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Tokyo’s Ide making most of chance with perennial All-Star Aoki gone

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Guard Cohey Aoki starred for the Tokyo Apache from the league’s inception until the team folded in 2011. He then spent a season with the Osaka Evessa, then returned to the capital city to be the Tokyo Cinq Reves’ signature star last season.

Now, Aoki is a key performer for his hometown Rizing Fukuoka.

When the season started, there was a void in the Tokyo backcourt and an opportunity for a Japanese standout to emerge.

Yuji Ide is filling that void and becoming a potent force in coach Motofumi Aoki’s lineup in a new era for Tokyo basketball, one not featuring seven-time All-Star Aoki, a league icon.

The 25-year-old, a Saitama Prefecture native who played limited minutes last season for the Shimane Susanoo Magic, is averaging 17.0 points in eight games for Tokyo (2-6). This includes a 25-point effort on Sunday, when the Cinq Reves snapped a six-game losing streak by beating the host Shinshu Brave Warriors.

In the season opener, also a Tokyo win, the 181-cm Ide buried 6 of 9 3-pointers and scored a career-best 34 points against the Ryukyu Golden Kings.

From what this reporter saw on Oct. 20 against the visiting Akita Northern Happinets, Ide appears confident in his ability to score from any spot on the court. His aggressive mindset helped him find gaps in the Happinets defense and he didn’t hesitate to take shots.

The result?

A 23-point, seven-assist effort in a down-to-the-wire loss to Akita.

“He plays with a lot of heart and confidence,” Gunma Crane Thunders coach Ryan Blackwell told The Japan Times.

Major pickup: The two-time champion Ryukyu Golden Kings have added guard Draelon Burns, the team announced on Tuesday. The Golden Kings parted ways with forward Scootie Randall in a move announced earlier in the day.

Randall was traded to the Iwate Big Bulls for cash considerations.

Burns played for the Yokohama B-Corsairs the past two seasons. He signed a deal to play for the Akita Northern Happinets this season, but left the club in the preseason due to a eye injury sustained in Milwaukee during a pickup basketball game this summer.

The DePaul product was the go-to guard for the B-Corsairs under ex-coach Reggie Geary, helping the club reach the Final Four in back-to-back seasons. In a spectacular 2012-13 season, which included a title for Yokohama, Burns, a sixth man, was fourth in the league in scoring (21.4), fifth in assists (4.8) and tied for third in steals (2.0). He was named to the league’s 2012-13 Best Five team.

In a statement issued by the team, Burns said he’s worked hard to recover from his injury and get back in shape.

The opportunity to join a team with a tradition of winning was the biggest reason Burns joined the Kings, he said.

“I am grateful the team has given me this opportunity,” Burns added. “For the Kings to win, I am prepared to do anything.”

Randall, 23, who wrapped up his college career for the Temple University Owls last season, averaged 16.3 points in 10 games for the 8-2 Golden Kings, who sit atop the Western Conference standings.

The Big Bulls released center Brian Carlwell to free up a roster spot for Randall.

Carlwell, a San Diego State alum, averaged 5.8 in eight games for Iwate (4-4).

Aomori’s successful formula: The Aomori Wat’s assembled their roster with a collection of veteran players with bj-league experience. That has played a big part in the expansion team’s successful start to the season.

Entering the season’s sixth week of play, the Wat’s are 6-4 and tied with the Niigata Albirex BB for fourth place in the 11-team Eastern Conference.

Veteran guard Yuki Kitamuki, who averaged a career-best 15.5 ppg for the Saitama Broncos in 2012-13 and earned the league’s Most Improved Player award, is one example of the team’s roster building. Kitamuki is the team’s second-leading scorer at 11.1 ppg.

In addition, swingman Makoto Sawaguchi, who made his pro debut at age 18 for Akita in 2010, had a season-high 13 points on Saturday, when the Wat’s edged the visiting Gunma Crane Thunders 73-71 to extend their winning streak to four games. (Aomori won both games in the series by two-point margins.)

Forward Gordon Klaiber, who previously suited up for the Broncos, Shiga Lakestars and Iwate Big Bulls, is the team’s top scorer at 14.9 ppg and has logged a team-high 289 minutes. Big man Anthony Kent, averaging 8.0 points and 8.0 rebounds a game, competed for Akita last season.

Forward Daisuke Takaoka was a backup forward with the Sendai 89ers, and small forward Yuta Kojima contributed 4.8 ppg for the now-defunct Miyazaki Shining Suns last season. The frontcourt also features hard-working macho man Abdullahi Kuso, a former Ryukyu, Fukuoka and Miyazaki player, contributing 8.5 points and 9.5 rebounds a game.

Coach Koju Munakata’s team doesn’t have a lot of flashy statistics, but across-the-board production has been the key.

Case in point: Nine players have seven or more assists, with bj-league newcomer and first-year pro Eric May, an Iowa product, tops in that category (23) along with 10.8 ppg.

The way the Wat’s are playing it’s the notion here that Munakata is in the running for Coach of the Year. Stay tuned.

Gunma talk: It’s frustrating for a coach when his team is sitting at the bottom of the conference standings.

That’s the situation that Gunma’s Blackwell, a former standout forward for Sendai and the Osaka Evessa, faces now as his club seeks better results.

The 1-7 Crane Thunders have lost five games by single digits during their current seven-game losing streak.

Looking at his team’s struggles, Blackwell said, “Well, the majority of the games we’ve lost we have up close to 20 offensive rebounds or more, so defensive rebounding has been killing us for one. Second, we aren’t scoring a lot of points.

“We have some good Japanese players on our team but not a real creator and playmaker that can get them easy shots.

“We have some good athletes that can get up and down the floor, but we don’t get into our running game like we should and again that’s because of rebounding and turnovers,” the Syracuse University product told The Japan Times. “So we would give up 25 offensive rebounds some games as well as turn the ball over around 25 times or more.”

The second-year sideline supervisor added: “(It’s) hard to win games like that. But even with those numbers, we’ve still had chances to win all those games.”

Upcoming schedule: Here are this Saturday-Sunday matchups: Iwate vs. Osaka, Akita vs. Sendai, Niigata vs. Yokohama, Shinshu vs. Aomori, Gunma vs. Toyama, Kyoto vs. Nara, Shinshu vs. Hamamatsu and Oita vs. Shiga. Next Tuesday and Wednesday, Tokyo plays host to Saitama.

Good and bad: Akita has a league-best 6-0 home record. Nara, Sendai and Gunma are 0-6 on the road.

League awards dropped: This season, the league is not awarding its weekly and monthly MVP honors, which have been a tradition since the 2006-07.

No formal announcement or press release was issued by the league about the matter. The same approach was taken when the league’s contracts for regular TV coverage were not renewed by BS Fuji and Gaora for the 2012-13 season. It was essentially handled as a secret.

League spokesmen Akihiro Ejima and Kentaro Umehara did not respond to inquiries seeking comment.

In past seasons, the awards were sponsored by Circle K/Sunkus and Lawson convenience stories.

All-Star voting: The eighth All-Star Game will be held on Jan. 26 in Akita, and starters for the annual showcase are being chosen by fans.

Voting for the All-Stars began earlier this week and runs through Dec. 22.

Visit the league website (in Japanese) to make your picks here: www.bj-league.com/allstar/2014/vote.php

Feedback: Got a story idea: Send an email to edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp