, the source said.

League accolade: An abbreviated slate of games is on tap for the final week of 2012: Takamatsu vs. Osaka, Yokohama vs. Tokyo, Iwate vs. Saitama and Niigata vs. Shinshu. Defending champion Ryukyu plays host to Kyoto on Jan. 2 and 3.

Roster move: Akita signed 19-year-old Yuki Togashi, it was announced on Boxing Day.

The 167-cm point guard is the same height as seven-time All-Star Cohey Aoki of the Tokyo Cinq Reves. Togashi participated in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Asia program this year.

In 2009, the Niigata Prefecture native was a student at Montrose Christian School in Maryland, where K.J. Matsui and Taishi Ito (JBL Toyota Motors teammates) and Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant attended.

Building for the future: At 14-6 overall and 9-3 on the road, Iwate has been a success story during the season’s first three months.

Forward Lawrence Blackledge, however, said the team is slowly building itself into the type of team it wants to be.

“I think we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Blackledge said on Sunday after the Big Bulls had completed a series sweep over Tokyo. “I think we’ve still got to build chemistry. There’s a lot of new guys on this team … so we’re still just learning, so we’re still just getting a feel for each other. That’s any professional team overseas — it’ a learning process. It takes time.”

Sure, any team consider winning 70 percent of its games to be a good thing, but Blackledge refuses to believe his team is a finished product right now.

“It’s a 52-game season, so I think hopefully around May we should be playing our best ball,” he said, “and that’s when all the good teams want to be playing their best ball because that’s playoff time.”

Problems in Saitama: Former Broncos forward Antwan Scott, who has known Saitama coach Tracy Williams for many years — both are from North Carolina — said the Eastern Conference’s worst team (2-16) does not have the unity needed to succeed.

In a recent phone conversation, Scott said Williams never made him feel comfortable on the squad.

“From day one, he didn’t want me there,” Scott said by phone from North Carolina. “I think it’s something personal with him.”

While coping with a hamstring injury a few weeks ago, Scott said the unspoken message he received from the coach was this: “I don’t believe you’re hurt. I don’t want you here.”

As far as staying with the Broncos or collecting his paycheck and leaving a team in the midst of a rocky season (2-16 entering this weekend’s series), Scott said Williams told him “If I were you, I’d take the money and leave.”

Scott told The Japan Times that he booked a flight home for Thanksgiving and informed the team about it well in advance, and that there was no problem. But then two days before he had planned to leave on Nov. 19, a Monday, the team had informed him a practice would be held on Nov. 21, and he was expected to be there.

Repeated attempts to reach the team were unsuccessful. And Scott never got a reply, he said.

“I’m not going (home) for 1 1/2 days,” he said, thinking back to his final days as a Bronco.

He said he wanted to remain on the team, but in the end opted to accept his release. He said the team’s fans are loyal and supportive but Williams is not running the team effectively, including at practice.

For instance, Scott said the team would run warmup drills for 15 minutes, then Williams would speak for around 45 minutes. Getting warmed up again was problematic for Scott, he admitted, as his muscles tightened up at a time when he was undergoing extra treatments for his injury.

Scott said he would like to return to Japan and even play for the Broncos again. He averaged 10.6 points in 10 games.

Memorable numbers: Sendai’s back-to-back wins on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day over Shinshu improved the team’s record to 7-12 after a five-game losing streak.
The Christmas triumph also featured a pair of numbers that caught Pierce’s attention: 24 and 25.

He explained it this way: By the way, there was a secret Christmas message in the stats today. Yesterday was Dec. 24, Christmas Eve, and today was Dec. 25, Christmas Day. Today, Yasu (Yasuaki Arai) scored 24, and T.J. (Cummings) scored 25, which was our coded way of saying Merry Christmas to all the boosters and fans out there.”

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Do you have a story idea about the bj-league? Send an email to edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp