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Sparks, Newton earn monthly honors


Rasheed Sparks picks his spots. He doesn’t need to score, but when he does it has a profound impact on his team’s success.

Sparks, the Takamatsu Five Arrows’ All-Star point guard, had five double-digit scoring games in February. His team went 5-0 in those games, beating the Tokyo Apache and Ryukyu Golden Kings two times apiece and the Sendai 89ers on another occasion.

More times than not, Sparks can control the game at the point, orchestrating his team’s high-scoring offense like a conductor dictates the pitch, rhythm and tone of a symphony.

Sparks is The Japan Times’ Offensive Player of the Month for February.

Friday’s Rizing Fukuoka-Oita HeatDevils game, the bj-league’s lone Leap Year Friday contest, was not factored into the awards’ selection process. That game will become part of March’s criteria.

Sparks dished out 52 assists in February. In the Five Arrows’ eight games in the month, his number of turnovers was 18. He began the month with an 11-assist outing in Sendai on Feb. 2 and had 13 more a day later.

The Five Arrows (21-9) remain a strong contender for the 2007-08 title, and it begins with a heady veteran floorleader.

Oita big man Andy Ellis, the league’s leading scorer (24.0 points a game), also received strong consideration for the accolade.

Ellis has sixth straight games of 20 or more points, including 31 in a double-overtime win over the Saitama Broncos last Sunday, a game in which he played 50 minutes.

DEFENSIVE WINNER: Osaka Evessa center Jeff Newton is a regular contender for this honor. He is consistently one of the league’s top two or three leaders in rebounds and shot blocks.

Newton is February’s Defensive Player of the Month.

His long arms alter the course of countless shots. His quick, nimble hands snatch loose ball after loose ball, ending opponent’s scoring chances and giving the ball back to his first-place team.

Osaka won seven of eight February games, and Newton deserves plenty of credit for making this happen.

Newton, a former Indiana University player, had 12 or more rebounds in six games. He is third in the league with 12.7 rebounds per game.

He is the league’s top shot-blocker, swatting 3.3 per game.

In February alone, Newton posted two six-block games and had eight on Feb. 10 against the Broncos. The Evessa won that game by five points, which underscores the value of Newton’s defensive acumen.