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Hannaryz trying to shake slump


Every expansion team is expected to struggle during its inaugural season. And if Aristotle had focused on athletics instead of classic philosophy, he could’ve written volumes about this subject.

For now, we’ll use the Kyoto Hannaryz as the case study.

The Hannaryz (3-7) won three of their first five games, but are currently mired in a five-game losing streak, including three defeats by six points or less.

Coach David Benoit’s team returns to the hardwood on Saturday for a two-game home series against the Rizing Fukuoka (7-5), who feature the league’s leading scorer in All-Star forward Michael Parker (31.2 points per game and 11.3 rebounds).

Hannaryz shooting guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who rose to prominence as a college scoring sensation during the presidency of George H.W. Bush, missed last weekend’s games against the Osaka Evessa due to influenza. He’s expected to return to the lineup this weekend, a team spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday.

Abdul-Rauf (nee Chris Jackson) leads Kyoto with 18.1 ppg, but he has a solid supporting cast to share the scoring load. Moroccan-born center Reda Rhalimi has scored in double figures in every game and averages 16.7 ppg, followed by forward Josh Bostic’s 15.9, guard Taizo Kawabe’s 12.3, guard Jun Iwasa’s 7.9 and guard Naoto Takushi’s 7.4.

In Abdul-Rauf’s absence against Osaka, Iwasa, a backup, made the most of his playing time, scoring a season-high 20 points on Saturday and adding 13 points the following day. In addition, Iwasa, a former Tokyo Apache, reminded Benoit that he’s a dependable perimeter threat, making 7 of 10 3-point shots in the series.

The Hannaryz have six straight home games — call it an early Christmas present — and have a chance to re-emerge as a playoff contender by putting together a solid stretch in the coming weeks. After facing Fukuoka this weekend, Kyoto plays host to the Shiga Lakestars on Nov. 28-29 and the Takamatsu Five Arrows on Dec. 12-13.

Benoit’s club has 40 more games in its inaugural season, and there’s plenty of time for the club to produce more highlights than lowlights.

Consistency on offense and defense will be key ingredients in the team’s first-season story.

Takushi, the team captain, who won a championship ring as a member of the Ryukyu Golden Kings last season, can play a valuable role as a tone-setter in practice, keeping his teammates on an even-keel. Abdul-Rauf and Benoit, who played a combined 1,078 NBA games, can use lessons from their days in the world’s top hoop league to remind the team that success comes by doing the little things with diligence and determination — and seeing the big picture rather than dwelling on single moments or games.

Kawabe, meanwhile, has established himself as a fan favorite, especially when he launches a 3-point shot, often with the visual beauty of a rainbow. Through 10 games, the 27-year-old has made a league-best 47.2 percent of his 3-point shots (17-for-36).

Upcoming games: This week’s action begins on Friday, with the Takamatsu Five Arrows (2-10) playing host to the Oita HeatDevils (5-5). The weekend’s other three series — Toyama Grouses (5-3) vs. Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (9-1), Saitama Broncos (4-8) vs. Sendai 89ers (9-3) and Ryukyu Golden Kings (6-2) vs. Osaka Evessa (6-4) — commence on Saturday.

Weekly honor: Forward Mike Bell, who has helped the HeatDevils return to respectability this season, is the Circle K Sunkus Player of the Week, the league announced on Tuesday.

Bell scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in Saturday’s win over the Lakestars. A day later, he had a 21-point, 12-rebound effort as Oita earned a sweep. He knocked down 9 of 15 3-point shots in the series as well.

Bell is tied for seventh in the league in scoring at 20.6 ppg. He is the league’s No. 7 rebounder (11.5 per game).

Teammate Ricky Woods, a guard/forward, is No. 3 in scoring at 23.6 ppg.

Around the league: Sun Ming Ming, the 236-cm center who played for Hamamatsu last season, has signed a three-year deal with the Shougang Beijing Ducks, according to Asia-basket.com. The Web site also noted that this will be the first time Sun plays in China’s top league, the 18-team Chinese Basketball Association.

League spokesman Akihiro Ejima provided an explanation about the league’s policy on who steps in as a coach when a head coach is ejected and a team does not have an assistant coach. This was the case with the Apache on Sunday after Tokyo sideline supervisor Motofumi Aoki picked up two technical fouls at the end of the first quarter against the host Broncos, and captain Jumpei Nakama was appointed as the head coach for the remainder for the game. Nakama didn’t play on Sunday due to an ankle injury.

“If a head coach gets ejected, an assistant coach would be in charge of directing the team,” Ejima wrote in an e-mail. “If an assistant coach is absent, a team captain would be in charge. If a captain is not available, a designate player would act as head coach. When the captain would have to step on the court, he would designate a player on the bench (to be the coach).”

It says here each team should be required to have at least one assistant coach (paid or volunteer), making the above scenarios less likely and easing a head coach’s workload. It would also provide better opportunities for each player to get individual coaching and feedback from the team’s staff, as well as set up each team for proper scouting of its opponents.

John “Helicopter” Humphrey, who led the bj-league in scoring in its first two seasons and helped Tokyo reach the past two title games, was back in Japan last weekend, playing in Okinawa for a team called the S.K.Y. Streetball Syndicate. The team is traveling through Asia, including games in South Korea and Guam, during a 14-stop, 20-game tour on U.S. military bases.

Who are the S.K.Y. Streetball Syndicate?

“S.K.Y. is an acronym for (S)erving (K)nowledge to (Y)outh. Its mission is community outreach and basketball as entertainment,” a press release stated. “The S.K.Y. Streetball Syndicate most recently played in Russia, Bermuda, and a U.S. Midwest Tour in Omaha, St. Joseph, Mo., and Kansas City, Mo. S.K.Y. also has a piloted a program called SKYExcel, which is an online educational mentoring program.”