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All-Star game set for Jan. 27


A year ago, the bj-league was just getting started. This year, Japan’s pro stars get a special showcase for their basketball skills.

The league’s first All-Star Game is slated for 4 p.m. on Jan. 27 in Okinawa at Ginowan Municipal Gymnasium. The competition will feature an East vs. West format.

The Niigata Albirex BB, who have the league’s best record (12-4) through 16 games, as well as the Toyama Grouses, Sendai 89ers and Saitama Broncos are represented on the East team.

The West squad is comprised of the defending champion Osaka Evessa, Oita HeatDevils, Tokyo Apache and Takamatsu Five Arrows players.

Niigata’s Masaya Hirose and Sendai’s Honoo Hamaguchi will serve as the head coach and assistant coach, respectively, for the East team.

For the West squad, Osaka’s Kensaku Tennichi is the head coach, while Tokyo’s Joe Bryant, a former NBA player and father of Lakers star Kobe, will assist him.

Twenty players were selected for the 2007 All-Star game, 10 of which were chosen by fans.

The fans selections are as follows: Niigata point guard Makoto Hasegawa, a steady 35-year-old floor leader, and teammates Matt Garrison, a forward, and center Nick Davis, a do-it-all center (he’s second in the league in rebounding average and third in blocked shots per game); Sendai forward Mamadou Diouf, a rugged, bruising defender with nifty spin moves on the offensive end; and Toyama Grouses guard Takinori Goya, the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft will suit up for the East.

John “Helicopter” Humphrey, the Tokyo Apache’s high-flying, top-scoring performer (he leads the league with a 27.3 points per game average), Oita guard Yukinori Suzuki; Osaka small forward Kazuya Hatano and last year’s league MVP, power forward Lynn Washington; and Takamatsu center Julius Ashby were selected by the fans to don the West uniform.

The bj-league picked the following All-Stars:

For the East, Sendai point guard Hikaru Kusaka, Niigata shooting guard Naoto Kosuge, Saitama guard Taishiro Shimizu and power forward Gordon James and Toyama forward/center Jerod Ward. The 30-year-old Ward has been a model of consistency for the expansion Grouses, scoring 25.3 ppg. He’s had 17 or more points in every game but one, a seven-point outing.

For the West, Takamatsu shooting guard Yu Okada and backcourt mate Rasheed Sparks, who is quietly having a super season (he’s No. 1 in the league in assists, a 5.0 per-game average, and steals at 3.0) got the nod. Tokyo’s Kohei Aoki, a high-energy, scrappy, 167-cm player from Fukouka, who is No. 2 in the league in free-throw shooting at 91.2 percent, Oita forward/center Andy Ellis, who has seven double-doubles and has scored 20 or more points 10 times; and Hokkaido’s favorite hometown hoopster, small forward Masashi Joho of Osaka, also were picked.

The Jan. 27 festivities also feature two crowd-pleasing events: a Slam Dunk Contest and the 3-Point Shootout.

The Dunk Contest entrants are Saitama’s James, Tokyo’s Tony “Get It” Jones, Takamatsu’s Sparks and Toyama’s Ward.

In the 3-Point Shootout, Niigata’s Hasegawa and Garrison, Toyama’s Goya, Osaka’s Joho, Takamatsu’s Okada and Oita’s Ellis are slated to compete.

To a man, all of the entrants are quality 3-point shooters, but Okada has exhibited his shoot-the-lights-out mentality more than any other in the league this season. To wit: he was 8-for-12 on Nov. 18. On Nov. 12, he was even better. He drained 9 of 12 3-balls.

SCHEDULE CHANGE: The playoff dates have been moved back a week to April 21 and 22. On the first day, the league’s Nos. 1 and 4 seeds will square off in one semifinal and the second and third seeds meet in the other to determine the finalists.

THIS WEEK: The league takes a break and no games will be played. A full slate of games will be played on Jan. 6 and 7.