The expansion Yokohama B-Corsairs, one of the bj-league’s biggest surprises this season, are the hottest team entering the postseason. With nine straight wins, Yokohama has found its stride at the best time as the hunt for a title begins.
Power forward Justin Burrell, arguably the league’s most consistent player in 2011-12, is the seventh-year circuit’s regular-season MVP. He joins an elite fraternity that includes Osaka’s Lynn Washington (twice, 2005-06, 2007-08) and David Palmer (2006-07), Ryukyu’s Jeff Newton (2008-09) and Hamamatsu Higashimikawa’s Wendell White (2009-10) and Jeffrey Parmer (2010-11). But in the league’s first three seasons a separate playoff MVP award was not issued.
B-Corsairs coach Reggie Geary was selected Coach of the Year. He is the league’s second ex-NBA player to be picked for the award. Fellow American John Neumann, a high-scoring forward in his days at Ole Miss before turning pro, guided the Rizing Fukuoka to the Final Four in 2007-08 as an expansion team, and became the league’s first foreign coach to earn top honors.
Akita Northern Happinets sideline supervisor Kazuo Nakamura picked up the award in each of the past two seasons when he led the Phoenix to a pair of titles.
Burrell, affectionately called “JB” by his teammates, started all 52 games for the B-Corsairs (31-21, second-best record in the Eastern Conference) and scored in double figures 51 times. He averaged 18.7 points, ninth-best total in the 19-team circuit, and 9.8 rebounds.
The 208-cm rookie, who starred for St. John’s in New York City, has been a powerful inside presence for the B-Corsairs and the team’s primary option on offense (361-for-693 from 2-point range, only 15 3-point attempts).
“It is an honor to be named MVP of the bj-league,” Burrell said in a statement released by the team. “I am so happy to bring this award to a great up-and-coming franchise like the B-Corsairs.
“This award is attributed to the great teammates that I play with,” the 24-year-old added. “Last but not least, I would like to thank the owner and management and everyone that works our games.”
Burrell, also named the league’s April MVP, was selected to the Best Five team, which was announced on Wednesday. Also chosen were Hamamatsu center Atsuya Ota, a Japan national team center, Rizing Fukuoka swingman Kevin Palmer, Hamamatsu point guard Jermaine Dixon and Toyama Grouses shooting guard Masashi Joho.
By all accounts, Burrell, the Big East’s Sixth Man of the Year as a college senior, is a team-first, unselfish player whose nonstop hustling approach to the game earned his teammates’ respect from day one. A polished low-post player with an array of scoring moves, Burrell has raised his stocked and will likely play in a higher-level league in the future.
St. John’s coach Steve Lavin, who mentored Burrell for his last season in a Johnnies uniform, is also impressed with how he’s played in Japan.
On Twitter, Lavin dished out the following insight: “Justin putting up big numbers, providing leadership and deserving of the Japan bj-league MVP recognition. NBA next!”
Geary, 38, has talked about the impact longtime University of Arizona coach Lute Olson had on his career. Playing at Arizona from 1992-96, Geary was known first and foremost for his defense, an on-court stopper who played for the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs for one season apiece before plying his craft for teams in the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association, Israel, Portugal, France and Ukraine.
Since retiring as a player, Geary has served two stints on the Arizona men’s basketball staff and been a head coach for the NBA Development League’s Anaheim Arsenal. This season, the B-Corsairs had the league’s stingiest defense, holding foes to 72.8 points per game.
“I would like to thank commissioner (Toshimitsu) Kawachi and the bj-league for this honor and recognition in being named the 2011-12 Coach of the Year,” Geary said. “The support I have received from our president, (Kazuo) Hirota, our GM (Naoki) Ogawa, the city of Yokohama and the proud boosters of the B-Corsairs organization has been tremendous.
“Their support all year has pushed the team and me to do our very best and keep fighting all season.”
He added: “I want to thank all the B-Corsairs players, my staff and my family for their hard work and trust in what we’re trying to accomplish here collectively, none of this would’ve been possible (without them).”
Before shifting his focus to the playoffs, Geary summed up what Wednesday’s league honors mean to the upstart franchise, calling it “a great day for the B-Corsairs organization.”