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Defense, determination fuel Shimane’s success, second-flight title hopes

by

Staff Writer

With an eye on promotion to the first division for the 2017-18 season, the Shimane Susanoo Magic have excelled with a unified focus throughout the current campaign.

Second-year bench boss Michael Katsuhisa has guided Shimane to 39 wins in the club’s first 46 games, the best record in the 18-team second flight.

What’s been the biggest key?

The Susanoo Magic’s stingy defense (63.3 points per game) is No. 1 in the second flight. What’s more, they are holding foes to 37.9 percent shooting from the field, also the lowest among B2 teams.

Determination and effort fuel their defensive effort.

Shimane’s epic 21-game winning streak, which started on Dec. 23, ended on Sunday with an 81-78 defeat to the Kagawa Five Arrows.

“Winning a championship and moving up to B1 has without question been our goal since day one this season,” Katsuhisa told The Japan Times. “We talk about getting better every day. I definitely would not say I am satisfied with where we are at, but I think we are headed in the right direction.

“I feel like little by little our team has improved throughout the season.”

That improvement has been enabled in part by the team’s depth. A roster filled with hungry veteran players includes former NBA forward Ryan Reid, frontcourt mates Josh Davis and Wayne Marshall and former bj-league No.1 overall draft picks Jo Kurino and Takanori Goya.

“I feel that one of the strengths of this team is that we have a deep team,” Katsuhisa said. “I can’t say one or two guys have played the best, different guys have stepped up in different games. But what has been pretty consistent all season is that our bigs have done a good job anchoring our defense as well as being an inside presence offensively, and our guards have done a nice job being active defensively and shooting the ball well on the offensive end.”

He added: “Every single one of our guys has done a great job trying to play the right way and play as a team.”

Davis leads the team in scoring (13.3 points per game) and rebounding (11.3, which puts him at No. 3 in B2). Marshall, a Temple University alum, is averaging 11.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.49 blocks (No. 4 in the second division). Jun Abe 10.1 ppg), Edward Yamamoto (9.3), Tatsuhiro Yokoo (8.8), Reid (8.7) and Keisuke Takabatake (7.3) are also among the club’s key contributors.

Through Sunday, Yamamoto and Abe rank third (43.8 percent) and sixth (39.8), respectively, among the B2’s 3-point percentage leaders.

Katsuhisa traces the growth of the team as a vital component of its performance to date.

“I think all of our guys have improved in certain areas,” Katsuhisa said. “Our young guys, Hiryu Okamoto and Keisuke Takabatake, have improved. With Hiryu being in his second season with us, we have given him more responsibility than last season.”

And Okamoto, only 23, has responded to the challenge, contributing in 43 contests so far, posting a 4.9-ppg average and dishing out 74 assists.

Anchoring the frontline, veteran 211-cm big man Marshall, who previously played for the Osaka Evessa, Shinshu Brave Warriors and Yokohama B-Corsairs in the now-disbanded bj-league, has provided a stable presence for the club.

“Marshall worked hard in the offseason and came back in better shape,” Katsuhisa said, “and I think he will continue to show more and more of what he can do when he is healthy.”

When wins pile up one after the other like they did for Shimane, coaches can pinpoint a lot of reasons for success. But sometimes a team’s cohesiveness becomes one of its biggest strengths.

Just ask Katsuhisa.

“I wouldn’t say I am surprised, but Ryan Reid and Keisuke Takabatake, two guys that are new to the team, are high character guys and have been really great additions for us,” Katsuhisa said. “Great team players and great for team chemistry.”

Even guys who aren’t playing have made a commitment to helping build team chemistry.

Or as Katsuhisa put it: “We named (forward) Hayato Kantake one of our team captains, along with Wayne, in training camp. He is also new to the team and we had very high hopes for him, but unfortunately he was injured in the preseason, and that has been a huge blow to our team.

“However, it is amazing to see how much a player can contribute without being able to be on the court. He is a leader in our locker room, and he cheers his teammates on from the bench gives us great energy during games.”

Strong turnaround: Former Osaka and Gunma Crane Thunders coach Ryan Blackwell guided the Liverpool High School boys team to the New York Class AA semifinals last weekend. And it was the Warriors’ first state semifinal appearance since 1992, the Syracuse Post-Standard reported.

Fairport High defeated Liverpool 69-52 on Saturday in the aforementioned semifinal.

In Blackwell’s second season at the helm, the Warriors closed out the season with a 19-6 record after dropping three straight games to open the campaign.

“They have nothing to hang their heads about,” Blackwell, a Syracuse University alum, told The Post-Standard. “They did a great job after starting 0-3.”

A look ahead: This weekend’s first-division matchups are Nagoya vs. Shiga, Tochigi vs. Sendai, Chiba vs. Hokkaido, Tokyo vs. Akita, Osaka vs. Mikawa, Yokohama vs. Toyama, Niigata vs. Kawasaki, San-en vs. Shibuya and Kyoto vs. Ryukyu.