As the summer begins, with the regular-season and playoff memories now neatly stored in our brains, it’s time to highlight top individuals from the bj-league’s eighth season.
Anthony McHenry was a team leader and all-around force for the Ryukyu Golden Kings once again. The versatile forward took home league MVP honors for the regular season, helping the Kings set a league record for victories (42). And though the Okinawa-based team fell short of its goal of repeating as champion, McHenry carried the biggest load and excelled in his fifth season with the team.
An inside (58 percent shooting on 2-pointers) and outside (one 3-pointer per game was his standard output) threat, the Georgia Tech alum scored 16.1 points, dished out more than 3.0 assists, collected 2.0 steals and blocked just over 1.0 shots per game. Furthermore, he made up for the extended absence of league icon and big man Jeff Newton (knee surgery) with strong rebounding to keep the Kings’ winning ways on target.
McHenry, named to his second Best Five team, is The Japan Times’ Player of the Year for the 2012-13 season.
The Golden Kings’ sustained reign of excellence (five playoff appearances, four Final Fours, three title game appearances, two titles) ? which began with McHenry’s arrival in 2008 ? is a clear-cut reminder of his body of work in this league for half a decade.
Even though McHenry didn’t walk off the court as a bj-league champion for the third time this season ? the Golden Kings lost to the visiting Kyoto Hannaryz in the Western Conference semifinals in May’s second weekend ? the way he directed his team’s offensive attack and energized the defense solidified his reputation as one of the league’s all-time greats.
In a May 2012 interview following Ryukyu’s second championship, a game in which he had a 25-point, four-rebound, three-assist, three-block effort against the Hamamatsu Higashimiakwa Phoenix, McHenry gave a revealing look at how he views his role on the team.
He said, “I’ve never considered myself to be a go-to player. I think it shows in the way that I play. On any given night I can score points, get rebounds, assists, steals or blocks. It doesn’t really matter. I’m more of a player that just wants to go out and do what it takes to win. So tonight it was points, but it could’ve been any of those other categories, and I think a lot of the players on this team are the same way.”
Here’s the rest of the top 25:
2. Draelon Burns (Yokohama) ? The spark plug guard comes in at No.2, a very close second, on the list. (McHenry’s rebounding prowess gave him the slight nod.)
Coming off the bench for the champion B-Corsairs, Burns dominated as a super sixth man. He made the Yokohama offense click, teaming up with Big Three mates Thomas Kennedy and Masayuki Kabaya to shoulder the team’s offensive load. (They combined for a whopping 80 points in the championship game against the Rizing Fukuoka, with Burns scoring 34.)
In the Eastern Conference final on May 18, Burns buried a last-gasp, game-winning baseline jumper with Niigata Albirex BB defenders Chris Holm and Rodney Webb, who stand 212 and 201 cm, respectively, in his grill to send the B-Corsairs into the title tilt against the Rizing.
Like McHenry, Burns’ overall productivity was impressive even though he took a few weeks in the spring to return to form after a lower-leg injury. Burns was the league’s No. 4 scorer (20.4), fifth in assists (4.8) and tied for third in steals (2.0).
Burns simply had a winning touch to his game that kept the team playing at a high gear all season.
“Our flexibility is one of our strengths this year,” Yokohama coach Reggie Geary remarked after the title game, and he needed to look no farther than in Burns’ direction.
Indeed, Burns was dangerous in fast-break situations, but also dominant when the team slowed down its offense and ran half-court sets. And getting to the free-throw line was his forte: 242-for-295, including playoff contests.
3. Michael Parker (Shimane) ? The Susanoo Magic star forward shined throughout his second season with the club, guiding it to a franchise-record 33-19 record and a No.3 seed for the playoffs. He was seventh in points (19.5) and first in steals (2.3, tops in that department for a league-record fifth time).
4. Reggie Warren (Fukuoka) ? The Rizing macho forward notched a league-high 42 double-doubles. On a nightly basis ? and in day games, too ? he may have exerted more energy than any player in the league. A quintessential hard-working tough guy, Warren posted 16.9 ppg and 12.6 rpg averaged.
