Before the hectic pace of the playoffs grabs the spotlight and all attention centers on the end of an era, it’s an appropriate time to recognize Masashi Joho’s significant place in league history.
The current Toyama Grouses star helped elevate his team to one of the Eastern Conference’s elite clubs over the past few seasons. He’s always been a hard-nosed competitor, a player determined to make his teammates better.
Joho made his bj-league debut in the first season, 2005-06, and over the years he’s also risen in prominence, from a role player to a go-to scorer for his teams, moving from the Osaka Evessa (two titles) to the Tokyo Apache (two championship finishes) to the Shiga Lakestars (two postseason berths) to the Grouses, who sit atop the 12-team Eastern Conference with a 28-10 record and will move on to the postseason for a fifth time during Joho’s distinguished tenure there.
For the Hokkaido native, perennial visits to the postseason are a trademark of his successful career. He also has a chance to lead Toyama in scoring for the third straight season. At week’s end he was tied with forward Duke Crews for the team lead (17.5 points per game). What’s more, Joho is the league’s top-scoring Japanese player this season.
Last season, he scored 16.7 ppg. In the 2013-14 campaign, when he became the first (and only to date) Japanese to earn the league’s regular-season MVP award, Joho averaged 17.4 ppg as Toyama reached the Final Four for the first time in franchise history.
Indeed, all of the above is impressive, but it’s only part of the story. Joho, who turns 34 in April, entered the season as the bj-league’s all-time leading Japanese scorer (5,848 regular-season points), followed by Shiga Lakestars guard Yu Okada (5,440), Joho’s former Tokyo teammate and guard Cohey Aoki, who now plays for the Rizing Fukuoka (5,432), Fukuoka guard Taishiro Shimizu (4,817) and Niigata Albirex BB forward Yuichi Ikeda (4,045).
Joho is on pace to remain the bj-league’s top overall Japanese scorer, with a wide margin over Okada (16.0 ppg this season), Aoki (11.0), Shimizu (8.0) and Ikeda (5.1 in 15 games).
Meanwhile, Niigata’s Kimitake Sato, averaging a career-high 14.7 ppg, has also topped the 4,000-point milestone this season. He entered the bj-league’s final season with 3,881 points since the inaugural campaign.
While Joho remains a potent scorer, he is not the team’s lone option.
Or as Toyama bench boss Bob Nash reminded The Japan Times in a phone interview last March: “(Our plan is) to give the ball to the guy with the best chance to score.”
Joho has often been Plan A. And whether he’s making shots on the perimeter or in any number of other ways — floaters, jumpers, layups — Joho expanded his game over the years and set a great example for the league’s up-and-coming players about work ethic and pride in one’s job.
Joho has put exactly 700 points on the board through Sunday. He’s No. 1 on the Grouses in minutes (1,292) and assists (154) and third in steals (49).
Joho is one of the most dynamic athletes in Japan today, even if he’s not a staple of late-night TV sports highlights.
League accolade: Iwate Big Bulls forward Alandise Harris played an instrumental role in leading his team to a weekend sweep of the host Fukushima Firebonds.
Harris scored a team-high 23 points on 10—for-18 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds in a 6967 victory on Saturday.
A day later, he contributed 17 points, including 6-for-6 at the free-throw line, and nine rebounds in the rematch, which Iwate won by 16 points.
The University of Arkansas product is the Big Bulls’ leading scorer (16.8 ppg).
Upcoming games: The Fukuoka-Hamamatsu series got underway on Thursday in Kyushu. Hiroshima, meanwhile, plays host to Osaka in a two-game set that was scheduled to start on Friday in Yamaguchi. (The Lightning, who are 137, have lost 32 games in a row.)
The rest of the week’s oncourt action tips off Saturday. Here’s the rundown:
Akita vs. Iwate, Toyama vs. Niigata, Gunma vs. Aomori, Saitama vs. Fukushima, Tokyo vs. Shinshu, Yokohama vs. Sendai, Shiga vs. Nara, Shimane vs. Kyoto, Takamatsu vs, Kanazawa and Oita vs. Ryukyu.