Niigata forward Rodney Webb, who made his bj-league debut in 2007, was handed the biggest suspension in league history on Tuesday night.
The 30-year-old Florida Atlantic product has been suspended for the final 12 games of the regular season and the postseason plus a $1,000 fine after kicking Akita center Chas McFarland, who was on the floor, in the head with 6:39 left in the first quarter of Saturday’s series opener in Akita.
Webb was also automatically handed a one-game ban for Sunday’s series finale before the league’s disciplinary committee decided on the aforementioned punishment.
The Albirex have ordered Webb to leave the team, so he cannot remain as a practice player or a confidant for his teammates as they vie for a second straight trip to the Final Four. Niigata (24-16) sits in fifth place in the 11-team Eastern Conference.
Webb told The Japan Times on Monday that he later profusely apologized to McFarland, who suffered a broken nose in the incident.
Contacted by this reporter, McFarland, a Wake Forest alum, declined to comment.
Commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi spoke out against the on-court incident in a statement issued by the league.
“I regret very much that this time such a situation occurred” Kawachi said, adding that the league cannot permit violence on the court.
He added: “The league will continue to take a strong stand against any act of violence in the future.”
While Kawachi’s statements are appropriate, one wonders if this incident was avoidable.
Did game officials Masahiro “Jin” Matsumoto, Norihito “Gonzo” Okawara and Takahiko Kudo fail to see a developing problem and react quickly enough?
On Wednesday, one Eastern Conference player insisted that McFarland “is by far the dirtiest player in the league. He has been doing stuff to players all season and it finally came back to haunt him.”
McFarland, an NBA Development League veteran, is averaging 12.9 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 39 games, with a league-high 13 technical fouls.
According to Webb, the first-place Happinets (32-8) had set a poor example earlier this season after a loss, specifically on Nov. 24, in a 91-77 setback to the Albirex.
“The coach of Akita (Kazuo Nakamura) is a bad sportsman, and it rubs off on the players that play for him,” Webb said. “It was an incident that broke out (on Nov. 24), when they didn’t shake our hands after losing and poured water on our court.”
In the first-quarter brouhaha on Saturday, a game the Happinets won 106-90, Webb insisted he was the recipient of two intentional elbows to the face.
This is Webb’s description of what happened next: “I got away from (McFarland) by running to halfcourt, he sprinted to catch up with me and elbows me in the face again, (and) after that I blacked out and hit him and I really regret it. I would never want to intentionally hurt someone.
“It’s not in my character to be a bad guy, and it hurts me that I am been seen in this type of way,” he continued.
“I really just hope Chas is OK. There never was bad blood between us. I don’t trash talk, I rarely ever talk on court unless it’s to see how someone is doing.”
McFarland’s one-game ban has been served, so he would presumably be available to play again after being cleared by the team doctor.
Not surprisingly, Webb didn’t agree with how the league meted out punishment.
Webb said, “I wasn’t the one who instigated the situation but took the hardest punishment.
“I just think they went a little too harsh on me compared to the other guy. His hands are not guilt-free in this situation.”
Asked if it’s appropriate that a unilateral decision was handed down without a players union to represent him or an appeals process for him, Webb responded by telling The Japan Times, “Yeah, it’s not fair, but what can I do?”
Webb, who has also played in the NBA D-League, averaged 10.7 points and 6.6 rebounds in 39 games. He was charged with one technical foul this season.
Taking stock: Iwate Big Bulls head coach Dai Oketani, who has positioned his team for a run at the Final Four, recognizes the importance of the remainder of the regular season. In fact, a sense of urgency characterizes the Big Bulls’ current focus.
“We have to play like playoffs in every single practice and every single game. We can’t waste any time,” Oketani told The Japan Times on Tuesday night. “We are given ‘time’ equally each team, so we have to spend ‘quality time’ as a team. And every game we play like our last game. That’s what we need to do now.”
Oketani, in his second season with third-place Iwate (28-10), believes a unified group of players breeds success for the Eastern Conference squad.
“I would like say that we have many inspirational players — Trend (Lawrence Blackledge), Tsubasa (Yonamine), Masa (Masato Tsukino). . . . I think every one of our players are inspirational to me,” said Oketani, who won a pair of titles while coaching the Ryukyu Golden Kings.
“I believe every one of our players are team-oriented players,” he added.
A teammate’s praise: Blackledge recognizes that Big Bulls forward Josh Peppers has put team goals ahead of personal glory.
For that very reason, Blackledge spoke out to commend his teammate for his unselfish play.
“Josh plays a very big part in our success this season in Iwate,” Blacklege told this newspaper. “He is giving us scoring, leadership, and his knowledge for the game is a (big) addition to our Big Bulls team.
“He is playing the lowest amount of minutes per game this season then he has in any of his seven seasons in Japan, but is more productive and efficient.
“He never complains about playing time, all he cares about is the team winning games and that’s why I respect him so much.
“You couldn’t ask for a better teammate or friend than Josh Peppers. Glad to be playing with him this year rather than against him like I have my first three seasons in Japan.”