5. Kevin Galloway (Hamamatsu) ? The 200-cm point forward was one of the league’s most challenging guys to defend. His 13.6 ppg, 6.0 apg and four triple-doubles served notice. He registered 10 or more assists in five straight games from October to November.
6. Jeral Davis (Shimane) ? The Susanoo Magic center finished first in blocked shots (3.5 per game) for a third straight season and poured in a respectable 14.2 ppg. The long-armed, 216-cm big man was the league’s most feared interior defender and helped propel Shimane to Final Four contention.
7. Chris Holm (Niigata) ? The Albirex BB center raked in 14.5 rpg, controlling the boards for the Eastern Conference regular-season champs and Final Four participants.
8. Masayuki Kabaya (Yokohama) ? The B-Corsairs shooting guard and playoffs MVP was the league’s most accurate top 3-point shooter (43.4 percent) in the regular season and then excelled on the big stage at Ariake Colosseum, with 35 points and five big 3s in the title game. Blessed with a quick release and fine shooting mechanics, Kabaya averaged 13.4 ppg in 57 contests (including the playoffs).
9. Narito Namizato (Ryukyu) ? The Golden Kings point guard continued his rise to stardom in his second season with the club. His outside shot needs work (25.9 percent on 3s), but he attacks the basket, feeds the ball to his teammates, makes steals, wants to take the big shot in high-pressure moments and has come through in the clutch on many occasions. The 23-year-old averaged 11.5 pg and was No.2 in the league in passing (6.2 apg). Ryukyu wouldn’t have gone 23-3 at home without Namizato in the lineup.
10. Ira Brown (Toyama) & Mike Bell (Osaka) *TIE* ? The Grouses forward guided his team to the second round of the playoffs, its deepest foray into the postseason since Toyama joined the circuit in 2006. The 193-cm Gonzaga product was tied for third in steals (2.0), and paced his team in scoring (16.0 ppg), rebounds and blocks. He was No. 2 in assists. In other words, a do-it-all player. For the Evessa, Bell, who had 14.4 ppg and ignited the team’s resurrection under former Chicago Bulls bench boss Bill Cartwright after the All-Star break, with that work beginning on defense.
11. Joe Werner (Chiba) ? The Jets forward impressed with his moves around the basket, nifty footwork and strong fundamentals. At season’s end, he was the sixth-leading scorer (19.8 and sixth-leading rebounder (11.4).
12. T.J. Cummings (Sendai) ? The 205-cm post player provided steady scoring (22.1 ppg overall, No. 2 in the league) and rebounding (8.2 boards) for Akita before landing a spot on the 89ers roster.
13. John “Helicopter” Humphrey (Saitama) ? The Broncos swingman took home his third scoring crown, putting 27.1 ppg on the board for coach Tracy Williams’ club, and contributing 2.2 steals.
14. Josh Peppers (Fukuoka) & Jeff Newton (Ryukyu) *TIE* ? The well-traveled forward was one of five Rizing players to hand out 100 or more assists. What’s more, Peppers provided instant scoring off the bench. Moved into a reserve role after Dec. 1, Peppers stayed consistent and pumped in 16.3 ppg for the championship runnerup squad. For Newton, a season marred by knee surgery that forced him to miss a big chunk of games down the stretch saw him make a courageous return before the playoffs. His stats were slightly down this season, but Newton’s game ? and his mere presence on the floor ? has never been about individual accolades, only about winning, and he remains the only player in league history with five championships on his resume.
15. Nile Murry (Niigata) ? The well-traveled guard is a quality defender, good passer, confident leader and dependable play maker. He quietly put up 15.2 ppg and came up with a number of big efforts at both ends of the floor this season.
16. Thomas Kennedy (Yokohama) ? The flashy B-Corsairs forward was a terrific acquisition and stepped into the lineup with confidence from the first day. His 18.8 ppg made the champs’ Big Three a smooth-running reality with big shot after big shot all season.
17. Marquin Chandler (Chiba) ? The chiseled Jets forward made scoring look easy, placing fifth on the charts at 20.4 ppg.
