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Evessa’s Washington is greatest player in bj-league history

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Six years is a long, long time in professional sports. In a word, it’s an era.

Dynasties come and go in that span, unknown rookies become superstars and journeymen may change teams three or four times. It’s enough time for coaches to be labeled as geniuses or idiots, or both, depending on the result of the most recent game, during that time.

So now’s the time to take stock of the bj-league’s first six seasons.

For this piece, the focus is on impact-making players who’ve suited up for the 16 teams in the league since 2005, especially those with two or more years or service in the upstart circuit.

About 25 individuals, including players, coaches, league insiders and a few hard-core fans, were asked to offer their opinions on who they consider the best 10 players or their favorite 10 in league history, providing a wide range of possibilities and broad interpretations.

But before a selected collection of individuals’ lists presented in their various forms, here is Hoop Scoop’s Top 10, ranked in order of their significance to the league, their impact on their teams and their performance on and off the court as hoop ambassadors:

1. Lynn Washington

The league’s most recognizable import star, a true locker room leader, a terrific player at both ends of the court for the Osaka Evessa since 2005.

2. Jeff Newton

His 50-point game against his former club, the Evessa, in May 2009 in the Western Conference final was a remarkable achievement and the best big-time performance in league history. He made Ryukyu a legitimate title contender just by showing up.

3. Michael Parker

Three straight scoring titles and four straight steals crowns are reminders that the Rizing star is a special athlete and a dynamic performer game after game.

4. Cohey Aoki

Not only is the 167-cm Aoki a fearless clutch shooter for the Apache, he’s the most visible role model for Japanese players and future players throughout the nation. Even current players will admit that. As Sendai 89ers guard Kennichi Takahashi told The Japan Times in a 2009 interview, “He has scoring ability and techniques that make up for his (small) size, and he is very experienced. He is the same age as me, but I learn a lot from him.”

5. Nick Davis & John Humphrey (tie)

Without Davis, the Albirex wouldn’t have reached the title game in 2006, nor would the Apache have made back-to-back trips to the final in 2008 and 2009. The slender big man’s rebounding, scoring, shot-blocking and big-time presence at both ends of the floor made were vital ingredients for two championship contenders. Humphrey, known as “The Helicopter,” won two scoring tiles, dunked ferociously and thrilled fans with his above-the-rim antics; his improved all-around game contributed to Tokyo’s playoff success in the Bryant years

6. Takumi Ishizaki

Somebody had to be the bj-league’s first national team member and the talented guard has quietly helped elevate the league’s reputation by playing well in both Asian Games competition in 2010 and for Shimane coach Zeljko Pavlicevic’s club in its inaugural season.

7. Kenny Satterfield

The former NBA point guard led the bj-league in assists this season and rebounded and defended ferociously, working tirelessly to try and turn the Saitama Broncos into winners before the March 11 earthquake. After joining the Evessa on a rental player contract, he quickly brought his cerebral feel for the game to hoop-mad Kansai and gained a greater following in the region. Though he’s only been in the league for one year, he has elevated the point guard position to a new level.

8. Mikey Marshall

The Texas Tech product makes the game look easy, which it isn’t. The Lakestars leader, who previously starred for Osaka and Oita, understands the game and knows how to make his teammates better.

9. Matt Lottich

Like Marshall, Lottich lets the game come to him, but he possesses the smarts and unselfish play that lead to team success. A terrific clutch shooter, passer and all-around player, first for Osaka and then with Oita.

10. Jeffrey Parmer

Parmer led the Phoenix to the championship last week, collecting regular-season and Final Four MVP awards. He has no big flaws in his game.

The next terrific 12 (my rankings in order), followed by 16 more to enter the debate as being top-25 caliber candidates : Michael Gardener, Wendell White, Bobby St. Preux, Gordon James, Andy Ellis, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Gary Hamilton, Julius Ashby, David Palmer, Masashi Joho, Masahiro Oguchi and Reggie Warren.

