Among the league’s four expansion teams, the Yokohama B-Corsairs have the best record (14-14) entering February.
Coach Reggie Geary’s team had a significant accomplishment last weekend: a two-game sweep over the Akita Northern Happinets, one of the favorites to reach the Final Four.
Defense is the key for Yokohama as it fights to maintain its fifth-place position — or rise — in the Eastern Conference standings. The B-Corsairs would be in the playoffs if the season started this weekend as the top six teams in each conference qualify for postseason play.
But Yokohama still has 24 regular-season games remaining in its inaugural season. This gives Geary plenty of time to tinker with his rotation and push his charges to play tougher defense, including man-to-man defense, which worked effectively against Akita.
“In the man-to-man, we have had success, and if your team was asking for it and was confident like that, I’m going to go with them every time,” Geary told Kyodo News last weekend.
In the past 10 games, the B-Corsairs have won seven times. Indeed, the team is headed in the right direction under a demanding coach, whose fierce competitive drive landed him a spot at Pac-10 power Arizona under Lute Olson, followed by a playing career that included a stint as an NBA guard.
“We still have a long way to go, but I’m just really happy about their attitude now,” Geary was quoted as saying by Kyodo.
Forward Justin Burrell, the Big East’s Sixth Man Award winner last season, leads the B-Corsairs in scoring (19.5 points per game, No. 7 in the league). The former St. John’s standout is also one of the league’s most explosive dunkers — with two broken rims on his ledger to date — at 1.3 slam dunks per contest, putting him fifth in the rankings. Steady point production also comes from Chas McFarland (11.1), Marcus Simmons (10.8), captain Masayuki Kabaya (10.4) and Kenji Yamada (9.1).
In other noteworthy stats, Yamada is tied for ninth in steals (1.8 per game), and McFarland is tied for eighth in blocks (1.3).After several months, the B-Corsairs’ identity and playing style have progressed. Therefore, instead of too much time spent thinking about what they are going to do on the court, the players are reading and reacting to what’s going on.
“We know how we want to play and I think (now) we are just more comfortable doing that. When I look around, I don’t see anybody hesitating,” Geary told Kyodo. “There was some hesitation there before, and we are hoping to relieve that.”
Upcoming games: The Chiba-Saitama series began on Friday. In other weekend matchups, starting Saturday, the following teams are paired up: Shimane vs. Hamamatsu Higashimikawa, Iwate vs. Yokohama, Niigata vs. Sendai, Toyama vs. Oita, Shinshu vs. Akita, Shiga vs. Osaka, Kyoto vs. Fukuoka and Ryukyu vs. Takamatsu.
League honors: Golden Kings mainstay Anthony McHenry was named the league’s January MVP earlier this week.
McHenry averaged 16.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists in six January games, helping Ryukyu (22-6) remain in first place in the Western Conference standings. The Georgia Tech product is in his fourth season with Ryukyu.
Susanoo Magic forward Michael Parker took home the Lawson/Ponta Player of Week accolade after leading his club to a pair of road wins over Saitama.
Parker scored 35 and 29 points in the two games. He leads the league in scoring at 24.4 ppg.
Wholesale changes: When the league’s official guide book was issued on opening weekend in early October, the Northern Happinets had four imports: Michael Gardener, Brandon Wallace, Stanley Ocitti and Casey Crawford.
Ocitti was released this week, making him the last of the quartet to be in an Akita uniform. Curtis Terry and Kenny Taylor have also left the team after brief stints.
E.J. Drayton has been in uniform for most of the season, joining later pickups Woods and Mychal Kearse. This week, forwards Lionel Green and Kyle Swanston have joined the club, also known as bench boss Kazuo Nakamura’s revolving door of personnel.
Swanston has played in Spain for two of the past three seasons. The James Madison University product averaged 6.9 points and 2.2 rebounds in 14 games for Palencia Baloncesto in Spain. In 2009-10, he scored 21.3 ppg for Lapuan Korikobrat, a Finnish League club.
“The (NBA) lockout really hurt overseas players this year, as when I got over there I encountered a lot of NBA basketball players and some higher level veterans that were shifted down in the lockout,” Swanston said in an interview with Hernando Today, a local edition of the Tampa (Florida) Tribune.
Swanston has lofty ambitions as his career takes him to the other side of the world.
“At this point in my career, I am still trying to get to the highest possible level I can get,” Swanston told Hernando Today. “I would love to make an NBA roster and continue to prove myself over in the United States, but other than that I would also like to prove myself in the Euroleague against the best in the world.”
On the move: Forward Haakim Johnson has left the Toyama Grouses citing family reasons for his decision to return to the United States. The Grouses have quickly found a replacement, bringing in veteran guard Brock Gillespie, a Rice University product who has played in the NBA Development League and participated in NBA summer and minicamps. His career has also included stops in New Zealand, Spain, Slovakia, Switzerland, Germany, Romania and Poland. …
The B-Corsairs have added guard Draelon Burns, a DePaul product, and dropped swingman Giyoh Shey.
Shey averaged 2.4 points in 25 games. He had a season-high 10 points on Dec. 10.
The 194-cm Burns has played pro ball in Israel, Iceland, Germany’s ProA League and in the NBA Development League.
