The Osaka Evessa went through three head coaches — Zoran Kreckovic, Takao Furuya and Bill Cartwright — last season before handing the reins to Shunsuke Todo for the 2013-14 campaign.
Last weekend, the revamped roster was put to the test for the first time under Todo, and Osaka came away with two home victories — 87-78 in its season opener against the expansion Bambitious Nara, its new Kansai rival, and 96-78 in the rematch.
In an interview with The Japan Times, Todo described his first weekend in charge this way: “I am relieved to win two games over a quality team with a good coach (Koto Toyama) like Nara. I am happy to see our players played hard and shared the ball.”
Todo, who coached the WJBL’s Denso Iris club last season, insisted that he wants his team to have a fearless approach to the game, reading and reacting instead of spending too much time thinking about what to do next.
“I am not too worried about our turnovers, since those are the mistakes that occurred due to taking chances,” Todo said. “If we become able to complete those plays, we can be a very decent team, I believe. . . .
“I am trying to instill the concept that we cannot pace ourselves (or) take a play off,” he told The Japan Times. “We need to go full speed all the time on both ends of the floor. . .”
In Sunday’s 18-point triumph, point guard Kevin Galloway contributed 12 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and four steals. He nearly had a triple-double in the opener, too, finishing with 13 points, 12 boards and nine assists.
Todo recognizes that Galloway, who starred for the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix last season, showed a glimpse of the impact he can make for the veteran-laden club.
“Kevin was our floor general and he played very well,” Todo said. “His performance this weekend was good, but he has got potential to play even better.”
Though Galloway had 13 turnovers in the two games, Todo embraces the playmaker’s ability to create opportunities for his teammates.
Or as Todo put it: “He is merely trying to figure out what passes are best to his teammates. I encourage players to take chances, so he is doing just that.”
Galloway is surrounded by a talented cast, including All-Star big man Dillion Sneed, who had 22- and 18-point games against the Bambitious. Fellow newcomers Marcus Capers, a Washington State product, and Zach Andrews, a Bradley University alum, add power and versatility to the lineup.
Todo, welcoming the chance to analyze his players, believes Sneed, Capers and Andrews will be keys for the team.
In the opening weekend, he said, “Sneed was great, did not force issues and played very well along with playing very good defense. He even stepped outside of the 3-point line and put the pressure against outside players without causing any trouble.”
Capers is expected to be a catalyst at both ends of the floor.
Said Todo: “Marcus was finding his edge (against Nara) and is now confident, knowing how to ignite this team. He showed me the signs he can be a very good player in the bj-league, if not a great player.”
And what about Andrews?
“Zach played well, but his potential is unlimited and I just don’t know how good he can really become,” the 36-year-old coach admitted. “His performance this weekend was good, but he has got potential to play even much better.”
Augmenting that depth, forward Samuel Green Jr., in his second year in the bj-league, closed out the weekend with eight points, three rebounds and two steals in 16 busy minutes in the rematch.
That prompted Todo to say that “Sam provided great energy off the bench especially in Game 2. I am now confident to put him in the close games.”
As part of their new-look lineup, the Evessa brought back former Osaka guards Naoto Nakamura, 37, and Haruyuki Ishibashi, 39, to provide veteran leadership. Todo believes they will be tone-setters this season, as evidenced by last weekend’s performance. Nakamura sank 5 of 10 3s in a 17-point effort on Saturday. Ishibashi had five steals in total.
“I was especially happy to see two of our oldest players (Ishibashi and Nakamura) both contributed on both ends of the floor,” said Todo “They proved to me that age won’t matter, if you make efforts and take care of your body. Our entire team fed off of these two leaders’ performances.”
Case in point: Five Evessa players scored in double figures in both games.
In the backcourt, the Evessa also added Yosuke Sugawara, who scored a combined 29 points in the two wins, including 19 on Sunday, and two-time Best Five guard Naoto Takushi, who had limited playing time due to a minor injury.
Sugawara’s game, rooted in American-style aggressive play, gives the Evessa an added component to their lineup as they seek a return to the playoffs after missing the postseason for the first time in franchise history.
On Sunday, “(the way) he looked after the game, he knew he could play better. And I feel the same,” Todo concluded.
So it’s a start, a positive start, for Todo, Sugawara and the 2-0 Evessa.
Hot shooting: Nara guard Joe Chapman made a strong first impression during his debut weekend in the bj-league. The Marquette University product scored 25 points, including 6-for-10 from 3-point range, on Saturday. A day later, he knocked down 4 of 12 3s in a 16-point effort.
Crane Thunders update: Looking back on the weekend, Crane Thunders coach Ryan Blackwell said his second-year club took a solid first step to begin the season, calling it a “good opening weekend.”
Gunma eked out a 72-71 victory to tip off the season, then dropped an 80-76 decision to the Broncos, who won their first game under new bench boss Takatoshi “Big Bashi” Ishibashi.
“Both games vs. Saitama were tough and competitive,” Blackwell told The Japan Times. “We showed a lot of resiliency coming back to win in Game 1 and coming back but losing at the end in Game 2. I saw a lot of good things and things we need to improve upon going forward.”
“We need to be more consistent on both ends and limit our mental mistakes,” he said. “We had 36 turnovers for the weekend, which is too much.”
Lakestars report: Shiga sideline supervisor Chris Boettcher guided his club to a series sweep in his first weekend in charge. The visiting Lakestars topped the Shimane Susanoo Magic 74-59 and 77-73 in succession to usher in a new era.
Boettcher said the weekend provided a good starting point for his team.
“Our team played well and had good energy,” was how he summed up the series in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture.
“We still have a long way to go to know the offense and execute the way we want to,” Boettcher said. “Shimane is good and athletic.”
The Susanoo Magic played their first three seasons under Zeljko Pavlicevic, who now leads the NBL’s Wakayama Trians. The Lakestars were led by Al Westover the past two campaigns.
The back-to-back games proved that Boettcher is a quick study when it comes to identifying the league’s formidable challenges.
“(Magic center Jeral) Davis continues to be a presence inside, blocking shots and shot the ball really well,” Boettcher said.
Producing a four-point victory on Sunday, Boettcher, a native of Idaho, noted his team’s “balanced offensive attack” paid off. He credited Yutaka Yokoe for making a big impact in crunch time.
“Yokoe hit big shots in the forth quarter to help us get the win,” Boettcher stated.
Upcoming schedule: Sendai plays host to Gunma in a series that tips off on Friday. The other weekend match-ups, all starting on Saturday, are as follows: Iwate vs. Niigata, Akita vs. Aomori, Toyama vs. Saitama, Yokohama vs. Shinshu, Hamamatsu vs. Shiga, Kyoto vs. Takamatsu, Nara vs. Oita, Fukuoka vs. Shimane and Ryukyu vs. Tokyo.
Schedule tidbits: The B-Corsairs begin their title defense with new coach Michael Katsuhisa on the bench at Sky Arena in Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture. . .
The second-year Cinq Reves opener their season with Motofumi Aoki in charge once again, with Ricky Woods expected to lead the scoring load on a team now without seven-time All-Star Cohey Aoki, who joined his hometown Rizing Fukuoka in the offseason. . . .
The Grouses return to action under second-year mentor Bob Nash, who steered Toyama to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in May. . . .
Coming off two straight Final Fours, Hannaryz coach Honoo Hamaguchi, loaded with the talent to make a run for the title, including former Washington Wizards swingman Edwin Ubiles, also plays its first series of the season. Kyoto is starting its fifth season in the league. . . .
Nara is hosting its first-ever home series.
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