Yu Okada has spent nearly a decade now knocking down jump shots for a paycheck.
He was an integral part of the Takamatsu Five Arrows’ remarkable run to a championship runnerup finish as a first-year franchise in the 2006-07 season, a recognizable fixture in the team’s lineup for years before joining his hometown Shiga Lakestars in 2010. Two years later, he joined the Kyoto Hannaryz and helped the Kansai franchise earn back-to-back bj-league Final Four appearances.
Above all, Okada has been a vital component of three franchises’ offense, but has always been an opportunistic defender whose speed and persistence have paid off — namely steals, lots of them. (He was No. 2 in the bj-league in steals at 2.3 per game during the 2009-10 season while playing in John Neumann’s intense pressure-defense system.)
Now 31, the 184-cm shooting guard is back with the Shiga Lakestars for a second stint. The Lakestars have recorded victories in each of their first four regular-season games under new bench boss Koto Toyama.
Okada has had a sensational start. He’s averaging 22.0 points per game. He’s shooting 40 percent from 3-point range (10-for-25), 69 percent on 2-pointers (20-for-29) and 90 percent (18-for-20) at the free-throw line. He’s dished out 18 assists and made 10 steals, with three apiece in both games in Shiga’s opening series against the Shimane Susanoo Magic, followed by four last Saturday against the host Gunma Crane Thunders.
Shiga has assembled a roster built to make a deep playoff run. Among the team’s newcomers, forwards Ray Nixon and Jeff Parmer captured a championship while playing for the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix in the 2010-11 season, and new center Chris Holm, a gifted rebounder, has helped the Sendai 89ers, Niigata Albirex BB and Kyoto book playoff spots in past seasons.
In addition, veteran guard Masahiro Kano, another offseason acquisition, can draw on valuable experience gained as a part of the Rizing Fukuoka’s title runnerup club in the 2012-13 campaign, and scoring ace Terrance Woodbury brings a gifted scorer’s bag of tricks to the court every game (he’s also averaging 22.0 per game).
The Lakestars have plenty of scoring options. There’s no shortage of players with the ability to reach double figures in points.
In other words, the Lakestars are telling their foes this: Pick your poison.
After all, keeping all of their players in check is easier said than done.
Which is one benefit of having Okada roaming the court, waiting for the next opportunity to put the ball through the hoop.
There’s work to do: The Saitama Broncos, who went 5-47 in 2013-14, have dropped their first four games and were held to 44 points in a loss to Niigata on Sunday.
Broncos forward Gary Johnson said his team is a work in progress, admitting patience is necessary for the team during the arduous 52-game season.
“We are a young team getting better every day,” Johnson, a Saitama newcomer, told The Japan Times on Wednesday. “We have a whole new (team) and a new system. We understand that this is a rebuilding year.
“We competed in all four games, and put ourselves in winning situations. But when it comes down to crucial plays in the fourth quarter, our youth comes out and we make the wrong decisions,” added the University of Albany (New York) alum. “In all four games we played well enough to win.”
League accolades: Nara guard Tatsuya Suzuki, who had 18- and 19-point efforts against visiting Osaka last weekend to help his club earn a series sweep, is the Lawson Ponta Weekly MVP. Suzuki drained 6 of 12 3s in the two games, handed out 11 assists and made five steals.
Pleased with the results: With three wins in their first four games, the Albirex have made solid strides under second-year head coach Fujitaka Hiraoka.
New Niigata forward Adrian Moss, who played for the Aomori Wat’s last season and earned an NCAA Division I title at the University of Florida in 2006, is comfortable in his new environment.
“Niigata is a great company,” Moss told The Japan Times. “I am lucky to be here. I think we will have a very strong team this season. We have great Japanese and American players with very high basketball IQs. The coach is a great coach who always has us prepared for each opponent.”
Upcoming schedule: Two series tip off on Friday: Fukushima vs. Akita and Kyoto vs. Nara. On Saturday, nine two-game showdowns are set to begin: Aomori vs. Yokohama, Sendai vs. Niigata, Shinshu vs. Tokyo, Gunma vs. Iwate, Saitama vs. Toyama, Hamamatsu vs. Takamatsu, Shiga vs. Osaka, Fukuoka vs. Oita and Ryukyu vs. Shimane.
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