Also: Chris Holm, Yu Okada, Anthony McHenry, Billy Knight, Naoto Takushi, Josh Peppers Rasheed Sparks, Ricky Woods, Kazuyuki Nakagawa, Wayne Arnold, Tsubasa Yonamine, Kazuya Hatano, Nile Murry, Shigeyuki Kinjo and Akitomo Takeno. And don’t forget Sun Ming Ming, the 236-cm center who played for the Phoenix in 2008-09, a game-changing force despite his limited mobility.

***

Note: The following lists include direct quotes from various sources.

One source who requested anonymity passes along his top eight:

1. Lynn Washington

Captain of the three-time champs.

2. John Humphrey

Brought excitement to the game.

3. Nick Davis

Fan favorite, guided Tokyo and Niigata to the finals.

4. Cohey Aoki

Best Japanese player since the birth of the bj-league.

5. Jeff Newton

He has the rings.

6. Taishiro Shimizu

Good player from day one.

7. Takumi Ishizaki

First bj-leaguer to be selected to the national team.

8. Kazuyuki Nakagawa

He had a short stay in the league, but definitely a player who I wanted to see more.

***

Longtime Niigata Albirex BB supporter Angie Taylor made the following picks, but first pointed out that “these are in no particular order, just some of the players that have left a strong impression in my mind over the years”:

1. John Humphrey

A powerful player, in my opinion. He was great on defense but I remember him making more of an impression with the scores he posted. Great 3-pointers, awesome on the free-throw line, as well. He was pretty consistent from anywhere on the court. At first I thought he style was pretty much something that came right off the “streets,” but I really came to like that about him, especially his dunks. He played hard until the clock ran out each time I saw him … even if his team was losing.

2. Isaac Sojourner (Five Arrows, Broncos)

Another strong, versatile player. Seemed to be all over the court … great defense and offense. He just seemed like a force to be reckoned with on the court. Shooting, blocking, rebounding, you name it and he pretty much did it. In addition to his incredible feats on the court, I was impressed that he was one of the major forces amongst players that really got involved with kids in Japan. He is very passionate in his endeavors to grow this sport.

3. Mikey Marshall

All-around great aggressive player. Great defense, as well as offense. Comes across as a real team player. Though he didn’t really come across as an explosive kind of player when I watched him during the first half of the season, he did seem to have this silent power about him.

4. Cohey Aoki

Great offensive player. Awesome when he gets on that free throw line. Also, not a bad 3-point shooter. He makes up for being shorter than many of the players by being faster on the court than many of the other players. Forces turnovers.

5. Lynn Washington

One of the most impressive players I have seen in Japan. Powerful defense and offense-simply and all-around professional. He hits 3s and FTs when he needs to, dunks and rebounds when he needs to … just an extremely talented individual. A passionate leader for his team. Boy, do we miss him here in Niigata.

6. Masashi Joho

Has improved considerably as a professional player these past few years. Very aggressive on the court; needs to watch those turnovers, though. His passion on the court is infectious, especially when he goes after a steal.

7. Mike Bell

Had the opportunity to meet him off the court during a charity event here in Niigata after the (March 11) quake. What a really nice young man he is. On the court, another force to be reckoned with. An awesome scorer, rebounder … and his dunks are just as impressive. Glad he has moved on to the next phase of his life (playing in Qatar after the 89ers’ season ended)… but sorry that a bj-league team couldn’t place him.

8. Byron Eaton

This little big guy drives right down the middle for impressive layups right in front of the big guys. Incredible player. Watched him steal the ball from Albirex players I don’t know how many times; just too quick once he gets moving. Has remarkable control on the floor and is an impressive team leader. Also, he is a great scorer. Great at drawing fouls and makes use of that by sinking his FTs.

9. Jeffrey Parmer

Another incredible player. Fast on the court, resulting in a number of steals. Superior shooter, blocker, rebounder, etc. Just seemed to be everywhere on the court.

10. Wayne Arnold

Incredible on the FT line. He may not start the games, but he comes off the bench and ends them in style. Remarkable control on the court; great cleanup man to count on.

