Who is the bj-league’s top Japanese rebounder?

Ask this question to a number of people, and you are likely to get the same answer: Saitama Broncos forward Kazuya “J” Hatano.

Beyond Hatano, who helped the Osaka Evessa capture titles in the league’s first three seasons, the names of other solid Japanese rebounders are not as well known.

“Rebounding among Japanese players starts and ends with Hatano at Saitama,” Akita coach Bob Pierce told The Japan Times. “J wants them, he works for them, he fights guys for them, and he’s just athletic enough to get some away from the import players.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that the 192-cm Hatano, a perennial All-Star and fan favorite, is one of the league’s elite-level rebounders. But he’s a good rebounder, averaging 5.5 rebounds (40 offensive boards). His 3.3 defensive rebounds is No. 54 in the league. Another solid rebounder, Takamatsu guard Satoshi Takeda, is 55th on the league’s defensive boards charts (3.1) and 4.8 rpg total.

On the offensive glass, Hatano is 26th (2.2), while the 185-cm Takeda checks in at 41st (1.7).

“Both guys are athletic and sneaky quick enough to get in there and grab a few offensive rebounds,” Pierce said.

Hatano nabbed a season-high 12 boards on Dec. 4 against the Phoenix. He’s also hauled in 10 boards once and nine in two other games. Takeda’s season-best total is nine rebounds (once) and two eight-board contests.

Hamamatsu center Atsuya Ota is a physical, hardworking, 206-cm performer in the battle for the ball. “You have to box him out and fight him on every play,” the Akita coach said.

Ota, playing for the 17-1 defending champions, is averaging 3.2 rebounds.

Sendai forward Mike Bell, one of the league’s top 10 scorers and rebounders last season while playing for Oita, believes Hatano has made his mark in this league.

“I think that Hatano is one of the best Japanese rebounders,” Bell said on Wednesday. “He does a great job at getting himself in position and in the right spots on the floor, and the same goes for offense. I believe he has a good feel for the game and knows how to put himself in the right spots to be successful.”

Lakestars forward Lamar Rice praised the effort of his team’s backup big man, Hirotaka Sato.

Sato, who dons No. 91 like ex-NBA rebounding maestro Dennis Rodman, has had limited playing time (81 minutes), but made the most of them (17 rebounds).

“I know that Hiro who plays for our team is a very good rebounder,” Rice said. “He really plays hard in practice and he is very strong. He makes me better everyday by going against him.”

Evessa coach Ryan Blackwell, who competed with and against a number of top-notch rebounders during his pro career and in his collegiate days in the Big East Conference, commended the consistency and productivity of Takamatsu’s Takeda.

“He’s one of the bigger, more athletic Japanese guys,” Blackwell said. “He makes it a point to crash the boards on the offensive and defensive end. (Takumi) Ishizaki from Shimane is another good rebounder. He uses his size and strength to get rebounds.”

HeatDevils coach L.J. Hepp, who gained valuable experience breaking down game film during his time with the Stanford men’s basketball program, considers a trio of players the league’s top Japanese rebounders: Hatano, Takeda and Miyazaki forward Yuta Kojima.

Studying film this season and recalling how foes played against Oita, Hepp offered the following analysis:

“The common characteristic of these players are: they are athletic and play aggressively; they have the heart/passion to pursue the ball, especially on the offensive glass, and all three of these players were noted as strong offensive rebounders on the scouting report; and they move well without the ball on offense, which at times puts them in good position for an offensive rebound.”

In addition, Toyama guard Takeshi Mito (3.7 rpg in 16 games) gives his team a boost on the boards.

“He runs in from outside so players don’t see him coming and can’t block him out,” Pierce said.

Also noteworthy: Kojima has pulled down 56 boards (3.1 rpg), Miyazaki’s Taishiro Shimizu has grabbed 54 rebounds (3.0 rpg) and Akita’s Yuki Nobuhira has collected 42 rebounds (2.3 rpg).

These players all share a common trait: quickness.

Like Mito, they are the same type of player, “running in and grabbing rebounds because they are so hard to box out,” Pierce said.

Rebounds per minute is a revealing tool that number-crunchers and coaches can use to measure a player’s productivity in that phase. Thus, among the league’s Japanese players, here are the top six:

1. Nobuhira .1794

2. Ota .1726

3. Takeda .1707

4. Hatano .1647

5. Kojima .1473

6. Mito .1042

Shiga power forward Gary Hamilton is the league’s No. 1 rebounder (259 rebounds in 572 minutes, or .4527 rebounds per minute). He’s averaging 14.4 rebounds.

Pavlicevic’s insight: In a recent e-mail interview with Susanoo Magic coach Zeljko Pavlicevic, the veteran bench boss dished out perspective on a few short questions sent by this reporter.

He said forward Reggie Golson, a Southeast Missouri State product, has been the team’s most consistent player. Golson is averaging 16.9 ppg (10 straight double-digit scoring games) and 134 rebounds in 15 games.

Pavlicevic cited team spirit as the team’s biggest strength to date, which has enabled the club to win eight of its first 18 games. If the playoffs started today, Shimane would be the Western Conference’s sixth and final playoff team.

He said team defense and bench play are areas he would most like to see improvement in.

Looking at the expansion club’s overall makeup, Pavlicevic stated that center Jeral Davis (10.1 ppg) and guards Edward Yamamoto (2.1 ppg, but season-high 18 on Nov. 28) and Koki Yabuuchi (2.9 ppg, season-high 19 on Nov. 19) have the greatest potential as players.

Injury report: Evessa guard Masashi Obuchi suffered a season-ending knee injury last Saturday against the Toyama Grouses. He’ll miss the remainder of the season, the team said in a news release issued on Tuesday.

Obuchi has a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He’s expected to be sidelined for eight months. Obuchi’s recovery will include physical rehabilitation to regain strength in his knee.

Last season, Obuchi made a solid impact for the Golden Kings after joining the Okinawa-based club midway through the season and helping the club reach the Final Four for the second year in a row. In 17 starts this season, Obuchi averaged 6.5 points to go along with 66 assists.

Upcoming schedule: This weekend features five series with teams making their first appearances against each other this season: Fukuoka vs. Hamamatsu (the Phoenix are riding a 15-game win streak into this series in Kyushu), Shiga vs. Akita (former Lakestars coach Bob Pierce goes up against his old team for the first time), Niigata vs. Shimane, Saitama vs. Oita and Kyoto vs. Toyama. Miyazaki, meanwhile, plays host to Osaka, which went 2-0 in the first series between the teams. Also on the docket is Takamatsu vs. Ryukyu, who went 1-1 in their first series.

Tokyo and Sendai have the weekend off.

Weekly accolade: Apache floor leader Byron Eaton is the Lawson/Ponta Player of the Week, the bj-league announced on Tuesday. Eaton scored 34 points, dished out five assists and made four steals in a seven-point win over the Albirex last Saturday. He also made 10 of 11 free throws in the win.

A day later, the ex-Oklahoma State guard scored 18 points and flushed all eight of his foul shots.

In the last three games, all Tokyo wins, Eaton is averaging 26.7 points.

By the numbers: Tokyo guard Cohey Aoki, who attempted 210 free throws last season, has shot only nine free throws (six makes) in eight games this season.

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