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89ers’ Fitzgerald, Shimura share monthly honor for brilliance on offense


Staff Writer

Success on offense begins with good shooting, good passing and good teamwork.

The Sendai 89ers demonstrated all of the above in February and moved into fourth place by month’s end before this weekend’s series against the host Oita HeatDevils.

Leading the 89ers attack are forward Dan Fitzgerald and point guard Takehiko Shimura, who are The Japan Times’ Offensive Players of the Month for February.

Fitzgerald is playing his best basketball on offense in recent weeks. He averaged 23.8 points in six February games, leading the Tohoku club to a 5-1 mark in the month and an 18-16 record entering March.

The Marquette University product had a pair of 31-point games, both Sendai triumphs. Fitzgerald canned 4 of 6 3s on Feb. 4 against the Niigata Albirex BB and was 6-for-13 from long range against the Akita Northern Happinets on Feb. 11

Shimura, meanwhile, continues to play inspired, high-level ball as Sendai’s floor leader. His 39 assists in February may seem like a rather ordinary number, but when stacked up against his turnovers (six), it goes a long way into showing how key important he is for the team. On the season, he has 193 assists against 50 turnovers. Just a reminder that taking shots isn’t the only way to help a team achieve success on offense.

Not to be overlooked:

*Toyama Grouses guard Masashi Joho, who guided his club to third place in the East entering March and a 6-2 record during the past month. The four-time All-Star averaged 18.4 ppg in February. Joho had 14 or more points in every February game, including a 22-point effort and 5-for-9 on 3s on Feb. 15 and a 26-point performance on Feb. 26.

*Oita HeatDevils forward T.J. Cummings averaged 24.8 points in eight February contests, including a pair of 31-point efforts. He also had six double-doubles to provide a big lift for the HeatDevils, who were 4-4 in the month.

*Shinshu Brave Warriors guard Derek Raivio was 41-for-46 (89.1 percent) at the charity stripe last month. He averaged 21.2 points and 3.6 assists in eight games.

*Ryukyu Golden Kings guard Naoto Kosuge buried 20 of 48 3s in the month, filling a specific role for the league’s most well-balanced team, which went 7-1 in February.

*Osaka Evessa guard Masashi Obuchi, who has returned to form after a major knee injury last season, rattled off six straight double-digit scoring games (13.8 points and 4.3 assists) to begin the month, when the Evessa won six straight before stumbling to a pair of losses last weekend against the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix.

Defensive accolade: By all accounts, Golden Kings forward Anthony McHenry is one of the best defenders in league history. There aren’t always gaudy statistics to provide evidence of that, but what shows up on game film clearly shows how much effort and effort McHenry gives his team each game.

McHenry is The Japan Times’ Defensive Player of the Month for February.

A pair of stats — 10 steals and seven blocked shots — may be simple reminders of what McHenry did in February. Bu t the team’s league-best 29-7 record is a more powerful statement, and wouldn’t be possible without McHenry’s stellar contributions.

Also noteworthy:

*Rizing Fukuoka swingman Kevin Palmer, the league’s coleader in steals (2.9 per game, tied with Chiba Jets standout Jamel Staten), provided relentless defensive coverage for his club in a month when Tadaharu Ogawa was fired and replaced by new bench boss Atsushi Kanazawa. The Rizing went 4-2 in February, Palmer had 12 steals, but the number only provides a glimpse into his impact on defense. The Rizing, meanwhile, are 3-1 since a coaching change was made.

*Phoenix forward Lawrence Blackledge swatted 15 shots in February as his team won six of eight games.