***

Ryukyu Golden Kings assistant coach Keith Richardson presented his picks in a different way, selecting top five imports and top five Japanese. Before the Golden Kings reached the Final Four, he wrote:

Foreigners

1. Jeff Newton

Four bj-league titles, no one else (has done that), about to be six Final Fours. MVP, smart defender, great rebounder, very unselfish.

2. Lynn Washington

Three titles, about to be six Final Fours and an MVP.

3. Anthony McHenry

One of the best all-around players to play in the league. A Best Five player this season.

4. David Palmer (Kings)

I have said this a thousand times, “The best shooter not in the NBA!” MVP (2006-07).

5. Wendell White (Kyoto)

Great scoring threat and works hard on both sides of the ball. MVP.

Honorable mention

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (Hannaryz)

Former NBA and NCAA great and still going at a high level at age 42. Amazing!

Japanese

1. Yu Okada (Five Arrows, Lakestars)

One of the best shooters/scorers to play in the bj-league. Scores at will and not a bad defender. (Note: he moved on to his hometown team Shiga after the 2009-10 season.)

2. Naoto Kosuge (Kings)

If he had not played for the Kings this season, I would have never known he was this good. He should have never been sitting anyone’s bench, and if he is on my team, he is on the court as much as possible. Can do it all — shoot, score and defend. Great team player.

3. Yosuke Sugawara (Kings)

Hardest-nosed Japanese player I have ever seen, just ask any American player who has played against or with him. One of the best lock-down defenders to play in the league!

4. Kazuya “J.” Hatano (Broncos and a three-time title winner with the Evessa)

One of the best Japanese big men to play in the bj-league. Good rebounder and mismatch in the right situation against any team.

5. Cohey Aoki

Small but smart. Within the right system (formerly Apache coach Joe Bryant’s) he can really shine. If he’s open, he can drill it.

Honorable mention

Naoto Nakamura (Kyoto; another ex-title winner with Osaka)

Great shooter and team player.

***

Evess.net blogger Wolfy Nishioka, as usual, has his own unique views on the league. For this project, he ranked 10 great individual season performances rather than 10 players’ careers in the league.

1. Lynn Washington (2006-07)

Great penetrations, jump shots and rebounds. Until his severe knee injury in December 2007, he can jump with some moves in the air. Rarely saw him stopped.

2. Jeff Newton (2007-08)

Many people only think about offense, but he also had great defensive effort. Great box-out player, too.

3. Andy Ellis (2006-07)

Maybe the first real great center in this league. He can run and had great effectiveness on offense and defense.

4. Wayne Arnold (2010-11)

Best overall shooter in this league. No doubt about it.

5. Michael Parker (2008-09)

Great offensive player, but seems to neglect the defensive end a little bit.

6. Matt Lottich (2006-07)

How many clutch and tough shoots did he sinks in that season? Sometimes overheated and collapsed a few games but also good defensively.

7. Mikey Marshall (2007-08)

Great overall player.

8. Chris Holm (2009-10)

A real big center.

9. Cohey Aoki (2006-07)

A great shooting performance.

10. Bobby St. Preux (08-09)

(Note: He averaged 21.6 points per game for the 89ers.)

***

Another longtime hoop fan and blogger, Kensuke Igarashi selected the following players:

1. Lynn Washington (Evessa)

He has been a special leader of the Evessa.

2. Jeff Newton (Evessa, Golden Kings)

He is the only person who has got four champion rings.

3. Cohey Aoki (Apache)

He has been a great scorer since the first season.

4. Matt Lottich (Evessa, HeatDevils)

His leadership and performance contributed to three championship teams.

5. John Humphrey (Apache)

His ability for scoring is quite brilliant.

6. Gordon James (Broncos, Five Arrows)

Outstanding rebounder.

7. Kazuyuki Nakagawa (Five Arrows, Rizing)

He led the Five Arrows to the Final Four in their first season and his emergence made a big impact.

8. Takumi Ishizaki (Susanoo Magic)

Although he is in his first season in the league, his performance makes us fascinated.

