Under first-year coach Takatoshi Ishibashi the Shiga Lakestars have emerged as a dangerous, difficult-to-beat team.

Shiga, coming off a two-game road sweep over Oita on Monday and Tuesday, are 9-3 and occupy the top spot in the bj-league’s Western Conference.

“Coach Ishibashi is doing a great job of preparing our team each and every week,” Shiga standout Mikey Marshall told The Japan Times on Wednesday. “He’s also doing a great job of balancing practice and rest throughout the week. Coach Ishibashi is also showing great confidence in all of the Lakestars players, and I think that is one huge keys to our team’s success.”

For a few short days, the Lakestars can enjoy the satisfaction of solidifying their position as the top team in the Western Conference. Then it’s back to business as usual. They hit the road to face the Shimane Susanoo Magic this weekend.

“A few keys to our team’s success this season have been the ability of everyone on this team to understand one’s role and also coming out every night with the confidence to win,” Marshall said.

Last season, Marshall was an integral part of Shiga’s late-season push to make the playoffs. He played his first game on March 6 for then-coach Bob Pierce’s club. This season, he has been a tone-setter since Day One, a player considered one of the league’s leading MVP candidates.

The former Texas Tech player is the league’s second-leading scorer (21.8 points per game) and is No. 1 in 3-point shooting accuracy (54.8 percent, 17-for-31). He’s also been an aggressive, difficult-to-defend scorer, getting to the free-throw line with regularity, including 11 or more free-throw attempts in each of his last four-games (14-for-16 against Oita on Tuesday, for instance).

“I wouldn’t say that I feel more in shape now than when I returned last season,” said Marshall, the quintessential swingman. “I feel that I have a better understanding of what I can and need to bring to this team being that I started the season here instead of coming late like last season.”

Marshall has flourished playing alongside do-it-all power forward Gary Hamilton, a product of the University of Miami. Few forwards in bj-league history have been as versatile and effective as Hamilton in as many facets of the game.

Just ask Marshall.

“It has been a pleasure to play alongside and to have a power forward like Gary Hamilton on this team,” said Marshall. “Gary really is a different type of power forward, so having a player like Gary that enjoys doing all of the little things to help a team really can and does make the game easier for us guards.

“He makes it really hard for opposing forwards, because at times he plays the role of Jason Kidd, and you don’t see that too often from power forwards.”

Hamilton is the league’s leading rebounder (14.5 per game) and is second in blocks (1.9) and fourth in assists (5.2). He’s scoring 12.9 ppg.

Upcoming games: This weekend’s schedule is as follows: Niigata vs. Ryukyu, Saitama vs. Akita, Hamamatsu vs. Sendai, Kyoto vs. Takamatsu, Oita vs. Osaka, Shimane vs. Shiga and Miyazaki vs. Fukuoka.

Toyama and Tokyo are idle this weekend.

In fact, the Apache’s next game is on Dec. 11.

Injury report: Kyoto’s Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf sustained an ankle injury last Friday and sat out Saturday’s game. A Hannaryz spokesman said Abdul-Rauf will play this weekend.

Name revealed: The expansion Chiba franchise, one of four teams to join the league for the 2011-12 season, will be called the Chiba Jets, it was announced on Thursday.

On a roll: Hamamatsu Higashimikawa, the 2009-10 champion, remain the Eastern Conference’s elite team.

Through 12 games, the Phoenix have a league-best 11-1 record. In addition, they are winning by an average margin of 14.9 points per game. They are 6-0 on the road.

Making a fine impression: Shimane guard Takumi Ishizaki scored 16 points to share the team lead in scoring with Hiroyuki Kinoshita in Japan’s 92-75 semifinal win over North Korea in the Asia Games on Wednesday in Guangzhou, China.

Ishizaki is the first active bj-league player to suit up for the Japan national team.

In a 60-58 preliminary round triumph over the Philippines on Nov. 19, Ishizaki poured in a team-high 16 points.

Player news: Former Oita and Ryukyu center Chris Ayer was released by the JBL’s Rera Kamuy Hokkaido, the team coached by ex-Tokyo bench boss Joe Bryant, last week.

Don’t be surprised if Ayer returns to the bj-league when the calendar flips to 2011.

Other players looking for new gigs include high-scoring forward Josh Peppers, who has played for Fukuoka, Hamamatsu and Sendai, and 2008-09 All-Star Game MVP Bobby St. Preux, who has also suited up for the 89ers.

Famous guest: Former Chiba Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine spoke at the Tokyo Apache fan gathering on Monday evening for fans at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2. There was also a kids clinic held on the same day, with Tokyo coach Bob Hill and players on hand to provide instruction for the youth.

The events were held in an attempt to drum up interest in the team’s delayed home opener in the capital city, which will be held on Jan. 6.

Reader reaction: Sunday’s Hoop Scoop column about the bj-league’s attendance problems sparked feedback from readers, including a rabid Ryukyu fan from Okinawa.

Tommie M. wrote, “I don’t understand how the league can be happy when a team is pulling in a whopping 500 fans for a professional basketball game . . . when baseball season is done. I have been to some weddings that have close to that amount of people. I have seen terrible backyard bands pull in more people than that.”

League leaders: Here’s a quick update on some of the league’s top statistical leaders:

• Scoring — Michael Parker, Fukuoka (29.5 ppg); Mikey Marshall, Shiga (21.8); Lynn Washington, Osaka (21.1)

• Assists — Kenny Satterfield, Saitama (7.9); Mac Hopson, Sendai (5.4); Takumi Ishizaki, Shimane (5.3)

• Rebounds — Gary Hamilton, Shiga (14.5); Brandon Cole, Miyazaki (13.8); Chris Holm, Sendai (12.4)

Closing commentary: Tokyo guard Cohey Aoki, who didn’t play last weekend against Akita is reportedly battling a back problem, according to a league source.

An e-mail inquiry to Apache general manager Conor Neu, who doubles as the team’s media relations boss, on Sunday evening about Aoki’s condition had not been returned by press time on Friday. Apparently, the team doesn’t feel it has an obligation to answer the media’s questions.

This is disgraceful and unprofessional, but not surprising. This has happened on dozens of occasions (e-mails and phone calls) with various teams as well as the league office since I began working in Japan in 2006.

This much is certain: A player’s blog or a Twitter account shouldn’t be the first place to visit for official league information. The league’s website, first and foremost, followed by each of the 16 teams must be required to release pertinent information on all players in a timely fashion.

As has been the case since the league began in 2005, teams do not always provide information to the media and fans about why a player does not suit up for a game. The Apache are not the only team to answer media inquiries if and when the mood strikes them.

And the league has little or no standards that are visible on this matter. This only leads to frustration among those who follow the circuit.

In the NBA, for instance, a player who sat on the bench can be listed as “DNP” (did not play, citing his injury if that’s the case) in the box score, or “DNP — Coach’s Decision.” In other instances, an NBA team can place a player on its inactive list.

The league would be enhancing its image as a professional entity by providing more details about players who do not suit up for games and fine teams that do not report such information in a timely fashion.

Again: Money talks and I don’t believe teams want to shell out cash or be fined repeatedly for not fulfilling their obligations to the league, the fans and the media.

But it’s about time that the league displays a backbone — leadership, too — about this vital issue.

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Do you have a story idea about the bj-league? Send an e-mail to edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp

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