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Players, coaches fired up by large turnout at All-Star Game


Staff Writer

The largest crowd in bj-league history, 14,011, witnessed Sunday’s All-Star Game at Saitama Super Arena, and the positive energy from that experience carried over to players from throughout the league.

As players and coaches prepared to leave Saitama on Sunday night to return to their teams, they summed up their thoughts on this.

“Personally, I’ve been energized by this All-Star experience,” said Chiba Jets coach Eric Gardow, who served as the Eastern Conference’s assistant coach, after the Western Conference’s 120-93 victory.

“I have a boost of energy right now. I can’t wait to go to work tomorrow.”

Sendai 89ers forward Dan Fitzgerald, the 3-Point Contest runnerup to Cohey Aoki of the Osaka Evessa, participated in All-Star festivities along with teammates Yoshihiro Tachibana (Slam Dunk Contest) and guard Takehiko Shimura (two points, five

assists as a starter). For Fitzgerald, the 89ers’ team representation was a motivational factor for upcoming games, and it gave his team a goal to shoot for: a trip to Ariake Colosseum for May’s Final Four.

“Us having three guys here was really good for the team, good for the program,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve got a great group of guys and all the fans deserve some credit. So we’ve got to work hard and get better in the second half. We’ve got to play

better than we did in the first half. We kind of lost steam. We’ve got to play much better, but I think we can. We’ve got a lot of hard workers and the talent to do it.”

Toyama Grouses forward Brian Harper, whose team is one of many in the middle of the standings at 10-12, expressed the views spoken by several players during post-game interviews. The optimism for greater success, he said, is carrying the team as

the season’s second half begins.

“I really feel we have a team that can make it to the playoffs and make a lot of noise,” said Harper, a Slam Dunk Contest participant. “So we are going to try to go back and focus and try to perform at a high level.”

To accomplish those goals, the Grouses will need All-Star guard Masashi Joho to remain a leader and productive scorer.

“Joho is the type of basketball player that works hard every day,” Harper said. “He’s working on his game every day in the gym, which is important to get better. And he just has that presence on the floor that you can’t duplicate it when it comes to a

Japanese player. He’s almost unstoppable when he gets hot, he’s hard to even contain.

“So he brings a lot to the team. He brings consistent scoring from a guard position and he brings a lot of flair, too. He brings excitement, so he’s a great basketball player no matter what nationality he is.”

Different environment: Yokohama B-Corsairs forward Justin Burrell compared the experience of Sunday’s sixth annual All-Star Game and the packed houses he played in front of during his college days at St. John’s, especially the games against top 10-

ranked teams and conference tournaments.

“It’s very different, actually,” Burrell said. “In those places, those fans are very rowdy. They’ve got jokes for you. They are basically hecklers (at opposing school’s arenas). But it’s all done within fun of basketball. We understand that part. As a player,

you know the fans are going to try to get the edge for their team. Here it was more of a friendly environment. The fans were just cheering for us, excited for us for great plays and stuff.”

Good fit: All-Star center Chris Holm, the Niigata Albirex BB’s big anchor in the middle, believes his club made a smart move by hiring Matt Garrison to replace Masaya Hirose as coach after last season.

Holm said the one word that best describes his coach’s personality on the job is “passion,” and that has helped the club achieve success.

(The Albirex are 15-9 entering the weekend and tied for first place with Akita.)

“He’s a fiery guy that loves the game,” Holm said of Garrison. “He’s probably going to coach the rest of his life. He loves the game of basketball.”

Asked why he thinks Garrison was a good hire, Holm responded by saying, “He’s a guy that’s been in Japan with the Albirex (as a player), and obviously within this culture getting it is a real big thing, and coach Garrison gets the Japanese culture. And

that definitely helps.”

During his post-game interiew, Holm’s wife, Tara, and his baby boy,

Croix, born on Dec. 19 in Niigata Prefecture, received friendly
greetings from league and team officials. Holm smiled as people
offered their congratulations for perhaps the youngest member of the

As the conversation returned to the Albirex, Holm said its balance has
been a key for Niigata’s strong play in the first half of the season.