9. Anthony McHenry (Golden Kings)

He has been doing a great job.

10. Makoto Hasegawa (Albirex, Happinets)

One of big reasons why I started to watch the bj-league is that he plays in the league. He is a legend for me.

***

Osaka resident Yasuko Nanno chose the following standouts:

1. Lynn Washington

An outstanding player with talent. All the records will show how great he is.

2. Jeff Newton

He can play both as a forward or a center. There are many players who have a size advantage, but he still keep his toughness against them.

3. Nick Davis

A highly skilled player, even though he doesn’t have much weight. A great rebounder with jumping ability.

4. Matt Lottich

One of the most intelligence players. He plays as a point guard more than boosters expect.

5. Michael Parker

We all know how he played well after the second season in Fukuoka. A great shooter who succeeds in pressure situations.

6. Cohey Aoki

A brave player who is good at free throws. The boosters always are fascinated by his penetration.

7. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf

A legend. He shows NBA-level basketball to the Japanese fans.

8. Masahiro Oguchi

A solid player. He made 10 3-pointers in the Eastern Conference final (against Niigata) in May 2010.

9. Tadaharu Ogawa

He is now a respected coach after playing in the bj-league (for Oita).

10. Akitomo Takeno (Rizing Fukuoka; led league in 3-point shooting accuracy in 2010-11)

He has played better and better for four years. His fifth season should be promising.

***

Jeff Newton made his choices in reverse order:

10. Naoto Takushi (Golden Kings, Hannaryz, Albirex)

9. John Humphrey

8. Andy Ellis

7. Matt Lottich

6. Mikey Marshall

5. David Palmer

6. Bobby St. Preux

5. Julius Ashby

4. Anthony McHenry

3. Michael Gardener

2. Lynn Washington

1. Jeff Newton

***

Masashi Joho picked these 10 players:

1. Lynn Washington

2. Jeff Newton

3. Wayne Arnold

4. Wendell White

5. Ricky Woods

6. Michael Parker

7. Mike Bell

8. Robert Swift (Apache center; ex-NBA big man)

9. Michael Gardener

10. John Humphrey

***

American sports fanatic Glenn Kardy, whose company Japanime has produced bj-league All-Star player cards since 2007, gave his own well-informed list:

1. Cohey Aoki

This guy’s got it all — on-court talent, off-court charisma. Cohey IS the bj-league. They should be building entire promotional campaigns around him.

2. Lynn Washington

The dean of the league’s foreign corps. Sure, at 33, his game is starting to slow down. But he still rules.

3. Michael Parker

Nice guys finish last. Season after season, he puts up the big numbers — and does it with class.

4. Jeff Newton

Even if you don’t like the beach, it’s worth making the trip to Okinawa just to see Newton burn up the court.

5. Masashi Joho

When he’s on his game, he’s absolutely explosive — enough to make us completely forget about his hair.

6. Naoto Takushi

There’s a reason a guy this great keeps moving from team to team. At least everyone is gonna get a chance to see him play.

7. Yoshihiro Tachibana (89ers)

OK, so he’s not necessarily one of the better everyday players. But he OWNS the annual All-Star Game Slam Dunk Contest.

8. Akitomo Takeno

Football has long plays. Baseball has home runs. And basketball has 3-pointers. Takeno’s job is making them.

9. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf

He played in the NBA for a long, long time. Is it really asking too much for the bj-league to bring him back for just one more season?

10. Makoto Hasegawa

Selfish? Check. Manipulative? Check. Over the hill? Check. A veteran presence around which to build a franchise? You betcha.

11. Jeffrey Parmer

First season in Japan, and all he does is lead his team to a 40-6 record. MVP, this year and beyond.

***

Bob Pierce, former NBA scout based in Asia and the first coach of the Shiga and Akita franchises provided in-depth research and thought-provoking insight for this project.

