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Shimane struggling after departure of coach, top star

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

The Shimane Susanoo Magic have dropped out of playoff contention this season, but big man Jeral Davis remains a bright spot for the fourth-year franchise.

The center leads the team in scoring (16.6 points), rebounds (9.7), blocks (2.7, No. 2 in league) and dunks (39). In past seasons, Davis was not a go-to scorer, but could give the team a timely inside bucket — a putback or stuff perhaps — more times than not.

This season, Davis became the focal point of the team’s offense when forward Thomas Kennedy (17.1 ppg) was released after 10 games. Since then, Kennedy has reunited with ex-Yokohama B-Corsairs coach Reggie Geary on the NBL’s Chiba Jets.

Davis and his teammates, meanwhile, have endured a rocky season under first-year coach Vlasios Vlaikidis, whose squad has lost six of its past seven games. Shimane (5-19) has the worst record in the 10-team Western Conference.

The Magic, who advanced to the playoffs in each of their first three seasons under ex-coach Zeljko Pavlicevic, have had just one winning streak (two games) as the 52-game season reaches its midway point. Pavlicevic now coaches the NBL’s Wakayama Trians (16-8 in the regular season; they have also advanced to the ongoing Emperor’s Cup semifinals) and do-it-all forward Michael Parker, who starred for the Magic for the past two seasons, is an all-around force for the club.

“I think the function as a team (has) collapsed in Shimane,” a longtime league observer told The Japan Times on Sunday. “Players and the head coach quarreled during the (last) game. The team need a head coach with strong leadership.”

Bright future: Bambitious Nara guard Tatsuya Suzuki has had a solid start to his bj-league career. The 22-year-old leads the expansion franchise in minutes played (864) through 24 games. He’s also averaging 6.8 points and 5.3 assists (tied for the fourth-best output in the league). The Takushoku University product has 128 assists against 55 turnovers with 40 steals.

Among his highlights to date, Suzuki had a season-best 22 points on Nov. 16 against Takamatsu and a season-high 10 assists on Nov. 9 against Kyoto.

Nara drafted Suzuki, a Tokyo native, in the second round of May’s rookie draft.

Seeing the big picture: Toyama coach Bob Nash stresses pointing out the positives from his players’ performances during games and practices. The former NBA forward and University of Hawaii head coach also recognizes the value of commending the work of league officials.

“The bj-league referees are doing a great job this season of letting the players play and deciding the outcome of games,” Nash told The Japan Times. “They don’t always get it right, but I see a much-improved effort of consistency to try to get it right.”

While Nash is not an official spokesman for the league, he is one of the circuit’s elder statesmen and understands the importance of promotions.

For instance, he said, speaking out to the nation’s sports enthusiasts, “Please support your local team or the bj-league in the New Year, as the level of play in the bj-league is an exciting brand of basketball. Looking ahead, the race for the East and West Conference championships will produce some exciting games and matchups in the months to come. Hopefully, one of the national television networks will see the opportunity and possibly broadcast a bj-league game.”

Delivering a strong message — to a team and to the general public — is a vital role for a coach.

Just ask Nash.

“In most of my post-game interviews, I always acknowledge the press for their coverage of our games and the bj-league,” he said, “because without the press we can’t reach our fans. I ask my fellow coaches to do the same thing to help our league to become stronger and more recognizable. . . . ”

Road struggles: Only six of 21 teams have winning road records through Sunday. Four of those teams are in the Eastern Conference: Akita (9-3 in away games), Toyama (11-3), Iwate (6-2) and Shinshu (7-5). In the West, the Ryukyu (8-2) and Oita (10-6) are above .500 on the road.

League honors: Hot-shooting Taishiro Shimizu of the HeatDevils received the Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP award after helping his team sweep Kyoto last weekend. Shimizu scored 16 points and nailed 4 of 5 3-pointers in a 13-point victory in the series opener on Saturday. A day later, he canned 6 of 10 3s en route to 27 points in Oita’s five-point triumph.

Takamatsu Five Arrows center Paul Williams was named the December MVP, helping the Shikoku club climb from eighth to fifth in the Western Conference standings in the year’s final month.

Williams, a St. Bonaventure (New York) University product, averaged 11.5 points and 13.9 rebounds in December, when Takamatsu went 6-2 in series that started and ended in the month. (The team’s Dec. 1 game, a series finale, went into consideration for November accolades).

In addition, Williams has made a big impact to start 2014. The 208-cm big man converted 21 of 24 shots from the field in a pair of wins over the Gunma Crane Thunders last weekend. He scored 25 and grabbed 15 rebounds in the opener and netted 21 points and cleaned the glass for 11 rebounds in the finale.

Looking ahead: Games resume on Thursday as Fukuoka opens its series against visiting Shimane. The Saturday-Sunday docket features Akita vs. Shiga, Shinshu vs. Toyama, Saitama vs. Gunma, Hamamatsu vs. Aomori and Nara vs. Kyoto.

The Sunday-Monday series are Sendai vs. Osaka and Tokyo vs. Iwate, the Monday-Tuesday matchup is Ryukyu vs. Takamatsu, while Nara meets visiting Saitama on Jan. 15-16.

Feedback: Got a story idea about the bj-league? Send an email to: edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp