The Ryukyu Golden Kings have been so good for so long that they’ve maintained a winning formula for nearly a decade.
Sure, team president Tatsuro Kimura and his staff tinker with the Golden Kings roster each year, adding a few key pieces to the puzzle. But, since 2008-09, their second season, there’s never been a massive rebuilding job, no complete overhaul.
With this approach, the foundation remains in place. The team culture is about winning.
During the offseason, Ryukyu added big man Evan Ravenel, an Ohio State alum, and forward Shuhei Kitagawa, who played the past several seasons for the NBL’s Aisin SeaHorses. Both veteran have been quality pickups. Important additions to the roster.
Last weekend, Kitagawa sparked the visitors against the Yokohama B-Corsairs as the Golden Kings earned a series sweep. He scored 21 points on Christmas night, flushing 5 of 7 3-point attempts. A day later, he made the B-Corsairs pay for sending him to the free-throw line. He sank 9 of 10 foul shots in a 22-point effort.
Kitagawa is averaging 12.0 points in 24 games. He is No. 2 in the league in free-throw shooting (94.1 percent), trailing only Fukuoka guard Cohey Aoki (96.2).
Ravenel is Ryukyu’s top scorer (17.5 points) and rebounder (10.1). He’s converted 57.9 percent of his shots from the field, and he is tied for third in the league in that category with Shimane’s Josh Davis.
The Golden Kings entered this weekend at 18-6, a game behind Kyoto and reigning champion Hamamatsu, who have identical 17-5 records and sit atop the Western Conference standings.
Ryukyu doesn’t have a player in the top 10 in points, rebounds or assists, but nine Golden Kings players have 10 or more steals. Their defensive tenacity fuels their offense.
The Okinawan powerhouse has five players with double-digit scoring averages, including Draelon Burns (13.2) and Anthony McHenry (10.0). Guard Ryuichi Kishimoto, a key addition in 2013, is No. 3 on the team in assists (70), behind Burns (87) and McHenry (85). Forward Hiromasa Omiya, meanwhile, has strengthened his spot in the Ryukyu rotation as a solid backup during his second season with the club.
The Kings are well on their way to an eighth straight playoff appearance in the bj-league’s final season, and the three-time champions have the sustained excellence that should carry them to respectability in the new B. League’s first division next season.
In 2009, after Ryukyu captured its first title, Kimura wrote a book about the team’s journey as a new franchise that rapidly became a league power. That book, “Miracle of the Ryukyu Golden Kings,” in Japanese serves as a reminder of what vision and stability can achieve.
In an interview after the book’s release, Kimura reflected on the team’s overall goals.
“This book is about how people in Okinawa and I built up a local pro sports team,” Kimura told The Japan Times in 2009. “There are a lot of dramatic human stories. I would like to share the whole experience with everybody involving the Kings activities.
“At the same time, I would also like to record the history of the franchise in the book as an example of a successful franchise management. I know it is not something I should say, but instead somebody needs to say it. As you know, it has been chaos economically, but if you know how to run a pro sports organization with the right structure, a team can flourish without big financial support from one company.
“I wish the Kings organization, and what or how it’s done, can make some positive impact in this business, and can encourage other organizations.”
Light schedule: Only six teams are in action this weekend as most of the league takes a New Year’s weekend break. Here’s a rundown on the three Saturday-Sunday series: Niigata vs. Osaka, Shinshu vs. Aomori and Ryukyu vs. Kanazawa. The following weekend, only one series is on the docket: Shiga vs. Gunma.
League accolades: Shimane forward Scootie Randall received the final Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP honor of the year, it was announced on Monday.
The Temple University alum had 25- and 30-point games in a pair of wins over Shinshu. He added 15 rebounds and 11-for-12 shooting from the charity stripe in the opener with three assists, two steals and a block.
On Sunday, Randall sank 17 of 20 foul shots and grabbed six rebounds. He has been a leading force in the Susanoo Magic’s emergence as a rising power this season under first-year bench boss Michael Katsuhisa.
Sendai forward Wendell White earned the league’s December MVP award. The UNLV product played a major role in the 89ers’ 7-1 month. Sendai (20-6) leads the 24-team circuit in wins.
White averaged 24.6 points, 12.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists in December.
Randall and White are among the top candidates for the regular-season MVP award.