More changes: The Jets, meanwhile, signed veteran center Antoine Broxsie this week. A former Saitama and Takamatsu player, Broxsie was the league’s third-leading shot-blocker in 2008-09 while playing for the Broncos. The next season, he was the league’s No.1 in that category (2.87) while suiting up for the Five Arrows.
To make room for Broxsie, who was playing in Taiwan recently, on the roster, Chiba released center Jamal Holden, who averaged 5.0 points in 14 games. During his time on the squad, Holden had lost about 20 pounds and was less of a physical presence than the team had expected, Chiba coach Eric Gardow said.
“It was his first time in Japan, and I think that hurts when you’ve got big shoes to fill like George Leach’s,” Gardow said.
The Jets are hoping Leach, undergoing rehab after an Achilles injury, is able to return to the team before the end of the season.
After Leach went down with the injury in November, “we had no inside presence,” Gardow said.
Broxsie is expected to be a solution for that problem, providing the team with needed help in the low post, as well as rebounding and a shot-blocking presence.
“Hopefully he can make us a lot better and then get us to the playoffs,” Gardow said.
In a wide-ranging interview, Gardow also spoke about the improved performance of guard Takaki Ishida in recent weeks, including back-to-back 13-point efforts last weekend in Sendai.
“He’s gotten better every week,” Gardow said of Ishida. “I’m real comfortable with him in the lineup.”
Ishida suffered a knee injury while playing for the JBL’s Toyota Motors and had been away from competitive basketball for two years before joining the expansion Jets. His return to playing on a regular basis has been a work in progress, but as Gardow stated, “I’m excited about his progress.”
Gardow also pointed out that point guard Kensuke Tanaka, named the league’s Most Improved Player in 2010-11, is facing a number of adjustments as well.
For the former Tokyo Apache, Gardow is his third coach in as many seasons. He played under ex-NBA coach Bob Hill last season and for then-Tokyo mentor Motofumi Aoki in 2009-10.
All three coaches have different philosophies and systems, said Gardow, citing the fact that players need time to grow comfortable under a new leader.
“The point guard is really an extension of the head coach,” Gardow added, “and it’s been a struggle for him to change again. I totally understand that he’s sometimes up and sometimes down. But he’s working hard and doing well. We are definitely a better team when he’s on the floor.”
But Tanaka’s shooting problems (22-for-63, 34.9 3-point shooting percentage) have been a concern the entire season. Gardow observed that Tanaka’s long-range shots are often way off target, bouncing off the right or left sides of the rim.
Tanaka’s shooting mechanics need fine-tuning, the coach added, pointing to “a funky release” and elbow positioning that’s not ideal.
During Thursday’s telephone interview, when he took a break from preparing for the series against the Broncos, Gardow admitted there’ll be a lot of late night film sessions in the weeks to come, noting Chiba still hasn’t faced nine bj-league foes.
Leadership shuffle: Chiba has appointed Shinji Shimada as the team’s new president. He replaces Takeshi Kajihara. The move was officially announced on Wednesday.
Kajihara will remain in the company but have a smaller role in the team’s day-to-day operations.
Shimada, 40, has been involved in a variety of leadership positions in international business over the years. He had served on the Jets’ board of directors before being named the team’s head honcho.
It’s a good time for a shakeup in the front office, according to one well-connected source.
“Kajihara was not getting the job done,” the source pointed out. “He made really poor decisions from the beginning.”
Case in point: Gardow handed Kajihara a list of five or six key Japanese players with bj-league experience before the team assembled its roster for the season. None of those players were signed by the Jets.
Kajihara is “young and never run a basketball team before,” the source stated. Shimada-san is older and has been successful running other businesses before. … He doesn’t know anything about basketball but he understands some businesses.”
The source said player’s contractual issues and business priorities took too long to get done while Kajihara was in charge.
“Now the turnaround time is a lot faster. Responses are much quicker with Shimada-san in charge,” the source added.
In the organization, “lots of good things are happening, but it was time for a change and I think good leadership is involved. I’m excited for the future.”
Due to Shimada’s appointment, the Jets’ basketball operations staff “has been able to get a lot more done recently,” the hoop insider said.
Time to move on?: After winning a JBL championship with the Link Tochigi Brex in 2009-10, scoring ace and Japan national team forward Takuya Kawamura is ready for a new challenge, eager to leave the league and join a bj-league team, according to recent speculation circulating on the Internet.
“It would be a great move for the league,” a longtime bj-league insider said.
“Maybe he was watching the All-Star Game,” the source added, speaking of the Jan. 22 game at Saitama Super Arena that attracted 14,011 spectators.
“I just don’t want players using the league to get something they want personally. Those guys should stay for more than one season.”
Highly touted guard Takumi Ishizaki, a Japan national team member, made the jump from the JBL to the bj-league’s Shimane Susanoo Magic before the 2010-11 season. He’s now playing for BV Chemitz 99 in Germany’s ProA League. Through 18 games, he’s averaging 13.9 ppg and is the second-leading scorer on the team, according to Asia-basket.com
If Kawamura decides to test his skills in the Japan’s junior hoop circuit, it would be easier to do so, said Shimane coach Zeljko Pavlicevic, noting that the precedent has already been set by Ishizaki.
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