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Second-year pro Togashi orchestrates high-octane offense

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

The Akita Northern Happinets have had no difficulty scoring points this season.

They lead the 21-team league in scoring (88.9 points per game), including the circuit’s third-leading scorer in All-Star forward Richard Roby (20.0 ppg).

As the team’s top playmaker, 20-year-old guard Yuki Togashi, is vital to its success. And that’s what bench boss Kazuo Nakamura expects from him.

Through Sunday, Togashi, in his first full season as a pro, is the league leader in assists (7.4 per game). He has 253 assists and 92 turnovers to date, and the All-Star Game MVP honor in Akita on Jan. 26 (23 points, five 3-pointers, five assists) only added to his storybook season.

Last Saturday against Shinshu, the Niigata Prefecture native came within one assist of matching the league’s single-game record (16) set by then-Hamamatsu star Kevin Galloway in a November 2012 game against Miyazaki. Togashi has also had five 11-assist games, two 10-assist efforts and five nine-assist outings.

Togashi opened the season with seven assists and seven turnovers on Oct. 5. Since then, he’s settled into a rhythm as offensive quarterback and kept miscues to a minimum — his second-most turnovers to date: five on two occasions.

Togashi has scored a season-high 28 points twice, knocking down six 3-pointers on Oct. 12 against Aomori, and hitting six 3s again on Oct. 26 against Shinshu. He’s averaging 14.5 ppg, which makes defenses pay attention to his scoring as well as his precision passing.

And clearly, from what this reporter has observed, his growing confidence will only help him stay consistent for longer stretches of games.

Togashi has a good shot at winning the league’s assist title this season. (Osaka’s Galloway is No. 2 at 6.4 per game and Sendai’s Takehiko Shimura, last season’s top passer, is third at 6.1)

For someone so young — he doesn’t turn 21 until July — this would be a special and, well, very cool, individual accomplishment.

After all, Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson collected his first NBA assist crown during the 1982-83 season, when he turned 23.

Who’s hot: Akita and Ryukyu. The conference leaders are both 9-1 in their past 10 games. Hamamatsu is also 9-1 in that span, riding a nine-game winning streak.

Which other teams are playing well in that same stretch, which represents nearly 20 percent of the season?

Iwate is 8-2 and East rivals Toyama and Shinshu are both 7-3, while Niigata is 6-4.

In the West, Shiga and Fukuoka are both 6-4 in their last 10.

Who’s not: Tokyo is 1-9 in its last 10 and Oita, which has dropped six straight, and Takamatsu, which has lost eight consecutive games, are 2-8, the same dismal mark as Gunma, Shimane and Saitama.

Weekly schedule: The Tokyo-Gunma series tips off on Friday. The week’s other nine series, starting Saturday are as follows: Aomori vs. Sendai, Iwate vs. Saitama, Akita vs. Toyama, Niigata vs. Shinshu, Kyoto vs. Ryukyu, Osaka vs. Shiga, Nara vs. Fukuoka, Takamatsu vs. Hamamatsu and Oita vs. Yokohama.

League accolade: Hamamatsu guard Jermaine Dixon was named the Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP, it was announced on Tuesday.

Dixon sparked the Phoenix during a two-game sweep of the HeatDevils last weekend. He had 14 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals in the series opener. He scored a season-high 29 points, knocking down five 3-pointers and dished out five assists a day later.

He is averaging a team-high 14.0 ppg.

Player’s perspective: What makes Phoenix bench boss Tomoya Higashino a solid coach? That question was posed to Dixon, younger brother of ex-NBA guard Juan Dixon.

“Coach Higashino works hard,” Dixon told The Japan Times. “Him and his coaching staff have us prepared every weekend. He takes pride in winning and bring it out of all the players on the team. He adjusts the way he coaches to the players he has on his roster.”

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