Peppers, a University of Central Florida product, is one of the league’s most well-traveled veterans, formerly playing for Fukuoka, Hamamatsu, Shiga and Sendai.
A coach’s wishes: Indeed, the Rizing Fukuoka, winners of nine of 12 games since James Duncan took over as head coach, are a work in progress.
On Tuesday, Duncan took a moment to reflect on what he hopes his team will accomplish in the coming weeks as the playoff chase heats up.
“Consistency is what I would like and the hunger to get better,” Duncan told The Japan Times. “Do not be satisfied with what happened in the past. We can still improve defensively and offensively. We have been collectively together for a short time, so each practice day we pick up better habits and learn to be more consistent with my philosophy.”
He added: “The playoffs are around the corner and we would like to keep moving upward and forward.”
Asked if he could pinpoint one inspirational leader for his club, Duncan said he needed to mention four players: Rintaro Tokunaga, Reggie Warren, Masahiro Kano and Jun Nakanishi.
Which Rizing player is most overlooked or underrated by fans and media?
“I’m not sure what the fans and media are saying,” Duncan said. “My focus is the team, however, (guard) Rintaro Tokunaga has stepped up, helping us do all the little things that each team needs and the other players have followed accordingly.
“It’s very good to see everyone wanting to get better and sacrifice to win.”
The 27-year-old Tokunaga, a Fukuoka native, is averaging 2.0 points per game, but has become more productive with increased minutes under Duncan. His two-best scoring games of the season — 11 in 25 minutes on Feb. 22 and 14 in 26 minutes on March 1 — have come since Duncan replaced Kimitoshi Sano as bench boss.
Shimane update: It’s been a frustrating season for the Shimane Susanoo Magic, and coach Reggie Hanson knows the challenge to improve is not an easy fix.
“We need to get healthy,” Hanson admitted on Wednesday. “We had another two players get hurt last weekend against Kyoto.
“I have not had a full team since I been here. I have had eight players miss multiple games since I took over (in January). So I’m just trying to teach the fundamentals everyday and get better.”
He said rebounding and turnovers are focal points of the team’s improvement.
In addition, Hanson acknowledge the team can do a better jof of taking “consistent carry-over to games from practice and watching video.”
Despite a 7-31 record, the last-place Susanoo Magic are not dwelling on the negatives. Hanson remains committed to pointing out the positive developments for the team.
“My most underrated player is (guard Yasuhiko) Kino,” Hanson commented. “He can be a great defender. Total team guy. Will do whatever it takes. No fear.”
Home sweet home: The expansion Aomori Wat’s (19-19 overall) are 16-6 in home contests. Splendid start for a first-year squad. Even more impressive, the Ryukyu Golden Kings are 21-1 in games played in Okinawa.
League honor: Gunma Crane Thunders guard Shingo Okada is the latest Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP winner, it was announced on Wednesday.
Okada had 16 points, four rebounds, two assists and a steal in 32 productive minutes on Sunday against the Bambitious Nara. He played 37 minutes in the series opener and contributed six points, seven boards, two steals and one assist.
The Crane Thunders (10-28) won both games, giving them their first winning streak of the season.
Before joining Gunma in 2012, Okada helped lead Hamamatsu to a pair of championships in 2009-10 and 2010-11.
Upcoming games: The Fukuoka-Ryukyu series tips off on Thursday. The week’s other nine series start on Saturday and are as follows: Toyama vs. Osaka, Shinshu vs. Iwate, Gunma vs. Akita, Saitama vs. Sendai, Tokyo vs, Niigata, Yokohama vs. Aomori, Hamamatsu vs. Kyoto, Shiga vs. Nara and Shimane vs. Takamatsu.
Closing commentary: The league will play its 10th anniversary season in 2014-15. And yes, it’s an accomplishment and something those who established the league and its teams should be proud of.
But consider the following: What if the league’s identity was highlighted by managed growth (instead of nonstop expansion), innovative promotions (instead of mostly gimmicks) and a full-fledged marketing and mass-media campaign (regularly scheduled national TV coverage of the league was dropped in 2012) to transform itself into Japan’s third major pro sports league after Nippon Professional Baseball and the J. League?
It’s the notion that a number of what-ifs, lost opportunities and missteps have overtaken the league’s landmark accomplishments as the primary narrative.
It didn’t have to be that way.
But by chasing money and unrealistic expectations throughout its formative (and most crucial) years, the bj-league has failed to groom or train enough capable talent evaluators, front-office executives and other key personnel.
Sadly, for many teams, it’s often just a revolving door for staff; here today, gone tomorrow. Which brings more instability and unqualified decision makers into the mix.
“The main problem in the league is too many GMs/presidents with no basketball knowledge signing the wrong blend of imports and Japanese guys,” a former standout player said on Tuesday.
“The league has a long ways to go from a competitive standpoint because the constant expansion is lowering the talent level throughout the league and it’s the reason why the top teams are so much better than the bottom.”
Feedback: Got a story idea about the bj-league? Send an email to: email@example.com