There are no easy games when Dai Oketani and Honoo Hamaguchi are on opposite benches.
Their familiarity with each other’s coaching acumen and their competitive spirits fuel this ongoing rivalry.
After working in opposite conferences over the past few years — with Oketani elevating the Eastern Conference’s Iwate Big Bulls to a title contender and Hamaguchi guiding the Kyoto Hannaryz to sustained excellence in the Western Conference — they renewed their rivalry as two Kansai-based coaches this season, supervising a pair of title-chasing West teams. (And credit Oketani and the team’s advisory coach, Bill Cartwright, for transforming the Osaka Evessa into a legitimate contender in their first season as the leadership tandem with the club.)
That intensive competitive desire was on display again over the weekend and concluded with Hamaguchi’s Hannaryz recording a bounce-back 75-64 triumph over Oketani’s Osaka.
The Evessa were victorious, 66-57, on Saturday in Moriguchi, Osaka Prefecture.
The veteran coaches know each other quite well. They are the only coaches who have been continuously employed in the bj-league since its inception in 2005, when Hamaguchi led the Sendai 89ers and Oketani was an assistant (and soon-to-be head coach) for the Oita HeatDevils. They also have a common mentor named Rob Evans, the former Arizona State men’s basketball coach, and Oketani and Hamaguchi served on Evans’ staff at different stints before they landed jobs in the bj-league.
Both weekend games featured the defense that has been a focal point and defining characteristic of both sideline supervisors’ teams over the years.
Kyoto (29-9) took a 20-9 lead into the second quarter on Sunday.
Big man Kevin Kotzur, a St. Mary’s (Texas) University alum, helped carry the Hannaryz in the rematch, finishing with 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting and grabbed 14 rebounds. Tyren Johnson added 15 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. Sunao Murakami poured in 14 points and Shingo Utsumi had 11, knocking down a trio of 3-pointers.
Lawrence Blackledge scored 14 points for Osaka (28-12) and Narito Namizato had 13. Shun Watanuki added 12 points and Shota Konno contributed seven points and five steals.
Kyoto improved to 3-1 against Osaka this season.
Grouses 77, Cinq Reves 60
In Kurobe, Toyama Prefecture, the Grouses improved to 16-4 at home this season, trouncing hapless Tokyo.
The Cinq Reves (1-37) lost their league-record 31st straight game.
Masashi Joho sparked Toyama (26-12) with 17 points with team-high totals in assists (four) and steals (three). Teammate Duke Crews poured in 14 points and Sam Willard provided 12 points and 13 rebounds. Takanori Goya came off the bench and played a season-high 29 points, finishing with 11 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals. Drew Viney chipped in with 10 points.
Du’Vaughn Maxwell paced Tokyo with 15 points.
Lakestars 93, Phoenix 91
In Hamamatsu, perimeter marksman Yu Okada scored a game-best 30 points and Shiga defeated the reigning champions for the second time in as many days.
Julian Mavunga added 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists for the Lakestars (26-12). Jeff Parmer had 16 points and eight boards, while Yutaka Yokoe and Jamelle Horne both scored eight points.
Masahiro Oguchi drained five 3s in a 17-point effort for the Phoenix (26-12). Kejuan Johnson also scored 17 points and doled out seven assists. Reggie Warren delivered a 16-point, 16-rebound effort and DeAngelo Kirkland scored 15 points.
Hamamatsu Higashimikawa hurt its cause at the free-throw line, converting just 14 of 22 shots.
Firebonds 79, Albirex BB 69
In Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, Firebonds coach Hiroki Fujita’s club outscored the visitors 25-10 in the decisive fourth quarter and wrapped up a weekend sweep.
MVP candidate Le’Bryan Nash, the league’s leading scorer (26.2 points per game), had 31 points and 11 rebounds for Fukushima (24-13) and Kenya Tomori added 14 points. Masaya Karimata had 12 points and four assists and Bingo Merriex grabbed 10 rebounds. Stephan Van Treese chipped in with eight points and 11 boards, while Shinya Murakami dished out five assists.
For Niigata (26-13), Wayne Arnold was the top scorer with 21 points. Kimitake Sato finished with 18 points, Shuhei Komatsu had 12 and Ryan Reid scored 11 with 11 rebounds. Faye Pape Mour handed out nine assists.
89ers 75, Big Bulls 73
In Kuji, Iwate Prefecture, longtime bj-league star Wendell White ignited Sendai with 27 points and 11 rebounds and Jamal Boykin scored 14 points as the visitors completed a series sweep.
Manato Kikuchi poured in 11 points and Takehiko Shimura dished out six assists for the 89ers (27-13). Shimura is having another remarkable season as a passer and decision maker; he has 179 assists against 30 turnovers.
