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Parker shines as West wins All-Star Game

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Recognized as a dynamic playmaker since entering the bj-league in the 2007-08 season as a member of the run-and-gun Rizing Fukuoka, Michael Parker hauled in four straight regular-season scoring titles into the fledgling circuit’s eighth season.

Now in his second season with the Shimane Susanoo Magic, Parker still scores a bunch of points when the occasion calls for it, but insisted before the season he wouldn’t stay as No.1 in the scoring race this season.

Parker put up a big, bold reminder, though, in crunch time that he can turn up the intensity at any time. Late in the fourth quarter, Parker scored 11 straight points for the West Conference, doing it with layups, free throws and from 3-point range as the Koto Toyama-coached club defeated the Eastern Conference 128-119 at Ariake Colosseum on Sunday night in the bj-league’s seventh annual All-Star Game.

Parker finished with 29 points, 15 of them in the decisive fourth quarter, and was named the All-Star Game MVP for the second time. He was the MVP in 2010 while suiting up for the Rizing in the game held in Rifu, Miyagi Prefecture.

“It feels good,” Parker said after earning the MVP award and shooting 12-for-15 from the field, including 3-for-3 from 3-point range.

“I was really close to (winning the award) the last two years, so it feels really good to win it again.”

Nursing a sore ankle this past week, Parker didn’t practice all week, but was determined to play in the All-Star Game.

“I just started feeling really good in the second half,” he said of his outstanding offensive performance, “and I got hot in the second half. . . . Basketball is all about timing sometimes.”

It doesn’t hurt, the former Evergreen State (Washington) standout said, having stellar individual opponents in Ryukyu’s Anthony McHenry, Shimane’s Kazuya Hatano and Kyoto’s David Palmer, for instance, on his squad in a close contest.

“They know what I can do,” Parker admitted. “They know where to get me the ball in my danger zones.”

Parker reminded reporters he’s not comfortable taking over a game as a one-on-one, dribble-driver player, so the impact of his teammates’ passes to him cannot be overstated.

As for the West’s 32 assists — the East had 16 total — that’s a testament to a number of veterans doing what they do best. “Everybody’s just real familiar with each other,” Parker pointed out, “and that’s what led to all those assists.”

DePaul University product Draelon Burns received the Most Impressive Player award, which is awarded annually to the top player on the losing squad. The Yokohama star had a game-high 32 points for the East. He canned 5 of 9 3-pointers and handed out five assists.

He expressed gratitude for taking home the accolade with a big grin on his face in an on-court interview after the game. Burns said relaxation was a key to his success.

Sporting a freshly trimmed hairdo, Burns also offered this bit of insight to the media: “I was told once to look good and play good. I tried my best to come out and look good and represent the B-Corsairs organization.”

In addition to Parker’s heroics, Hatano, a vital role player on three Osaka Evessa championship teams, was a force in the low post for the West, scoring 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting and David Palmer contributed 15 points, 11 rebounds and three assists. Ryukyu point guard Narito Naimzato added 14 points and seven assists.

The West made 16 of 25 3s (64 percent); that was perhaps the team’s most eye-popping statistic of the night.

Big man Dillion Sneed of Iwate was the East’s No.2 scorer, finishing with 17 points (8-for-11 from the field) and 14 rebounds. Chiba’s Marquin Chandler chipped in with 14 points and 10 boards. Tokyo big man Jonathan Jones scored 10 points Tokyo’s Cohey Aoki and Niigata’s Kimitake Sato each had nine points and Toyama’s Masashi Joho score eight in the loss.

Delighting the crowd, which was in a festive mood from the opening tipoff, the game was a two-point difference entering the fourth quarter. West standout Parker, emotional leader of Shimane, had given his squad a 92-90 lead on a third-quarter closing 3-pointer moments earlier.

Gunma’s Shingo Okada put the East in front 95-92 on a wide-open corner 3 after he had tied it on a jumper to open up the final quarter.

The East led 100-98 near the 7-minute mark, but it quickly evaporated as the West knocked down back-to-back 3s, the second by Oita’s Taishiro Shimizu to move in front 104-100.