10 most talented players:

Lynn Washington

Jeff Newton

Kenny Satterfield

Byron Eaton

Jerod Ward

Michael Gardener

Wendell White

Michael Parker

Rasheed Sparks

Ricky Woods

But you can substitute in any of these guys:

Mikey Marshall

John Humphrey

Wayne Arnold

Gary Hamilton

Robert Swift

Matt Lottich

Bobby St. Preux

Nick Davis

But here are my 10 best, guys who defined the bj-league in its first six seasons:

1. Lynn Washington

Fierce competitor who knows how to win. Three championships and six Final Four appearances. For six seasons the face of the league. If they make a logo, he’s it.

2. Jeff Newton

Good every year, but brilliant the year Okinawa won it all. His 50-point game in the semifinals that season is still the best game in bj-league history.

3. Cohey Aoki

Considered too small, yet he came to compete every night. No Japanese player has hit more game winners or big shots that Cohey. Loves to play and it shows every night. Never cheats the fans who come to watch him.

4. Michael Parker

Three-time scoring champion and still one of the most deceptive players ever. No one gets points from steals, loose balls, and offensive rebounds like he does. Surprises people with his long arms and quick jumping, but also has a sense for the game that few players have.

5. John Humphrey

At first looked at as only a street-ball entertainer, but he used the bj-league to develop a solid outside shot, and was a rugged defender. Spectacular dunks. Anyone who saw him play live certainly remembers a highlight or two from the game.

6. Masashi Joho

I first remember seeing a long-haired Joho playing for Osaka at a game in Saitama during the bj-league’s second season. He played with a reckless verve and passion that was unusual for Japan, and I left thinking that he and the league had a chance to be something special. Joho continued to improve in Tokyo, and then Shiga, and for me he represents the league as much as anyone.

7. Wendell White

Had a great season from start to finish in 2009-10. League MVP who was not only a great scorer, but could defend and rebound as well. One of the most complete players ever in the league.

8. Michael Gardener

A quick, scoring machine that was as close to an Allen Iverson-type talent as this league will see. When he was hot, no one could stop him. Could be a headache for coaches on and off the court. A player with lots of positives, and negatives, always entertaining, just like the bj-league most of the time.

9. Bobby St. Preux

He created a “type” in the bj-league, because every coach and GM is still looking for another Bobby St. Preux. Came as an unknown from a small school (Division II Northern Kentucky), grossly underpaid, and was an amazing athlete and scorer for two seasons. A joy to watch. Just fluid in all that he did. A shame he only played two seasons in Sendai.

10. Gary Hamilton

Two-time rebounding champion, and he may have more rebounding titles in store. Quite an accomplishment because every player in the top 10 in rebounding this season in an excellent player. But Gary is also in the top in assists and steals, which makes him a unique player along the lines of Lynn Washington and Michael Parker, guys who affect the game in multiple ways.

***

And finally, Cohey Aoki, who’ll be remembered as legend after he retires as a player, sent me the following unranked list.

Wendell White

William Pippen (Apache star in 2005-06)

Lynn Washington

Julius Ashby

Byron Eaton

John Humphrey

Dameion Baker (another ex-Apache standout; player under Joe Bryant for four seasons)

Nick Davis

Jeff Newton

Michael Gardener


One referee offered the following insight but requested anonymity:

1. Lynn Washington

No one plays with the passion that Lynn does. Consistently, there isn’t one player that has been clutch down the stretch like him. He’s not afraid to have the ball in his hands at the end of the game. He’s aggressive and NO ONE shoots “pressure” free throws like him. I know his percentage isn’t the best, but when he gets locked in at the end of tight game … watch out. Lynn is also a professional. He can be pissed at me (call or no-call, right or wrong) on Saturday and we’ll come back out on Sunday and it’s a new game. Doesn’t take anything personal.

2. Michael Parker

His length is what causes problems for other teams. He can out-jump everyone in the gym and works hard. I like the fact that, even though he’s pretty slim, he’ll bang for rebounds. He gets a lot of second-chance points. His scoring doesn’t depend on hitting jumpers. He gets them all over the court. And like Lynn, he doesn’t carry grudges day to day. I’ve probably given him five or six technical fouls. But can come out the next day and it not be a big deal.

