Like every midseason showcase, the 1997 NBA All-Star Weekend in Cleveland was a marquee event, not only for its collection of active players — Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, et al — but also for the much-planned celebration of the league’s storied history.
As a rookie with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1996-97, guard Reggie Geary witnessed that excitement, and he can vividly recall details of that weekend’s activities.
“That was the year the NBA celebrated its 50th anniversary by naming the 50 greatest players team in league history,” said Geary, the second-year Yokohama B-Corsairs head coach. “I got to meet or see everyone — Wilt (Chamberlain), (George) Mikan, (Bill) Russell, (Bob) Cousy, and (Magic) Johnson to name a few, which made for an unbelievable experience.”
Geary had a brief NBA career, that first season with the Cavaliers, followed by one more with the San Antonio Spurs. After playing in the CBA and Europe, the former University of Arizona defensive stopper found his niche in coaching.
The 2011-12 bj-league Coach of the Year, Geary will serve as the Eastern Conference’s assistant coach on Sunday at Ariake Colosseum. Tokyo Cinq Reves coach Motofumi Aoki was named the East’s bench boss last month.
On Sunday, the bj-league’s seventh annual All-Star Game, is slated to tip off at 5:10 p.m.
For Geary, the discussion of All-Star contests brings back memories of his playing days.
“I haven’t participated in an All-Star Game since high school really,” said Geary. “The closest I’ve been since then was almost getting in the 1997 NBA All-Star dunk contest my rookie year in Cleveland. We had a team dunk-off to see who would participate and represent the host team and we didn’t have a big-time name who was considered a dunker.
“So we had a contest one day and the team voted I won, but the organization wanted a more recognizable face to represent the team, so they went with third-year pro (and Florida State product) Bob Sura. Funny thing was, Bob was so nervous he missed all his dunks.”
Looking ahead to this weekend, Geary called being appointed as the East’s All-Star assistant coach “a great honor.”
A former NBA Development League coach, Geary was asked to put this weekend into context in terms of his coaching career to date.
He responded by saying, “Being a part and playing a part in this organization’s success, as its very first head coach with a Final Four appearance and third-place finish last season, a Coach of the Year award, and a good start to this season are some of my proudest moments as a coach.
“(Sixth man) Draelon (Burns) and I are looking forward to All- Star Weekend and representing the B-Corsairs family and basketball in Kanagawa Prefecture.”
After going 31-21 in 2011-12, winning nine straight games to close out the regular season and reaching the Final Four, the B-Corsairs continue to make big strides as an organization. They improved to 20-8 by completing a series sweep over the Akita Northern Happinets on Wednesday.
As the B-Corsairs continue their maturation as a second-year franchise, Geary observed they were able to “hit the ground running a little bit easier this year, even though we are playing almost entirely different offensively. But I just think guys are more familiar with me and my philosophy, and we were able to get some earlier wins.
“I think last year we threw away more games early in the season than we did this year,” he added.
All-Star starting lineups: For the East, guards Cohey Aoki (Tokyo) and Takanori Goya (Shinshu Brave Warriors); forwards Jonathan Jones (Tokyo) and Marquin Chandler (Chiba Jets); and center Dillion Sneed (Iwate Big Bulls) got voted in.
In the West, the starting five is comprised of guards Tsubasa Yonamine and Narito Namizato (Ryukyu Golden Kings) and forwards Anthony McHenry (Ryukyu), David Palmer (Kyoto Hannaryz) and Kazuya “J.” Hatano (Shimane Susanoo Magic).
All-Star MVPs: In the first six All-Star Games, the MVP selections were: Toyama’s Jerod Ward (2006-07 season; Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture), Niigata’s Naoto Kosuge (2007-08, Niigata), Sendai’s Bobby St. Preux (2008-09; Beppu, Oita Prefecture), Fukuoka’s Michael Parker (2009-10; Rifu, Miyagi Prefecture); Osaka’s Lynn Washington (2010-11; Osaka); and Washington (2011-12; Saitama).