And Parker was the difference down the stretch for the West, working superbly in tandem with Namizato, who had nine point and four assists in the final quarter.

West bench boss Koto Toyama, the Golden Kings’ first-year coach, said Namizato and Parker have an uncanny sense to know what the other is going to do, using exceptional timing within the flow of the offense. He said that was a key element in the final minutes of the game.

Overall, Toyama said, “the players worked hard . . . Aggressive play led the way. I’m pleased with the result. . .”

After the loss, West coach Motofumi Aoki, the Tokyo mentor, called it a “wonderful game with great players on both teams. It was a great game until the end.”

The East jumped out to a 9-2 lead early, grabbing momentum almost instantly. Shinshu floor leader Takanori Goya, who starred for Toyama in the league’s inaugural All-Star Game in his native Okinawa in 2007, nailed a jumper to score the game’s first points, capping the run on a Jones bucket.

A crowd-pleasing jam by Sneed gave the East a 13-6 advantage near the midway point of the opening stanza.

The West roared back, cutting it to 15-10 on a Masashi Joho layup and then 19-18 on a Shinya Ogawa 3-pointer as part of a 9-2 spurt with around 3:20 to play in the quarter.

Japan national team center Atsuya Ota tied it at 28-28 on a three-point play. Moments later, Ota caught a pass from Parker and converted a layup in track as the West took its first lead of the game.

The score was knotted at 30-30 entering the second quarter.

The West quickly yielded nine points without scoring any in the first 1:52 of the second stanza, and a timeout was called at the 8:08 mark as the scoreboard showed the following: East 39, West 30.

A Burns 3 kept the run going, making it 42-30. The West kept their composure, though, and started hitting shots with regularity, closing the deficit to 44-39 on a Parker layup with nearly 6:30 left in the opening half.

The star-studded teams traded runs in the second quarter, but little by little the West crept back into the game, using sharp passing and high percentage shots from close range and 3-pointers to ignite the comeback.

A Palmer 3 brought the West within 55-50 late in the half. Ryukyu’s Namizato zipped a flashy pass to Hatano, who then made a layup to make it 59-54 as the West kept it close without pulling ahead.

After Jones missed a pair of free throws with 39.1 seconds to play before halftime, the Spalding basketball was back in Namizato’s hands as he dribbled it up court to guide the offense. Instead of setting his teammates up for that possession, he pulled up and drained a 3-pointer that found nothing but net, the final points of the half cutting the East’s advantage to 59-57.

Burns was the top scorer in the first half, scoring 17 points, including three 3-pointers. Sneed had 11 points and Sato, donning the same jersey number (23) as his hoop hero Michael Jordan, put 10 points on the board before the break. Sneed raked in 12 rebounds in the half, tops among all players.

Fueled by the muscular 202-cm, 126-kg Sneed’s inside presence, the East’s 32-22 rebounding advantage and 15-7 edge on offensive boards led to numerous second-chance points as Tokyo bench boss and East sideline supervisor Aoki’s club stayed in front for most of the half.

For the West, which shot 64 percent on 3s in the opening half, Ota was the high scorer with seven points, and Hiroyuki Kikuchi, Palmer and Shinya Ogawa all had six.

***

News and notes from All-Star Sunday follow. . .

Skills contests: Before the game, the 3-Point Shootout gave fans a chance to see some of the league’s best long-range shooters in a rapid-fire contest. The six participants — Iwate’s Kenichi Takahashi, Kyoto’s David Palmer, Kyoto’s Yu Okada, Toyama’s Angel Garcia, Tokyo’s Cohey Aoki and Shiga’s Shinya Ogawa — each took 25 shots in one minute, five shots at five set locations around the arc, and the final shot at each location was a two-point “power ball.” The other shots were worth one point apiece.

In the first round, Takahashi, Okada and Aoki finished tied atop the scoring charts with 16 point apiece, with reigning champion Aoki nailing his final shot from the left corner for two points to keep himself in the contest.

Garcia finished with 15 points, Palmer scored 13 and Ogawa had 11.

