As the season marches closer to the finish line, the Yokohama B-Corsairs are striving to develop consistency and climb in the Eastern Conference standings.
Since the start of December, first-year bench boss Taketo Aoki’s club has had the following results: win, loss, loss, win, win, loss, loss, loss, loss, win, win, win, loss, loss.
That puts the B-Corsairs at 16-16, with 20 games remaining before the bj-league’s 11th and final playoff campaign. They sit in seventh place in the 12-team East, and a game ahead of the eighth-place Aomori Wat’s (15-17), who would own the conference’s final spot in the postseason if the playoffs started today.
Aoki, 42, has been a fixture with the Yokohama franchise since its inception in 2011, and the steady forward wrapped up his playing career, which began in 1996 in the JBL, on the team’s 2012-13 title-winning season under then-coach Reggie Geary.
When Geary, a former NBA guard, departed to lead the NBL’s Chiba Jets, Aoki spent two seasons as Michael Katsuhisa’s capable assistant, then took the reins in the offseason when Katsuhisa moved on to pilot the Shimane Susanoo Magic.
Aoki’s charges have explosive perimeter scorers and playmkers in mainstays Masayuki Kabaya (8.9 points per game) and Kenji Yamada (10.3 and a team-high 135 assists) and first-year B-Corsairs performer Cory Johnson (16.5), while frontcourt stalwarts Jordan Henriquez-Roberts (13.7 points, 11.9 rebounds) and Carl Hall (15.7 points, 9.8 rebounds) provide a potent punch inside.
After the B-Corsairs’ 75-64 defeat to the host Shinshu on Sunday, Aoki told reporters that the Brave Warriors were a formidable foe that played a tough game until the end. The key now, he said, is for his team to “step up” to the challenge in the run-up to the playoffs.
To do so, Yokohama will need to find more success on the road. The Kanagawa-based club is a woeful 6-10 in away games.
Some teams thrive in run-and-gun, high-scoring contents. On the other hand, the B-Corsairs have greater success when foes don’t put up high-scoring totals. Exhibit A: Twelve of their 16 wins have been earned by holding opponents to less than 80 points.
Aoki is a high-energy, passionate coach, and it will be interesting to monitor his team’s progress over the next few months.
Geary said he expects Aoki, affectionately known as TK, to give the B-Corsairs a real push over the next few months, and reflected on the Kanagawa Prefecture native’s two years working with him.
“TK is a great guy who, as a veteran player for me, had a good basketball IQ and a willingness to learn,” Geary, who now coaches the NBL’s Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins told The Japan Times on Wednesday. “You could see from his interest in what I was doing that he was already looking ahead to transitioning into the coaching or front office side of the game.
“TK always had a steadying presence with our group and was a veteran the younger players could look up to. His work ethic and professionalism were always on display.”
He added: “As a former player, I envision TK being a players’ coach with a laid back and welcoming personality. Also he has a steady personality that can handle the ups and downs a coach will experience throughout a long season.
“I’m very happy for and proud of TK’s early success in guiding the B-Corsairs into a playoff team and bringing the excitement of winning back to a loyal booster following.”
Cartwright’s insight: Former NBA center Bill Cartwright, who played on three Chicago Bulls title-winning teams and later served a stint as the team’s head coach, recognizes that Bob Hill, the ex-Tokyo Apache head coach, brings valuable wisdom to the table in his new role with the rebuilding Phoenix Suns.
Hill, former bench boss of four NBA teams, was hired last week as an assistant for Suns interim coach Earl Watson.
“I believe Bob will be a great addition to the Suns coaching staff,” Cartwright told The Japan Times. “He brings head coaching experience and the big thing Bob brings is he’s a teacher of basketball.”
Cartwright played under Hill on the New York Knicks (1986-87), and understands that Hill’s decades of basketball experience are vital for Watson and the Suns.
The 216-cm Cartwright, now employed as an advisory coach for the Osaka Evessa, has made occasional visits to Japan this season, including for last week’s games. He is helping assess the team’s performance and concocting strategies to improve its overall play.
Cartwright, who served as the team’s head coach for the second half of the 2012-13 season, said he’s established a strong bond with Osaka’s current bench boss, Dai Oketani.
“My relationship with Coach Dai is very good,” Cartwright revealed this week. “We agree in every area of play, he is very open-minded and believes as I do in systems play.”
Cartwright believes the Evessa have a chance to contend for the title this season.
It all starts with defense, he said.
“As a team, the Evessa need to be one of the best defensive teams in the league,” Cartwright insisted. “This will give them an opportunity to win now.”
Rejection artists: Through Sunday, two of the league’s top-three shot blockers play for the Shinshu Brave Warriors, Xavier Gibson and Mike Bell.
Gibson leads the 24-team circuit with 3.0 blocks a game, followed by Henriquez-Roberts (2.2) and Bell (2.1).
Theft specialists: A trio of Japanese standouts are among the league’s top 10 in steals: Toyama’s Takeshi Mito (1.9 per game; tied for fifth overall), Nara’s Tatsuya Suzuki (1.8; ninth) and Shiga’s Yu Okada (1.6; 10th).
Weekend schedule: The following Saturday-Sunday series are on the docket: Aomori vs. Shinshu, Akita vs. Gunma, Toyama vs. Fukushima, Saitama vs. Iwate, Tokyo vs. Sendai, Yokohama vs. Niigata, Hamamatsu vs. Osaka, Takamatsu vs. Shimane, Fukuoka vs. Kyoto and Oita vs. Nara.
League accolades: Niigata shooting guard Kimitake Sato, who wears No. 23 in honor of the legendary Michael Jordan, received the Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP honor, it was announced on Wednesday.
Sato torched Saitama’s defense last weekend, scoring 25 points on 10-for-17 shooting on Saturday. He added 19 points in the series finale, helping the Albirex win back-to-back games and improved to 20-12.
The 31-year-old is Niigata’s third-leading scorer (14.5 points per game).
In a 2010 interview with The Japan Times, Sato had this to say about his jersey number and the inspiration provided by MJ: “He’s one of my heroes, of course. And the reason why I took No. 23 is because I started playing basketball after I watched Michael Jordan’s games.”