For the Big Bulls (21-17), Alandise Harris and Abdullahi Kuso both scored 20 points, with Harris leading the club with 11 rebounds. Shota Onodera and Tatsunori Fujie added 12 points apiece.
Iwate struggled shooting the ball from long range (5-for-25 on 3-point attempts).
Susanoo Magic 61, Rizing 52
In Iizuka, Fukuoka Prefecture, Shimane post player Josh Davis excelled in the series finale, and the Rizing extended their losing streak to eight games.
Davis, a San Diego State product, had 15 points, 31 rebounds and six blocks, season-high totals in the latter two categories for the Susanoo Magic (30-10).
Shimane’s Edward Yamamoto knocked down 5 of 9 3s in a 21-point effort and Scootie Randall contributed 12 points and nine rebounds. Wayne Marshall, who was held scoreless, added 12 boards and four assists.
Fukuoka was held to 23-for-66 shooting from the field, including 11-for-45 from inside the arc.
Cohey Aoki led the Rizing (14-26) with 12 points, Yoshimasa Ohara had 11 and Donnavan Kirk scored 10.
Brave Warriors 95, Northern Happinets 84
In Noshiro, Akita Prefecture, Shinshu erupted for 31 fourth-quarter points to secure a victory and salvage a series split.
Brave Warriors frontcourt stalwarts Xavier Gibson and Mike Bell combined for 50 points.
Gibson had a 28-point, 12-rebound outing and Bell put 22 points on the board and snatched 12 rebounds.
Yasuhiko Wada added 19 points, Dai Suzuki scored 14 points and Yosuke Saito dished out a season-high 11 assists for Shinshu (19-21).
Ray Turner paced Akita (26-12) with 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Richard Roby added 21 points and five assists. Shigehiro Taguchi finished with 11 points and six helpers.
Crane Thunders 102, B-Corsairs 96 (OT)
In Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture, Thomas Kennedy torched his former team, scoring a season-high 43 points, and the Crane Thunders outlasted Yokohama in overtime for their second triumph in two days.
Kennedy, a go-to scorer on the B-Corsairs’ 2012-13 championship team, made 15 of 24 shots from the field. He sank 9 of 12 free throws and collected seven rebounds.
Gunma macho forward Gary Hamilton added 17 points, 19 rebounds and four assists and Kosuke Taneichi also poured in 17 points. Hirotaka Kondo had 14 points and nine assists for the Crane Thunders (19-21).
Carl Hall had 27 points for Yokohama (17-23) and Jordan Henriquez-Roberts supplied 22 points and 22 rebounds. Kiichi Kikuyama drained four 3s in a 16-point effort. Cory Johnson and Kenji Yamada contributed 10 and nine points, respectively.
Golden Kings 106, Five Arrows 97 (OT)
In Okinawa City, Ryukyu held off Takamatsu in overtime to post a hard-earned victory in the series finale.
Ryukyu (28-10) had a stellar game on offense, including 30-for-49 shooting from inside the arc. The Golden Kings made 19 of 22 free throws, but the pesky Five Arrows kept the pressure on.
Takamatsu (11-27) received a season-high 29 points from Masaaki Suzuki and Jarvis Williams poured in 23 points. Anthony Kent added 14 points and 10 boards for the visitors and Nino Johnson scored 12.
Shuhei Kitagawa paced the Golden Kings with 27 points, including five 3-pointers. Evan Ravenel had 21 points and 10 rebounds and Ryuichi Kishimoto scored 19, with 8-for-8 shooting at the line. Draelon Burns provided 18 points and five assists and Anthony McHenry filled the stat sheet with nine points, 11 boards, six assists and a pair of blocks. Shigeyuki Kinjo contributed eight points.
Wat’s 63, Broncos 50
In Saitama, the poor-shooting Broncos lost their third straight game, and Aomori ended the weekend with a solid performance.
Makoto Sawaguchi and Yuki Kitamuki each had 12 points for the Wat’s (17-23) and Alif Bland contributed 11 points and five blocks.
Saitama (4-34) never found its rhythm on offense and shot 18-for-65 from the field in the series finale.
Seth Tarver led the Broncos with 16 points and Evan Harris raked in 15 rebounds.
Samuraiz 78, Bambitious 77
In Kaga, Ishikawa Prefecture, the hosts escaped with a victory by the slimmest of margins, earning a weekend sweep of Nara in the process.
Yuji Ide paced the Samuraiz (22-18) with 19 points and Andrew Fitzgerald had 15 points and nine rebounds for the first-year franchise. Gyno Pomare chipped in with 11 points and seven rebounds, while Tsubasa Yonamine scored nine points and dished out five assists.
Charles Hinkle led the Bambitious (15-25) with 26 points and Julius Ashby added 14 and 10 rebounds. Taishi Kasahara and Tatsuya Suzuki both scored 11 points.