Big improvement: It’s the notion here that Akita guard Shigehiro Taguchi, an All-Star reserve for the East, is one of the favorites to take home the Most Improved Player award this season.
In 14 games with Akita in 2011-12, Taguchi averaged 5.5 points as a late-season pickup. Through Wednesday’s series finale against the B-Corsairs, Taguchi’s season average is 11.3 points in 24 games.
The 184-cm, 22-year-old Akita native leads the team in 3-pointers made (58-for-171), and scored a season-best 25 points on Oct. 21.
Weekly accolade: Chiba Jets power forward Joe Werner took home the final Lawson/Ponta MVP award of the season’s first half, it was announced on Thursday.
The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse product had 27 points and 16 rebounds in a 90-67 win over the Saitama Broncos last Saturday, followed by a 24-point, 11-rebound effort in the series finale, both blowout wins for Chiba.
The Jets are 12-12 entering the All-Star break.
Werner is averaging 19.6 points and 10.8 rebounds in 24 games. He’s scored in double digits on 23 occasions and has 16 double-doubles to date.
“The last four games for us have been pretty good,” Werner said in a post-game interview Sunday in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture. “We’ve started off 2013 pretty good so far, with two games over (Shinshu) and two games over Saitama that we won.
“And we were in the same situation that Nagano is in now for a lot of 2012. . .,” he added, discussing the Brave Warriors’ loss of starting center Wayne Marshall to a season-ending injury. “We kind of know what they are going through but, even though they may bring one (new) guy in or if one guy’s hurt, they are still going to play hard. . .”
After a pair of lopsided wins over Saitama, Werner wants to remember what drove the team’s offense to success.
“Any time you can get easy buckets in transition, you’ve got to take advantage of that, and that’s what we did today,” he said.
Jets coach Shinji Tomiyama said Werner is the team’s MVP for the first half of the season based on his consistency and hard work at both ends of the court.
Werner considers his coach’s praise a motivational tool to keep doing what he’s been doing, he admitted.
“I’m just trying every day to come out here as hard as I can and the same thing in practice and give everything on the court, and if it happens to be really beneficial, that’s what I’m trying to do,” Werner said.
He added: “As a professional player, you’ve got to do what you can do to help out the team, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Newest HeatDevil: Oita has signed former Indiana University guard Verdell Jones III, according to published reports.
The 24-year-old wrapped up his college career in 2012. After his final game as a Hoosier, he was 23rd on IU’s career scoring list (1,347 points), and ninth in assists (389).
Jones will become the fourth Hoosier to play in the bj-league, following in the footsteps of Washington, Ryukyu big man Jeff Newton and center George Leach (Takamatsu, Saitama, Niigata and Chiba).
Parker update: Shimane forward Michael Parker is expected to participate in the All-Star Game despite missing last Sunday’s game against Miyazaki due to a hamstring injury, a league insider said.
Shooting woes: Akita forward Dan Fitzgerald has been in a shooting slump since joining the Happinets in December.
In 10 games, the Marquette University product has made 18 of 91 3-pointers (19.8 percent) and 9 of 30 2-point shots. Overall, he’s made 27 of 121 shots (22.3 percent) from the field.
Last season, Fitzgerald averaged 18.9 points for the Sendai 89ers, shooting 34.6 percent from 3-point range and 49.7 from inside the arc.
Quotable, part I: “One of the things we are most pleased with is the just sharing of the basketball. We thought our guys did a real nice job of making the extra pass, finding the open guys, and I thought that was maybe a big reason why we shot well from the 3-(point range) tonight. And that’s something we need to continue to encourage them (to do) when we get back from the All-Star break.” — Geary, speaking after Yokohama’s 83-51 win over Akita at Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium on Wednesday, a night when the B-Corsairs made 13 of 33 3-pointers.
Quotable, part II: “I’m excited about the way we came out today after a tough stretch of games, four games in five days. We came out and executed the game plan. We swung the ball and passed it to each other (16 assists on 28 baskets). We’ve got a lot of weapons and we utilized them today, so it was a very exciting game and a fun game to play.” — Burns, commenting after his game-high 20-point effort on Wednesday.
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