18. Terrance Woodbury (Ryukyu) ? The Golden Kings’ most efficient scorer, the University of Georgia alum had a team-best 17.1 ppg.
19. Ricky Woods (Tokyo) ? Aggressive and fearless on offense, the high-flying forward scored 21.9 ppg while playing for the expansion Cinq Reves and, previously, Miyazaki.
19. Masashi Joho (Toyama) ? Take No. 31 off the Grouses and coach Bob Nash’s team does not have that experienced Japanese floor leader who’s been in the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons, including four title games. Joho plays the game at a high-intensity level and impacts the game with hustle and a dash of derring-do. His 13.8 ppg ranked among the top Japanese scorers in the league once again.
20. Takehiko Shimura (Sendai) & Kimitake Sato (Niigta) *TIE* ? The 89ers captain dished out a league-best 6.3 apg for a struggling team, finishing with 325 assists and 61 turnovers. ‘Nuff said. Sato, who like Michael Jordan did sports jersey No. 23, buried 40.8 percent of his 3s and contributed 12.3 ppg for the Eastern Conference regular-season champions.
21. Julius Ashby (Fukuoka) ? The veteran center has now played for four teams in the Final Four ? Takamatsu, Tokyo, Niigata and Fukuoka ? and though he’s fallen short of a championship, his skill set has brought his team to Ariake Colosseum time after time.
22. Marcus Cousin (Kyoto) ? The former Utah Jazz center was a strong anchor in the middle for the Hannaryz. Nothing amazing about Cousin’s stats, but numbers that indicate consistency and hard work were keys to success. His 14.9 ppg and 500 rebounds in 51 contests helped trigger the team’s vast improvement after an 0-8 start en route to the Final Four and a third-place overall finish.
23. David Palmer (Kyoto) ? The forward with an old-school commitment to fundamentals was among his team’s top scorers (14.0 ppg) and made enough timely rebounds, assists and other key plays to fill an instructional DVD. He remains one of the league’s most under-appreciated stars.
24. Akitomo Takeno (Fukuoka) ? The dependable, exciting guard with value beyond his statistics (9.9 ppg, team-best 169 assists, 46.7 percent on 2-point shooting, 86.9 percent on free throws and critical 3s in crunch time) flourished in coach Atsushi Kanazawa’s high-octane offense.
25. Reggie Okosa (Iwate) & Dexter Lyons (Takamatsu) *TIE* ? The hard-nosed power forward gave the Big Bulls big productivity all season, with 16.1 ppg and nearly 10 rebounds a contest. He led the team in assists and averaged more than a steal per game. His aggressive play helped launch Iwate into championship contender status in its second season. For the much-improved Five Arrows, coming off a 50-loss campaign, Lyons was the glue guy, getting his teammates on the same page and leading by example.
Honorable mention: Noteworthy contributions were made by many other players, including the following who caught my attention for various reasons in the 21-team league:
Eastern Conference ? Akita’s Yuki Togashi (youthful vigor, teenage excitement, sizable contributions in a half-season: 14.3 ppg, 2.6 apg, 63 3s); Akita’s Marshall Brown (scoring punch, 20.2 ppg to be precise, in 28 Happinets appearances); Akita’s Dion Harris (13.7 ppg to keep the Tohoku team’s offense moving); Iwate’s Carlos Dixon (spirited competitor), Iwate’s Dillion Sneed (imposing force in the low post, top field-goal percentage in the league);Iwate’s Lawrence Blackledge (elite shot blocker and above-the-rim player when healthy), Iwate’s Masato Tsukino (much-improved guard); Niigata’s Yuichi Ikeda (steady veteran); Toyama’s Takeshi Mito (speedy dish-and-drive guard, underrated defender); Toyama’s Angel Garcia (inside-outside scoring touch, commands attention on the 3-point arc after hitting a few shots in a row); Shinshu’s Jermaine Green (team’s top scorer at 16.0 ppg);Shinshu’s Edward Morris (81 dunks in 52 games kept the fans expecting a slam at any moment); Gunma’s Dominique Keller (18.0 ppg in 34 games with the Crane Thunders); Gunma’s Jermaine Dixon (flashy scorer at 16.7 ppg); Saitama’s Yuki Kitamuki (averaged a career-high 15.5 ppg, attempted 423 3-pointers for the run-and-gun Broncos); Chiba’s Kensuke Tanaka (continued his development into a top-flight point guard that saw its ascent under Bob Hill’s tutelage, finished third in league in assists with 5.7 per game); Chiba’s D’Andre Bell (terrific role player and secondary scoring option, especially from the perimeter); Tokyo’s Cohey Aoki (averaged 14.3 ppg, the seven-time All-Star remains as popular as ever); Tokyo’s Jonathan Jones (gave the Cinq Reves a veteran’s presence in the middle and teamed up with 216-cm big man Jared Carter to protect the rim against the opposition); Sendai’s Sam Willard (gifted rebounder who was second only to Holm in that department, hauling in 14.0 per game); Sendai’s Takuya Komoda (made his first All-Star team at age 25, the small forward finished with a 10.9 ppg average).