3. Michael Gardener

Was anyone as fun to watch as Michael G? When he got hot, he’d jack from anywhere. When he wasn’t hot, he’d jack from anywhere. When he was pissed, he would jack from anywhere. He’d dribble all over the floor. He played with passion, was funny and I always enjoyed interacting with Mike. And despite his penchant for shooting too much and dribbling too much, HE CAN PASS LIKE NO ONE ELSE. Seems like a lot to deal with off the court … but on the court, was a lot of fun.

4. Anthony McHenry

Was really pleased to see him get voted best 5 this year. In my opinion, more than any other player on the Kings, he’s been the MVP. Jeff gets all the attention (50-point game, four rings, etc.), but Mac does all the dirty work. His contributions don’t show up in the box score, but people that watch him play know that he is catalyst for that team. He plays the most minutes, does a little bit of everything, guards the opponent’s best player (effectively and without fouling) and is stoic. Never gets too high or too low. Doesn’t interact much with me, which is fine. They go, because of him.

5. Yu Okada

My biggest pet peeve about the Japanese players is their reluctance to aggressively drive the ball to the basket and get fouled. I think some are afraid of contact, some just feel the need to defer to the Americans or a combination of both. But when you pass up open shots or lanes to the hoop, that hurts the team. Okada will shoot lights out when he has good looks, will drive to the basket when he has open lanes and isn’t afraid to go to the line to shoot free throws. He plays like an American. Never made sense, to me, for him to go to Shiga (because you knew he wasn’t going to play ahead of Joho). Even his willingness to challenge me and get ejected says a lot about his attitude. It’s not bad, it’s fire and that’s what a lot of Japanese are missing.

6. Takehiko Shimura

Cohey and Takeno get the publicity, but I’d take Take over both of them. He doesn’t shoot as well, but he’s even more fearless than either of them (and Okada). He plays with a passion and energy that no one else in the league does. His defense is the best of the small Japanese guards. I don’t think AT or Cohey play that well when Take is on them. He also has other intangibles that I have a lot of respect for. You can see that he is a guy that has brought teams together. You could see it in Sendai and you can really see the impact that his attitude and passion have in Okinawa.

7. Mikey Marshall

So explosive. So much fun to watch play. He can shoot the ball, he can score at the rim. Shiga’s team was built so funny this year. Too many guys that need the ball and this should have been Mikey’s team. Missed opportunity on their part, in my opinion. Not sure that Bob P. would have built this team …

8. Gary Hamilton

Weird body, but such a hard worker. Quick hands and can handle the ball. Leading rebounder and steals the ball like he does. Fun player to work too. Can lose his head sometimes. Not a dirty player, but just forgets about what’s going on sometimes.

9. Taishiro Shimizu

Another aggressive Japanese (you can tell these are the ones that I appreciate). He plays with fire and isn’t afraid. He’ll take the big shots if needed and doesn’t pass up open jumpers. It’s unfortunate that he hasn’t had the opportunity to play on any contending teams. I think he’d make a big contribution in Osaka or Shiga.

10. Julius Ashby

The biggest enigma to me. He’s got the best body in the league. Six-foot-eight (203 cm), strong, can run the floor, has moves in the post … but lets his head get in the way. When he is locked in (which is 25 percent of the time,in my opinion), no one can guard him. He’s got that baby hook and drop step to get to the basket. He’s got range to 15-16 feet (4.6 meters to 4.8 meters). NBA body and moves + high school mental strength = playing in the bj-league.

***

And finally, Cohey Aoki, who’ll be remembered as legend after he retires as a player, sent me the following unranked list.

Wendell White
William Pippen (Apache star in 2005-06)
Lynn Washington
Julius Ashby
Byron Eaton
John Humphrey
Dameion Baker (another ex-Apache standout; player under Joe Bryant for four seasons)
Nick Davis
Jeff Newton
Michael Gardener

Agree? Disagree? Send feedback on this column to edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp