Sea Horses beat Sunrockers in JBL opener


In a sense, it was a typical fashion of basketball. One team build a huge lead early, but the other came back with lots of determination.

American forward Alpha Bangura had a team-best 15 points and the youngsters, guard Shinsuke Kashiwagi and forward Kosuke Takeuchi followed with 14 and 10, respectively, as the Aisin Sea Horses grabbed a hard-fought 67-57 win over the Hitachi Sunrockers in the opening match of the brand-new Japan Basketball League at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on Thursday night.

“We didn’t play a good game today,” Aisin’s veteran guard Kenichi Sako said after the game, which was attended by 5,746 spectators. “But we won anyway. It’s not that bad when you have things that you fix for your future games.”

The contest was as if it was two different games. The Sea Horses, who have five Japan national team players on the roster, got off to a rocket start as they made a 13-0 run from the beginning while Hitachi struggled finding open spaces for shots.

Aisin led 38-18 at halftime.

The second half, however, belonged to the Sunrockers. Girls’ favorite and Japan national Kei Igarashi determined to guide his team and started attacking the basket, rather than feeding passes.

In the fourth, Carl Thomas sank a layup with 5:14 left and Hitachi finally cut the gap to just one. But uncanny Aisin hung in tough defensively, and Bangura made a one-hand dunk to make the score 60-53 with 1:11 remaining, ensuring the win for Aisin.

“We had a good game in the first half and had a bad game in the second,” Aisin coach Kimikazu Suzuki said. “It’s always good to win the first game, but we still have a long way to go. So we’re going to need to put guards up.”

J.R. Sakuragi, who obtained his Japanese citizenship this summer had to end with just six points but instead cleaned the glass 15 times, which was the game-high total tying with Hitachi’s Thomas.

“We weren’t aggressive enough both sides of the ball in the beginning,” said Igarashi, who had team-high 18 points.

“On the other hand, Aisin sank its shots from both outside and inside and we gave up the 20-point deficit. But in the second half, we were able to play our usual game that we do in the practice.”

Kosuke’s identical twin brother, Joji, who plays for the Sunrockers, had seven points and 10 rebounds.

Thomas update

WASHINGTON (AP) Washington Wizards center Etan Thomas will undergo open-heart surgery Thursday to repair a leak of the aortic valve, a procedure that requires months of recovery time but might not mean the end of his NBA career.

Thomas missed the start of training camp Oct. 2 after a routine physical revealed an abnormality in his heart.

The Wizards said they wouldn’t comment or make the doctor available until the surgery is completed.

Krstic sidelined

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Nenad Krstic took the pass on the right wing, squared his shoulders and fired a 15-footer at the basket during the New Jersey Nets’ scrimmage.

The shot hit nothing but air.

“It was a pass. It was a pass,” coach Lawrence Frank said of the play after the practice ended Wednesday.

“It was probably fatigue,” Krstic, who averaged career-highs of 16.4 points and 6.8 rebounds before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament on Dec. 22, is going to miss the preseason opener on Friday at Philadelphia. There are no assurances that he will be ready for the regular season opener on Oct. 31 against Chicago.