Sendai's DeWitz, Kusaka capture monthly honors

by Ed Odeven

This is a good thing: The Sendai 89ers have a tendency to pass the ball to Nick DeWitz, and he makes his teammates want to keep doing this.

After all, success breeds repetition. Sendai has won 17 of 22 games this season, including a 7-1 record in January.

DeWitz is the leading scorer for the top team in the Eastern Conference, and his point production has been a big part of his team’s success. He is The Japan Times’ Offensive Player of the Month for January.

DeWitz, a former Oregon State University player, is averaging 22.5 points per game. He is the league’s third-leading scorer behind Takamatsu Five Arrows forward Reggie Warren (22.5) and Rizing Fukuoka forward Joshua Peppers (23.8).

Warren, who had a 40-point performance on Jan. 19, and Peppers also received strong consideration for the award. DeWitz is a strong all-around scorer, hitting spot-up 3-pointers, mid-range jumpers, and an assortment of shots in the paint. And he has a penchant for being aggressive around the rim.

Exhibit A: He’s had one or more dunks in 10 straight games.

The 200-cm DeWitz also has a strong understanding of coach Honoo Hamaguchi’s offense despite being a first-year 89ers player. As a result, he’s blended in well with the team’s spread-the-ball offense.

Case in point: In January alone, he had four-, five-, six-, and seven-assist games.

DEFENSIVE WINNER: 89ers point guard Hikaru Kusaka has developed into one of the league’s finest passers. Game after game, he threads the needle on his passes, finding a crease in the opponent’s defense.

He is the flame that ignites Sendai’s offense, but on defense he is equally as important, hounding opposing guards and forcing them to make mistakes.

Kusaka does it the old-fashioned way: with hard work. He’s constantly moving his feet, surveying the floor, keeping track of all five players on the other team and his own teammates, so he can be positioned to make the best defensive play and disrupt his foes offensive rhythm.

Kusaka is The Japan Times’ Defensive Player of the Month for January.

He is second in the league in steals per game (1.9). The co-leaders are Five Arrows point guard Rasheed Sparks and Ryukyu Golden Kings point guard Naoto Takushi (2.0)

In January, Kusaka’s relentless effort on defense produced 18 steals, including three games with three and another with four.

His swift feet, quick hands and alert mind work well in tandem as he takes the ball away from his foe and turns it into a scoring chance for the 89ers.

UPCOMING GAMES: The 89ers play host to Five Arrows (14-8) on Saturday and Sunday in a showdown of potential playoff foes and a rematch of last weekend’s series in Takamatsu.

Sendai won that series opener, 89-80. In the second game, the Five Arrows recorded a 109-86 victory.

Also this weekend, the Tokyo Apache (13-9), coming off a confidence-building overtime triumph over the Rizing Fukuoka, face the Toyama Grouses (3-21) for the second series in three weeks at Ariake Colosseum.

The Oita HeatDevils (10-12) visit the Western Conference-leading Osaka Evessa (17-5), and Fukuoka (8-14) looks to upset the host Niigata Albirex BB (14-10) and improve its spot in the playoff race.

The Saitama Broncos (11-11), winners of three straight games, will look to climb above .500 for the first time this season. The Golden Kings (5-17) make the long trip to Saitama two weeks after visiting Sendai.