“When one guy goes down, we have two guys make it up,” he said.
“That’s one of the reasons we’ve been successful. We’re starting to
get our rhythm now, and I’m looking forward to the second half of the

“We’re just a well-oiled machine right now, so I’m really hoping we
can just keep doing what we’re doing.”

Making a good impression: Saitama Broncos head coach Natalie Nakase,
who served as the East’s bench boss for All-Star weekend, received
high marks for the job she did in preparing the team, according to
several sources The Japan Times interviewed.

Gardow said, “I thought she did a great job in practice, a great job
in the locker room. I talked to her personally myself and just
mentioned that she was very good at including me and asking for my
thoughts, which was really nice on her part, very respectful.”

After Sunday’s game, Gardow recounted his conversation with Nakase,
“When I made my best coaching decisions was when my mentor told me to
just be myself. You’re a head coach regardless of if you’re male,
female — it doesn’t matter — color, race. Coaching women’s
basketball, men’s basketball, you’re a head coach, you’ve got to be
who you are, and the sooner you can become comfortable in your own
skin and confident in yourself, you can move forward by leaps and

“I learned that at a young age,” Gardow added. “Thank God I had great mentors.”

Holm, who spent the past three seasons with the Sendai 89ers playing
for one of the league’s most respected coaches in Honoo Hamamaguchi
(now the Kyoto Hannaryz sideline supervisor), said Nakase has the
personality and knowledge to succeed in her chosen profession.

“She’s definitey a very professional coach,” Holm said. “Obviously, we
only had two days with her (during All-Star weekend), but she knows
what she’s talking about. She’s very smart and intelligent as far as
the game goes. Her knowledge of the game is fantastic.”

“She’s whipping out plays and reads and all this stuff at halftime,
even in an All-Star Game, telling us at halftime to adjust to this.
… She came into a rough situation with injuries and all that
(then-coach Dean Murray’s ouster in November) and they are struggling
to find ways to win a few games here and there … so I think if they
can get some players with the guys they do have and her, I think
they’ll be good.”

Upcoming games: Chiba plays host to Akita as the second half of the season commences on Friday. Elsewhere, starting Saturday, it’s Kyoto vs. Takamatsu, Niigata vs. Yokohama, Toyama vs. Sendai, Hamamatsu vs. Iwate, Shiga vs. Ryukyu, Osaka vs.

Oita, Shimane vs. Shinshu and Fukuoka vs. Miyazaki.

Money talk: Rookie Jeremy Tyler of the Golden State Warriors received
a three-year deal for around $2 million, the San Jose Mercury News
reported last month.

The former Tokyo Apache forward/center, a second-round draft pick of
the Charlotte Bobcats who was traded to Golden State on draft day in
June, is in the books to receive a minimum salary of $473, 604,
according to the NBA rookie pay scale, the newspaper reported. That
figures goes up to $762, 195 for a second-year pro in 2012-13 and
$884,293 for a player in his third year.

Upcoming games: Chiba plays host to Akita as the second half of the
season commences on Friday. Elsewhere, starting Saturday, it’s Kyoto
vs. Takamatsu, Niigata vs. Yokohama, Toyama vs. Sendai, Hamamatsu vs.
Iwate, Shiga vs. Ryukyu, Osaka vs. Oita, Shimane vs. Shinshu and
Fukuoka vs. Miyazaki.

Quotable: “I had a lot of fun, a lot of fun. There were a lot of
people that were here. It’s great for the bj-league. It’s great for us
as players. … I was very excited to be a part of the All-Star Game
and the (Slam) Dunk Contest. It’s a big thing for us at Yokohama, a
new franchise, to have somebody representing the team in the All-Star
Game and the dunk contest.” — Burrell

Quotable, part two: “I think sometimes people were being a little
passive, but that’s a good thing because everybody wants to see
everybody having a good time, and get up shots and make plays. Even if
it’s just one or two plays in a game, you still want to be a part of
that experience.” — Chiba Jets guard Maurice Hargrow on the East’s
performance on Sunday

Quotable, part three: “I haven’t had time to talk to Maurice or Ishi
(Jets guard Takaki Ishida, an East All-Star) about it, but I know they
felt honored and humbled to be a part of it, regardless of a win or
loss, or regardless of their play. It’s just a really neat experience
to be around all of this talent, East and West.” — Gardow