'Unfinished business' fires up MVP Fazekas, Toshiba

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Having wrapped up team practice, center Nick Fazekas took off his 38-cm (15-inch) shoes and sat on the bench in a relaxed manner.

This laid-back American is the undisputed king of the Toshiba Brave Thunders, who seek to capture the league championship in the NBL Finals against the Wakayama Trians.

The best-of-five series begins on Wednesday, a 7 p.m. tipoff, at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2. Game 2 is scheduled for Thursday, also at 7 p.m., followed by Game 3 on Saturday at 3 at the same venue. If necessary, Games 4 and 5 will be held on Sunday at 3 and Monday at 7.

Fazekas, who’s playing his second year in Japan, led the league with 26.4 points and 13.5 rebounds per game. And the Brave Thunders would not have posted a league best 46-8 regular-season record without the 210-cm big center.

So perhaps for many of the media members who cast their MVP votes, it was probably a no-brainer to put Fazekas’ name on the ballot (voting results weren’t revealed to the public, but a league official said that Fazekas collected by far the most votes).

Some people insisted that Fazekas should have earned the best player accolade last year, when the league was still called the JBL. He dominated in the paint and earned the scoring title (21.6) in the 2012-13 campaign as well.

The thing was, Toshiba didn’t notch the best record in the eight-team JBL. It had the third-best win-loss figure in the league. The MVP honor was awarded to J.R. Sakuragi of the Aisin SeaHorses, who had the highest winning percentage.

Fazekas didn’t mean to take anything away from Sakuragi, saying the Aisin player “was very deserving of it.” But at the same time, an MVP doesn’t necessarily have to be someone from the best team all the time.

“When you look at the NBA, NFL and MLB, look at all those, it’s not always the best team with the MVPs,” said Fazekas, who had previously played for the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks, followed by stints in European and Asian leagues.

He added that the media persisted that they had to choose MVPs from the best teams.

“I don’t think that the best player can’t come from the worst team or anything like that,” he said. “But usually the best team with the MVP is a strong team, but not necessarily always the best record.”

But the fact that Fazekas didn’t win the MVP last season and his team missed out on the JBL championship by losing to Aisin in the decisive fifth game in the Finals only made Fazekas come back for the 2013-14 season stronger and more determined.

“We all kind of felt we had some unfinished business,” Fazekas said. “It’s nice finally to be back here, and it’s been a long year.”

In this year’s Finals, Fazekas and the Brave Thunders will vie for a championship trophy. Fazekas is clearly the main catalyst for the Kawasaki-based club, which is aiming for its first league title in nine seasons.

“Everybody on our team thinks that way,” Toshiba head coach Takuya Kita said, when asked if Fazekas is the team’s lethal weapon and someone he depends on in crunch time. “Nick understands that, too. He’s got high basketball IQ. He’s so smart so he can adjust to things so quickly.”

Toshiba advanced to the NBL Finals by sweeping the Toyota Alvark in the Eastern Conference finals. Fazekas appears confident that his team’s series triumph over the Alvark, who posted a 28-game winning streak toward the end of the regular season, would give it an even greater boost.

“We feel like we are playing good basketball right now,” Fazekas said. “And we proved that last week.”