Kenny Satterfield believes the rebuilding Saitama Broncos took a big step forward by adding center George Leach to the mix last month.
Now, four games into Leach’s tenure with the Broncos, coach Bob Nash’s club has a more balanced, effective rotation in place, which was evident in their 98-82 victory over the Akita Northern Happinets on Sunday in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture.
Leach, an Indiana University product and one of the most talented centers in bj-league history, had his best game to date this season, finishing with 12 points, seven blocks, five rebounds and three assists in 23-plus minutes in the team’s last game, only his third of the season.
“It’s a big help. It completes the team,” Satterfield said, referring to Leach’s presence in the Saitama lineup.
Satterfield led the Albany (N.Y.) Legends to an International Basketball League championship last season, and now he’s filling a big role for the Broncos: proven leadership.
An NBA veteran — he played for the Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers from 2001-03 — Satterfield understands what it takes to compete at the highest level. So it’s no surprise he can express why he believes Leach can be a difference-maker for the Broncos, who take a 4-10 record into this weekend’s series against the reigning champion Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix.
“He helps our team in a lot of ways and he makes a lot of other guys go back to their natural positions,” Satterfield said of Leach, citing the fact that power forward Gordon Klaiber had played major minutes at center before Leach’s arrival. Klaiber, a solid 3-point shooter, is more effective at the four, and complements Leach and helps stretch the defense.
In addition, the 213-cm Bruce Brown (7.9 points per game) has moved into a reserve role, where he can provide stable support off the bench.
Leach’s 11 blocks in 56 minutes last weekend — a series split for Saitama — were indicative of his defensive prowess and presence in the paint. He’ll also be relied on to boost the offense.
“The thing that we’re really asking him to do is be able to pass out of the double team because he commands a double team and tonight he was able to pass out of the double team to his teammates to get wide-open shots,” Nash said moments after Saitama shot 11-for-22 from 3-point range on Sunday.
“He’s able to post up, he’s able to step out on the perimeter and knock down the short shot and he’s a great defender. It’s only going to help Gordon Klaiber, who now doesn’t have to play the center position anymore.”
Nash expects Leach’s workload and productivity to increase as the season progresses.
“Right now it’s hard to rank him because he’s only had a couple of weeks with us and he’s not in great shape,” the coach said. “But certainly as he gets his legs in better shape I think he’s going to be one of the better big guys in this league because he not only can block shots, he can move his feet out on the perimeter and guard people and he becomes a load down on the offensive end.”
Satterfield, meanwhile, is eager to be an agent of change in Saitama, guiding the team, which failed to make the playoffs in previous five seasons, in a new direction.
“I really didn’t set any individual goals,” said the New York City native, who leads the bj-league in assists (7.5 per per game) and is tied for third in steals (2.1). “My only goal was to come here and try to change the culture of this team a little bit, help these guys win and get some winning ways.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that he doesn’t derive pleasure from delivering an assist to one of his teammates.
“Playing with this team, you’ve got a lot of guys that can shoot, so it’s pretty easy for me to get assists with this team,” said Satterfield. “Once I get in the paint and everybody knows (I’m there), then I kick out and guys make their shots. J (Kazuya Hatano) is always around the basket making layups, and now we have George and Bruce who are very good around the basket.”
So what’s the team’s mind-set entering a big series against the 13-1 Phoenix?
“If we can go out and get that first game next weekend it will be a big momentum booster for our team and our fans and maybe it’ll help start getting these games rolling and get us in a winning streak and make us play with some more pride,” Satterfield said.
Looking ahead: The Fukuoka-Osaka series tipped off on Thursday. Six other matchups are on docket starting Saturday: Akita vs. Kyoto, Toyama vs. Niigata, Saitama vs. Hamamatsu, Shimane vs. Sendai and Ryukyu vs. Miyazaki.
Oita and Tokyo have the weekend off.
Expansion plans: The bj-league is already actively seeking applicants for prospective expansion franchises for the 2012-13 season.
A news release posted on its website on Wednesday stated that the league’s application deadline is Jan. 31 and an announcement is scheduled for late April.
Before the 2010-11 season tipped off Toshimitsu Kawachi, the bj-league commissioner, announced four expansion teams — Yokohama, Chiba, Nagano and Morioka, Iwate Prefecture — would join the league for next season, months after Akita, Miyazaki and Shimane were awarded expansion teams for this season.
In the last round of expansion, 10 official applications were received, but the finalists were whittled down to six, the league said.
A prospective team’s ownership group is expected to have ¥250 million to ¥300 million in capital at the outset.
For more information on the expansion application process, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call the league’s office (03-3798-8881).
League accolades: Swingman Wendell White of the Kyoto Hannaryz is the Lawson/Ponta Player of the Week, the league announced on Wednesday.
White had 23 points and 16 rebounds in a win over the Takamatsu Five Arrows on Saturday, followed by a 24-point, 14-rebound effort on Sunday, another Kyoto triumph.
(Takamatsu lost the two games by a combined 56 points.)
Hamamatsu sharpshooter Wayne Arnold, who averaged a team-best 19.4 ppg in November, is the league’s November MVP, with the announcement also coming on Wednesday.
Arnold has helped the Phoenix rattle off 11 straight wins. He also had 35 points, including six 3-pointers, on Nov. 20.
Making a fine impression: Happinets guard Makoto Sawaguchi, the league’s youngest player (he turns 19 on Sunday), is quietly putting up solid numbers for a rookie.
He’s averaging 8.1 points in 14 games and has scored in double digits in five games, and has at least seven points in six other contests in limited playing time (235 minutes). He’s also done a respectable job taking care of the basketball (24 assists, 23 turnovers) for a player his age.
“‘He is a tremendous competitor to begin with,” Nash said of the Morioka Minami High School product on Sunday. “He has an unbelievable motor in terms of how hard he plays. He plays with no fear. He plays like a veteran at the tender age of 18. He’s willing to take the big shots.
“‘He doesn’t play like an 18-year-old. He plays like he has a lot of experience coming out of a very good program, so I think he’s just going to be one of the stars of the bj-league as he goes forward.”
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