The Shimane Susanoo Magic on Sunday became the first club in the 24-team circuit to reach 30 wins this season.
That road victory over the Rizing Fukuoka, extended Shimane’s winning streak to four games, and it has triumphed in 10 of its last 11 games. It’s been an impressive turnaround for the sixth-year franchise, which went 22-30 during the 2014-15 campaign, that has become one of the league’s elite teams in its final season.
Looking ahead, Shimane has been assigned to the 18-team second division in the new B. League for next season.
For now, first-year coach Michael Katsuhisa’s team, which sits in second place in the 12-team Western Conference, is in the hunt for the franchise’s first Final Four berth and a coveted trip to Ariake Colosseum in May.
“It is our first year together as a team, but we set our sights high at the beginning of training camp,” Katsuhisa told The Japan Times on Thursday. “We knew that with the group we have, we had the potential to be very good. We have been getting better and better throughout the season, and have come a long way since training camp.
“We still have a long way to go, but hopefully we can continue to improve every day and play our best basketball of the season these last six weeks plus playoffs, and compete for what is our ultimate goal for this season — a championship.”
Indeed, Katsuhisa, who was previously the Yokohama B-Corsairs bench boss from 2013-15, understands his team has room for growth. After all, the Susanoo Magic have had mixed success against top West foes. They are 1-1 against the first-place Kyoto Hannaryz and 1-3 against third-place Ryukyu, a three-time champion. They are winless in two games against fourth-place Osaka, with a chance to avenge those losses this weekend and 1-1 against both fifth-place Shiga and sixth-place Hamamatsu, the reigning champion.
But the veteran-laden team is balanced with both inside and outside scoring and other key tangibles.
Katsuhisa called balanced scoring a “key for us.”
“When we are playing together, playing with pace and moving the ball I think we are very tough to beat, with all the talent that we have,” he said.
First-year Magic post player Josh Davis, who attended San Diego State, is the league’s leading rebounder (15.6 per game) and among the top 10 in blocks (1.6) and is averaging 13.0 points, and he teams up with fellow big man Wayne Marshall (52 rejections) to give the team two formidable rim protectors.
Davis had a terrific 15-point, league record 31-rebound, six-block game on Sunday against Fukuoka.
Katsuhisa has been impressed with Davis’ performance throughout the season.
“Josh is a special, special player,” Katsuhisa said of Davis, who played for the San Antonio Spurs during the 2014-15 preseason. “He was garnering attention from many other leagues before we signed him, and I think he will continue to do so for the rest of his career.
“He is the best rebounder I’ve seen. I’m very happy for him that in this final bj-league season, he could very likely be the one to finish with the single-game record of 31 rebounds.”
“He contributes in so many ways. (For instance), his 15 points and six blocks that same game were important, as well as his ability to pass, his defensive versatility which is key for us every week. . . . He just helps our team in so many ways.”
What’s more, Marshall, who played under Katsuhisa for the B-Corsairs during the past two seasons, is a key contributor off the bench (9.0 points per game, a capable passer and a strong all-around player.
All-Star Scootie Randall, who helped lead Iwate to the Final Four last season, has fit in perfectly with this team. Delivering a team-high 24.1 ppg (No. 3 in the league), the Temple University alum (just like Marshall) fills a potent role as a go-to scorer.
With the attention that Randall and Davis command inside, Shimane’s perimeter attack opens up. Randall is a dependable outside shooter (49 3-pointers to date), but even more dangerous attacking the basket. Teammates Tatsuhiro Yokoo, Edward Yamamoto and Jun Abe have knocked down 80, 75 and 61 3s to pencil their names in the top three spots on the team’s chart, respectively.
Indeed, those long-range baskets have helped fuel the Magic’s balanced scoring, with Abe (10.3), Yokoo (10.1) and Yamamoto (10.0) all posting double-digit averages.
Yokoo, like Yamamoto an original member of Shimane’s inaugural team in 2010-11, is the league leader in 3-point shooting accuracy. He’s made 46 percent of his shots.
Together, the three have made a profound impact for the Shimane.
“I was familiar with Yokoo and Ed having coached against them,” noted Katsuhisa, who was an assistant coach on the 2012-13 bj-league champion B-Corsairs under ex-NBA guard Reggie Geary, who now coaches the NBL’s Mitsubishi squad. “I knew they were great shooters, but they have brought so much more than just shooting to the table.
“I wasn’t as familiar with Abe when I first took the job,” he added, “so I didn’t really know what to expect. He has definitely been one of the many bright spots this season.
“His shooting ability is key for us, but, probably more importantly, he is a catalyst for us defensively with his ball pressure and great energy.”
The well-traveled Naoto Takushi has also received a steady dose of minutes and brings valuable veteran leadership at the point and flashes of brilliance on occasion. Case in point: He had nine points, six assists and two steals in 21 minutes against Oita on Feb. 28.
Five years ago: The now-defunct Tokyo Apache, a two-time championship runnerup squad, played their final game on March 10, 2011, a Thursday, facing the Akita Northern Happinets at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2. Bob Hill’s team won 94-80 to earn a series split with Akita, which had triumphed 100-98 in a double-overtime thriller the night before.
After the March 11 disasters, team owner Michael Lerch’s club suspended operations. The Apache disbanded weeks later, citing financial difficulties.
League accolade: Shiga sharpshooter Yu Okada is the Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP after helping his club earn a weekend sweep of Hamamatsu.
On Sunday, the Lakestars star scored 30 points in the series finale, reaching the 6,000-point milestone in his bj-league career, which began in 2006 with the Takamatsu Five Arrows. Okada drained 4 of 6 3s in the game.
He had 14 points in the series opener and is averaging 15.9 per game this season.
Weekend schedule: The following two-game sets are on the docket for Saturday and Sunday: Aomori vs. Yokohama, Sendai vs. Shinshu, Fukushima vs. Iwate, Niigata vs. Akita, Shinshu vs. Toyama, Kanazawa vs. Hamamatsu, Shiga vs. Fukuoka, Kyoto vs. Oita, Nara vs. Ryukyu, Shimane vs. Osaka and Takamatsu vs. Hiroshima.