/ |

Veteran leadership powers Fukuoka’s run to relevance


Staff Writer

The Rizing Fukuoka have been on a roll over the past few weeks, winning five straight games and bouncing back from a three-game slide to start the season.

Coach Atsushi Kanazawa’s club triumphed twice last weekend against the Takamatsu Five Arrows to jump into fifth place in the 10-team Western Conference.

The Rizing are relying on mainstays Jun Nakanishi and Akitomo Takeno in the backcourt along with newcomers Josh Peppers, Julius Ashby and Reggie Warren for the majority of the team’s production.

Also in the mix are rookie sharpshooter Zane Johnson, a University of Hawaii product, veterans Satoshi Ishitani and Masahiro Kano, along with relatively unknown Rintaro Tokunaga, Keisuke Takabatake and Junya Masumoto.

Warren was an integral part of Takamatsu and Kyoto Hannaryz playoff teams in years past, and Ashby has been to the Final Four as a member of the Five Arrows, Tokyo Apache and Niigata Albirex BB.

Peppers has made major contributions for the Sendai 89ers and Shiga Lakestars in the postseason, while Takeno and Nakanishi have also been tested in the playoffs while competing for

Niigata and Fukuoka for the former and Tokyo, Osaka Evessa and Fukuoka for the latter.

That veteran leadership has given the Rizing an edge in preparation compared with some teams without that collective experience of years spent in the bj-league.

“I think the key to our chemistry is getting a lot better each and every game,” Warren told The Japan Times on Tuesday. “With me and Peppers joining the team late, I think that played a part in the slow start.

“We are all communicating to suggest different things to the coach, especially the leaders of the team with me and Jun being more of the vocal players adding a lot of input on what’s going on, and coach actually listening and respecting our voice is key,” added Warren, a power forward who’s averaging 15.9 points and 12.5 rebounds with six double-doubles in eight games.

Peppers, averaging 18.6 ppg, is the team’s top option on offense. Ashby, an athletic, forceful presence in the middle, is scoring at an 11.5 ppg clip. Takeno, one of the best pure shooters in league history, and Nakanishi, who has played in the fledgling circuit since 2005, are both contributing 9.6 ppg.

The players have not been shy about speaking out and saying what they think are keys for the team’s success, Warren said.

“Everyone has respect for each other and we all have played many games in this league and understand how it works,” he added, referring to the team’s veteran corps. “I think we know and understand our roles and the younger guys are following our lead.

Johnson is currently nursing a sprained ankle, but has already made a strong impression during the young season’s first month.

“The guy can flat-out shoot,” Warren said, “and he’s going to help us so much. If teams continue to try and double team me and Ashby, Zane will make them pay.”

None of the current Rizing players have been on a bj-league championship team, and that motivates them to aim to be the best this season.

“We all talk about the same thing,” Warren said. “All of us have the same goals: to reach the finals. I think this team has what it takes and is hungry for a title.”

Weekly accolade: Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix swingman Kevin Galloway registered back-to-back triple-doubles against the Miyazaki Shining Suns last weekend. He is the Lawson Ponta Weekly MVP, the league announced Tuesday.

Galloway had 13 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists with three steals and two blocks on Saturday in a 112-77 Phoenix triumph. A day later, he had 19 points, 15 rebounds and 16 assists in a 139-83 victory.

Galloway has reached double digits in assists in each of the past five games. He had 63 assists in that span with 19 turnovers.

Record-breaking game: Hamamatsu Adrian Thomas, a sharpshooter who played in the NBA Summer League for the Miami Heat, sank a league-record 13 3-pointers and also attempted a record 25 shots from beyond the arc on Sunday. He finished with 41 points a day after draining 7 of 14 3s in a 25-point outing.

Free falling: The Shining Suns have dropped seven consecutive games since opening the season with an 87-85 home win over the Shiga Lakestars. Those defeats have been by a combined 165 points, including the aforementioned back-to-back wallopings against Hamamatsu.

Selecting the All-Stars: This season, fans can vote for All-Stars online or by using their cellphone.

Voting started on Nov. 3 and runs through Dec. 16.

For more information (in Japanese), visit

The 2012-13 All-Star Game will be held on Jan. 20 at Ariake Colosseum, visit http://www.bj-league.com/allstar/2013/vote.php

Upcoming games: There are 20 teams in action this weekend, starting with Friday’s Kyoto Hannaryz-Hamamatsu Higashimikawa series opener. The rest of the competition commences on Saturday: Iwate Big Bulls (9-1) vs. Akita Northern Happinets (6-0), a showdown of top Eastern Conference heavyweights; Niigata Albirex BB (5-3) vs. Saitama Broncos (1-5), the original JBL defectors, and for Saitama a pair of losses essentially slams the door on any realistic playoff aspirations barring a lengthy winning streak; Toyama Grouses (6-4) vs. Gunma Crane Thunders (0-10); Tokyo Cinq Reves (2-6) vs. Sendai 89ers (2-4); Yokohama B-Corsairs (4-2) vs. Shinsu Brave Warriors (5-3), Shiga Lakestars (3-5) vs. Rizing Fukuoka (5-3), a pair of teams headed in opposite directions, what with the Lakestars trying to snap a four-game slide; Takamatsu Five Arrows (2-4) vs. Shimane Susanoo Magic (6-2); Oita HeatDevils (7-1) vs. Osaka Evessa (0-4), with new coach Takao Furuya’s Evessa club playing its first game in three weeks; and Miyazaki Shining Suns (1-7) vs. Ryukyu Golden Kings (6-0).

Baby steps: The Crane Thunders had lost their four previous games by 142 points before Tadashi Hayashi was fired. Gunma competed at a higher level, but dropped two games — falling 76-67 and 76-63 at home to the Yokohama B-Corsairs. New coach Ryan Blackwell is leading the expansion team’s rebuilding project now.

D-League draft: Former Yokohama guard Marcus Simmons was selected No. 8 in the sixth round by the Texas Legends in last weekend’s NBA Development League draft. Ex-Takamatsu Five Arrows forward Michael Nunnally was chosen No. 2 in the seventh round by the Sioux Falls Skyforce.

Injury update: Tokyo guard Cohey Aoki has been nursing a sore ankle, a league source said Sunday. He has missed the past three games, all Cinq Reves losses.

Euro update: Former Shimane guard Takumi Ishizaki is the German ProA team BV Chemnitz 99’s leading scorer (14.4 ppg) through seven games. Justin Burrell, meanwhile, is averaging 10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds in seven games for France ProB squad Chalons-Reims. Burrell, a former St. John’s standout, was the 2011-12 bj-league MVP while playing for the B-Corsairs.

In the Greek A1 League, former Rizing Fukuoka star Kevin Palmer is the KAO Dramas’ second-leading scorer (11.3 ppg), with 9.3 rebounds and 2.5 steals after four contests. Forward Gordon Klaiber, who played for the Iwate Big Bulls last season after stints with the Saitama Broncos and Kyoto Hannaryz in the 2010-11 season, is averaging 12.3 ppg in three contests for AS Apollon Patras, another Greek top-division club.

Did you know?: The Hannaryz have lost all eight games by 10 or fewer points.

* * *

Do you have a story idea about the bj-league? Send an email to edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp