|

Hall looks on bright side during trying season

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

A year after he was on a team that had its hands on a possible NCAA men’s national championship, American Carl Hall is on a club that struggles to get even a single victory in Japan.

But the 24-year-old forward has the type of attitude that allows him to see the positives.

“It’s always tough (to lose). You’ve got the experience in both, though. You’ve got the experience being at the top, you’ve got the experience at the bottom,” Hall, a first-year player for the Hyogo Storks, said with a grin.

The Storks, in their first year in the top division, are 6-34, with the second-most losses in the 12-team National Basketball League (aka the NBL, formerly known as the Japan Basketball League) this season.

Last spring, Hall’s Wichita State University Shockers became one of the most notable Cinderella stories in NCAA tournament history, starting as a No. 9 seed and advancing to the Final Four at Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Wichita State, a Missouri Valley Conference school, lost to the Louisville Cardinals, the eventual champions, 72-68 in the national semifinals.

“It was an experience of a lifetime,” said Hall, who was sidelined for two years after suffering a neurocardiogenic syncope, a condition described by the Mayo Clinic as “a brief loss of consciousness caused by a sudden drop in your heart rate and blood pressure, which reduces blood flow to your brain,” when he played for Middle Georgia College during the 2007-08 season.

“Man, it’s the mecca of college basketball in the U.S.,” he continued, speaking about the Final Four. “To get to go there is just a great achievement. So it’s just a great honor, great experience to do something like that.”

Hall said he checks the Shockers news every day and is excited about their perfect season (they are the second NCAA Division I team to reach 34-0, the first since the 1990-91 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, who lost to Duke in the Final Four that year). He still communicates with the remaining Shockers from across the Pacific Ocean. He added that he taught many things to his younger Shockers.

“They still talk about me there in interviews and stuff,” Hall said with a smile.

Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall called Hall “the heartbeat of his team” on the court during its tournament run last season.

Different country, different circumstances and different record, but Hall is the heartbeat of the Storks as well.

A native of Cochran, Georgia, he has put up elite numbers, averaging 20.3 points (fifth in the league), 9.7 rebounds (ninth) and 1.6 blocks (sixth).

But while Hall was an established collegiate player, he’s a rookie as pro. Acknowledging his physical tools, Hyogo coach Danny Yoshikawa said that Hall is still green and has room for improvement.

“He’s got a long way to go. He’s a puppy,” said Yoshikawa, in his first year with the Storks, who were promoted from the old JBL2 (now called the NBDL) before this season. “He’s got the right tools. He has an incredible opportunity. I think he could be a career Japan player, if he wants to.”

Yoshikawa says Hall, a 201-cm player, isn’t the biggest nor the most technical player in the world, but was pleased that the youngster has shown an exceptional dynamo-like work ethic.

“He works extremely hard every day,” Yoshikawa said. “He doesn’t take a day off. We have a day off a week. He’s always in the gym shooting. He’s the guy that’s always going to depend on his work, he has to outwork everybody else because he’s a little bit smaller than other guys, not as skilled.”

Around the league: Surprisingly, the Aisin SeaHorses have dropped five of their last six games. During the stretch, the Aichi Prefecture-based team suffered a four-game losing streak against the Toyota Motors Alvark and Levanga Hokkaido for its worst skid of the season.

The SeaHorses, however, are still on top of the Western Conference with a 31-9 record.

Toyota (32-8), meanwhile, is on the rise, winning its last 16 games. Its last defeat was on Dec. 14 against Aisin.

Elsewhere, the Tsukuba Robots racked up their first victory in 13 games in a March 1 contest against the Chiba Jets. The Ibaraki club (7-33) have the third-worst record in the league.

Finally, all three spots for the West playoffs have been filled as the Mitsubishi Electric Diamond Dolphins clinched the last berth for the postseason (after Aisin and Wakayama Trians) last Sunday.

In the Eastern Conference, no team has punched a ticket yet.

Looking good but not satisfied: The Toshiba Brave Thunders currently have the NBL’s best record (34-6), but their head coach, Takuya Kita, frequently seems upset about his players’ performance because winning isn’t necessarily everything.

To him, how you win is more significant.

At times, the Brave Thunders have struggled against teams with far worse records, although they’ve wound up earning Ws in the end.

“That’s our issue,” Kita said. “I’ve told my players, but they haven’t respected their opponents enough. We need to play our best game no matter who we play, but they tend to cut corners (when they player weaker teams).”

The issue is seen more in their defense, Kita insisted.

“We have our own team defense, we have rules in it,” said the third-year coach. “But many times we haven’t done it, and that’s why we get to play games that are too close.”

Also, although the team leads the league in scoring (88.9 points per game), Kita hasn’t been satisfied with Toshiba’s offensive performance either. He doesn’t like that his players have relied on primary weapon Nick Fazekas too much.

Kita is fine with the fact that Fazekas, the league’s leading scorer with 27.5 ppg, is the team’s finisher. But he wants to see his players share the ball more before going inside to the 211-cm center.

And that responsibility, Kita elaborated, is on the point guards.

Ryusei Shinoyama at age 25 is the team’s starting guy at that position.

“At the end of the day, it’s the point guard,” Kita said. “When our point guards look to Nick too much, our offense won’t work how we want it to.”

Meanwhile, Fazekas accomplished a historical feat on March 1 against the Storks at Todoroki Arena, becoming the first player in the nearly half-a-century-long history of the Japan Basketball Association-sanctioned top league — play began in 1967 — to score 1,000 points in a single season.

According to the league, the previous season-high was 905 points, also notched by Fazekas, in the JBL’s final season, 2012-13.

While Fazekas is playing in a much longer season than in the past (the NBL began with 54 games, an increase of 12 contests from last season’s 42, the previous high), the 28-year-old reached the milestone in the team’s 37th game and obviously has a chance to amass more baskets over the reminder of the season.

“For me, I didn’t realize it was such a big deal. But now they are joking in the locker room, ‘When are you going to get to 2,000?’ ” he said, smiling.