In the three-man final round, Takahashi, who leads the league in 3-point shooting accuracy at 46.3 percent, took his 25 shots first, accumulating 12 points.

Next up was Okada, who won back-to-back 3-Point Shootout crowns in 2010 and 2011 in Rifu, Miyagi Prefecture, and Osaka, respectively, to showcase his pure shooting form. He canned 9 of 10 shots over the second and third sections of the quick minutes and picked up 18 points with a smooth rhythm to his craft.

Then Aoki was left to attempt to top Okada. The Tokyo star had a slow start, missing his first five shots and moving to the straight-away position at the top of the arc with only two points. But he persevered, knocked down several shots, including seven in a row capped by a left-baseline 3. He then missed four of his final five shots to end the contest, but had a respectable 14-point effort. The defeated champ smiled, waved to the crowd and congratulated Okada.

“I’m happy,” Okada said in a brief on-court interview and admitted it was a “good challenge” with a strong group of competitors in the field.

The Slam Dunk Contest brought a big smile to Miyazaki standout Larriques Cunningham’s face.

He took home the winner’s trophy after the five judges, including commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi, all gave him a perfect 10 (50 points) in the final round. Osaka’s Yoshihiro Tachibana, the leaping showman whose costumes and entertaining antics in past contests has endeared him to fans across the country, was the runnerup with 47 points in the final round.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” Cunningham said when it was over. “I enjoyed it.”

Tokyo teammates Dennis Carr and Akihito Inoue and Toyama’s Ira Brown did not advance to the final round. Carr collected 45 points, Brown had 46 and Inoue only attempted a single dunk in the allotted one minute.

Dunk after dunk, Cunningham demonstrated the form that comes from hours of practice. He mostly used the high bounce to himself as he caught the ball and slammed it through the basket, doing so with impressive timing in one fluid motion. With a top score of 49 points in the first round, he impressed the judges with his athleticism and technique.

In the two-man championship round, Cunningham used authoritative throwdowns to win over the judges, his final one-handed jam sealing the victory.

Tachibana, a two-time winner who lost his dunk title to Saitama’s John “Helicopter” Humphrey last January, made his biggest showing on his final attempt. He set up a cone in the lane and jumped over it for the dunk.

In the paint: Eight of the East’s 12 players were All-Star debutants: Sendai’s Takuya Komoda, Gunma’s Shingo Okada, Saitama’s Takuma Yamashiro, Yokohama’s Draelon Burns, Akita’s Shigehiro Taguchi, Chiba’s Marquin Chandler, Tokyo’s Jonathan Jones and Iwate’s Dillion Sneed. For the East, only seven-time All-Star Cohey Aoki, the Tokyo icon, and three-time selection Takanori Goya of Shinshu had previously played in the league’s annual midseason showcase game. In the West, the five first-time All-Stars were Ryukyu teammates Tsubasa Yonamine and Anthony McHenry, Kyoto’s David Palmer, Osaka’s Nathan Walkup and Shiga’s Shinya Ogawa. For the West, Shimane’s Michael Parker and Oita’s Taishiro Shimizu both made their fifth All-Star appearance, as did Shimane’s Kazuya “J.” Hatano, tying Toyama’s Masashi Joho for the second-most All-Star Games in league history behind Aoki. . . .

Flashback to 2012: The West won the sixth annual All-Star Game 120-93 at Saitama Super Arena last January, with Lynn Washington picking up his second straight game MVP award (21 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) and Michael Parker scoring 26 to lead the victorious squad before a crowd of 14,011.

Spotted in the crowd: A cool, light blue with white trim sign featured white letters displayed “DP3″ in homage to Hannaryz star Palmer, a superb perimeter shooter throughout his bj-league career. Palmer is one of only three players in league history to capture championships with more than one team (two with the Osaka Evessa in 2005-06 and 2006-07, and another last season with the Golden Kings). Jeff Newton, Palmer’s former Evessa and Ryukyu teammate, and big man Dzaflo Larkai, who helped Ryukyu grab the championship last May after playing an integral role for Hamamatsu in its 2010-11 championship campaign.

Looking ahead: The 2013-14 All-Star Game will be held in Akita.