Joho, Schlatter lead Lakestars past Kyoto in bj-league season opener


KYOTO — A year ago, the Osaka Evessa handed the Shiga Lakestars a loss in their debut game in the bj-league.

The Lakestars played the opposite role on Saturday against the expansion Kyoto Hannaryz.

Newcomers Masashi Joho and Chris Schlatter scored 18 points apiece to lead the Lakestars to an 82-73, season-opening triumph. Teammate Mike Hall added 13 points and Luke Zeller and Takamichi Fujiwara had 11 apiece to help Shiga open the season with a victory at Kyoto City Gymnasium.

“Well, having been through one bj-league season already where we started off 0-4 and missed the playoffs, it’s really nice to get started with a win,” Shiga coach Bob Pierce said.

Hannaryz forward Josh Bostic scored the first point in team history at the free-throw line at the 8:58 mark, knocking down the second of two shots. Kyoto extended its lead to 8-2 after point guard and captain Naoto Takushi, who helped the Ryukyu Golden Kings win the league title last May, banked in a layup early in the first quarter. But the Lakestars found their offensive rhythm and took a 19-16 lead near the end of the quarter on Joho’s first 3-pointer of the game.

Shiga never trailed the rest of the way, taking a nine-point advantage into halftime and extending the lead to 18 points on Fujiwara’s layup with 4:44 to play in the third.

Kyoto, perhaps showing the effect of first-game jitters, struggled to control the tempo of the game at either end of the floor.

Hannaryz coach David Benoit, who previously held the same post with the Saitama Broncos praised his opponent’s hard-nosed effort.

“Their defensive intensity was really good and they were able to keep us from doing what we wanted to do,” he said.

“I don’t think we underestimated them,” Benoit added, “I just think they really came out and played the way they wanted to play today. I think we weren’t real aggressive, especially in executing our team offense. We got sloppy.”

There was a big bright spot for the brand new team: Bostic. The NCAA’s Division II Player of the Year last year at Findlay University (he helped the team to a 36-0 record and a national title), he finished with a team-high 26 points, including 16 third-quarter points, and 14 rebounds.

Hannaryz center Reda Rhalimi, who hails from Morocco, had 12 points, while guards Jun Iwasa and Takushi had 11 and 10, respectively.

Kyoto shooting guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, 40, struggled offensively. He was 1-for-10 from the field — his lone make was a layup — including 0-for-3 from 3-point range. He finished with four points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals in 32 minutes.

(Abdul-Rauf was an NCAA scoring sensation known as Chris Jackson during his days at Louisiana State before being drafted No. 3 overall by the Denver Nuggets in the 1990 NBA Draft).

“Offensively, we weren’t executing,” said Abdul-Rauf, whose final NBA season was 2000-01. “We were shooting with only seconds left on the shot clock. . . . We let them put us where they wanted us to go.

“Sometimes, it’s better to lose early than to lose later. It wakes you up.”

After his team allowed 82 points, Abdul-Rauf conceded “we kept having defensive breakdowns.”

This led to numerous high-percentage shots in the paint for Pierce’s club and it kept Kyoto from slicing the deficit significantly down the stretch.

“I thought we did a great job defensively except on Bostic,” said Pierce, without citing Bostic’s 7-for-11 stat line from the field. “But I thought that with the talent that Abdul-Rauf and Takushi (a two-time bj-league Best Five player) bring, our defense was really pretty good today, and I am very proud of the effort of all of our players.

“It’s really nice to know that our players don’t have to score to help us,” Pierce added. “There are lots of ways to be a contributor on the floor.”

Also Saturday, the host Sendai 89ers defeated the Takamatsu Five Arrows 103-56.

Exhibit A: Shiga power forward Gary Hamilton’s the team’s top scorer in the preseason, had a zero-point afternoon, but still “made a huge contribution,” the coach added, pointing out his quality defense (one steal, one block), rebounding (eight boards) and passing (three assists) in 20 busy minutes.

Notes: An announced crowd of 1,888 spectators attended the game. . . . A Japanese fan was spotted wearing an old Abdul-Rauf jersey (Denver Nuggets’ No. 1) at halftime. . . . Speaking about the Hannaryz, Pierce said, “It’s going to be a nice rivalry and I’m really happy to have them in the league.” . . . The Hannaryz made 21 of 28 free throws, while the Lakestars, who struggled at the line in their inaugural season, were 11-for-22. Joho tied Hamilton for the team high in rebounds (eight) and assists (three) and shared the lead in steals (two) with Schlatter.