Western Conference ? Hamamatsu’s Jeff Parmer (former MVP with a sharp basketball mind and stellar overall skills, averaged 13.6 ppg); Hamamatsu’s Wendell White (another ex-MVP on the star-studded Phoenix roster, he was a superb pickup after the cash-strapped HeatDevils roster implosion in December, with 20 ppg in 20 games before going down with a season-ending foot injury); Shiga’s Ray Nixon (a smart forward who plays to win); Shiga’s Dionisio Gomez (scored 15.7 ppg as the vocal leader of the frontcourt);Shiga’s Wayne Arnold (a pure shooter who made his presence felt with 13.3 ppg); Shiga’s Shinya Ogawa (having his best season until injuries cut it short after 33 games); Kyoto’s Yu Okada (provided 11.0 ppg, stretched the defense and knocked down 88 3s); Masaharu Kataoka (Kyoto: emerged as one of the top Japanese newcomers, with 10.0 ppg and solid playmaking skills); Gyno Pomare (Kyoto; a tough, aggressive presence in the low post with quick feet and all-around production, too, with 12.2 ppg); Osaka’s Rick Rickert (without much fanfare, the former Minnesota Timberwolves draft pick averaged 12.7 ppg and 10.8 rpg ? indeed respectable numbers, but augmented by a winning attitude that embraced Cartwright’s message from the get-go, when the team was 5-19 and made the coaching change in January); Osaka’s Dwayne Lathan (incosistent at times, but when the high-energy guard was at the top of his game, the Evessa flourished); Osaka’s Shun Watanuki (a point guard whose confidence climbed dramatically ? productivity, too ? with Cartwright directing the team); Shimane’s Tatsuhiro Yokoo (he was the Magic’s top Japanese scorer at 7.9 ppg, but the scoring load was equally shared and proved to be a strength of coach Zeljko Pavlicevic’s system); Takamatsu’s Paul Williams (by playing 50 games, scoring 12.2 ppg, making 58.8 percent from inside the arc and raking in 9.1 rpg, the big fellow helped guarantee the Five Arrows would be a much more competitive club after their disastrous 2011-12 season); Oita’s Taishiro Shimizu (during a season of ups and downs, he provided stability, played in all 52 games and delivered 13.7 ppg); Oita’s Verdell Jones III (the former Indiana Hoosiers guard lit up the scoreboard for 13.6 ppg and dished out 129 assists in 26 contests, bringing a confident, infectious style of play to a team that needed a boost after major roster turnover); Miyazaki’s Abdullahi Kuso (there were few highlights for the 9-43 Shining Suns, who have left the league due to financial problems, but the big man’s 17.3 points and 12.2 rebounds in 31 contests caught people’s attention); Ryukyu’s Naoto Kosuge (on a team loaded with talent, the veteran’s 9.4 ppg were certainly sufficient, but elsewhere he’d probably be in the 12.0-to-15.0 ppg range); Ryukyu’s Dzaflo Larkai (like Kosuge, on a team without as much depth, he’d be expect to carry a larger load, while on the Kings the backup center, who averaged 9.2 ppg in just over 21 mnutes a game, was another key part of a well-oiled machine.).
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