With 2 1/2 months of games already in the books, there are some new faces among the bj-league leaders.
This includes Naoto Takushi of the first-year Ryukyu Golden Kings, who leads the circuit in assists (6.4. per game), and Oita HeatDevils point guard Tsubasa Yonamine, who is No. 2 in that department (5.7).
Most notably, the leading scorer, forward Joshua Peppers, is from the expansion Rizing Fukuoka and not the Tokyo Apache. Peppers, who turns 23 in April, is scoring 22.7 points per game.
Remember this: John “Helicopter” Humphrey is the only scoring champion the bj-league has ever known.
Humphrey captured the 2006-07 title with a 25.9 points per game average. In 2005-06, the league’s inaugural season, he was No. 1 with 23.2 ppg.
This season, Humphrey’s scoring average is down (18.6 ppg through last weekend), but the Apache, who lost 28 of 40 games last season, have made a strong turnaround.
Tokyo, coming off a two-game sweep of the Toyama Grouses, is in second place in the Eastern Conference with an 11-7 record. The Sendai 89ers lead the conference with a 14-4 mark.
“I think the biggest challenge for me as a coach is to keep John Helicopter, I don’t want to say grounded . . . but just to keep him focused so he knows that he has some good players around him, and he doesn’t have to score 30, 40 points, ” Apache coach Joe Bryant said.
“It’s easy for him to get 20, eight rebounds, seven or eight assists, and that’s what I want him to focus on.
“For us to be successful, John has to accept that role.”
Center Nick Davis, a former Niigata Albirex BB standout, has been a good fit for Bryant’s club, emerging as the team’s top interior defender and No. 2 scorer (16.9 ppg).
Cohey Aoki is third with 15.6 ppg and Dameion Baker is next with 12.1, followed by Masashi Joho’s 8.3.
“I made the comparison last night about the Lakers. Now Kobe has some players around him,” the coach said, speaking about his superstar son’s improved NBA team. “Now John has some players around him, so now we can start making some noise.”
And that’s why Bryant has uttered these words to his high-scoring player from time to time: “It’s no fun scoring 30 or 40 and losing. That’s no fun at all.”
LOOKING AHEAD: All 10 teams are in action this weekend. The big matchup of the weekend pits a pair of 11-win teams from the Eastern Conference.
The Apache visit the Niigata Albirex BB (11-9) for the second time in three weekends.
On Jan. 5 and 6, the Albirex picked up a pair of home wins against the Apache, beating them 100-85 and 89-80, the latter of which was triggered by outscoring Tokyo 25-13 in the fourth quarter. “We have some things we want to take care of down there,” Bryant said.
But that’s easier said than done. The rowdy atmosphere at Toki Messe gives the Albirex, who are 8-2 at home, a boost game after game.
“Playing in Niigata is like going to, I don’t want to say like going to Duke, but going to a high-energy university arena,” Bryant said. “They (the fans) make a little noise and they bounce up . . . so we want to try to take the crowd out of the game.”
In the other Saturday-Sunday series this weekend, Sendai plays host to the Ryukyu Golden Kings (4-14); the Oita HeatDevils (8-10) visit the Saitama Broncos (8-10); the Takamatsu Five Arrows (11-7) play host to Fukuoka (8-10); and the Osaka Evessa (15-3) entertain the Toyama Grouses (2-16).
MISCELLANY: Former Osaka Evessa forward David Palmer, the 2006-07 bj-league MVP, is having a solid season for the Dakota Wizards of the NBA Development League.
Through Sunday, Palmer was averaging 10.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. His team, meanwhile, is in first place in the Central Division with a 13-7 record before Wednesday’s game.
Ed Odeven will host an Internet chat about basketball on Jan. 22 from noon to 1 p.m. (Japan time). Visit The Japan Times’ Web site for more details.