Four teams have opened the season with 7-1 records: Iwate and Toyama in the East and Hamamatsu and Kyoto from the West. Shiga, meanwhile, coming off a bye week, is 5-1.
The Phoenix’s super start under veteran coach Tomoya Higashino is the result of new players coming together quickly and giving the veteran mainstays a boost. They’ve meshed well together, and now they have a bye week before facing the Grouses Nov. 8-9 in Toyama Prefecture.
Since a season-opening 77-67 defeat to defending champion Ryukyu, Hamamatsu has strung together seven straight wins, holding foes to 76 or fewer points in all of those games, including a 70-49 dismantling of Shimane on Oct. 11.
Standout guard Nile Murry (12.8 points per game) has made a smooth transition to his new team after three seasons with Niigata. He’s one of the league’s true glue guys, enhancing the chemistry of the starting and backup units. He’s also one of the best free-throw shooters in the league, as evidenced by his 23-for-26 shooting (88.5 percent) to date.
Murry’s tenacious defense and leadership were vital to playoff campaigns for Niigata, Fukuoka and Osaka, and he’s continued that role with Hamamatsu. The Texas Christian University alum, whose younger brother Toure plays for the Utah Jazz, has quietly excelled since entering the league in 2006.
Fellow Phoenix newcomers Mo Charlo, who attended the University of Nevada, and power forward Olu Ashaolu, who played ball at the University of Oregon, are joined by frontcourt veteran Jermaine Green, a North Texas alum, who’s in his second stint with Hamamatsu.
Ashaolu is one of the top all-around players making their bj-league debuts this fall. Take Sunday’s win against Fukuoka, for example, when he had 11 points, 10 rebounds, five steals and four assists.
Charlo leads the team in scoring (16.5 ppg), rebounding (8.6), assists (2.75), steals (1.5) and blocks (0.8) through Sunday.
In an interview with The Japan Times on Thursday, Green reflected on the team’s keys to success.
He said teamwork is the biggest key.
“We play together and work hard for each other,” Green told The Japan Times. “We haven’t played too many good games by our standards and expectations yet, so it’s a lot of improving to go. But our teamwork has allowed us to still be successful.
“So we’re still learning and working to be better. Long season ahead. . . . We all just get along and want to win, no big egos. It’s pretty easy for a group of good-character guys to click. Very similar to the championship team I played on here in ’09-10 from that aspect.”
The team’s top four Japanese scorers are 22-year-old guard Hiroki Furuhashi (7.0 ppg), Shinnosuke Oishi (6.1), fan favorite Masahiro Oguchi (5.4), who at 38 remains one of the league’s scrappiest players, and Tasuku Namizato (5.3).
Historical numbers: Entering this season, 13 Japanese players competed in 350 or more regular-season games since the league’s inception in 2005, according to the league’s 2014-15 official guidebook.
Who’s No. 1 on that list?
Oita guard Taishiro Shimizu with 427 appearances before the 10th season tipped off. He’s also played for Saitama and now-defunct Miyazaki, with 10.3 ppg, 1,514 assists and 675 turnovers.
Ryukyu guard Naoto Kosuge is second with 425 games in the books and 7.4 ppg, and Kyoto guard Hikaru Kusaka is third with 418 games, plus 966 assists against 342 turnovers.
The rest of the top 13: Toyama’s Masashi Joho (413 games, 12.3 ppg), Niigata’s Kimitake Sato (411 games, 8.2), Niigata’s Takamichi Fujiwara (408 games, 6.6), Fukuoka’s eight-time All-Star Cohey Aoki (403 games, 12.5 ppg, the highest average among Japanese who’ve played in the league since Day One), Shiga’s Yu Okada (386 games, 12.3), Iwate’s Tsubasa Yonamine (379 games, 5.4 ppg, 1,420 assists, 470 turnovers), Iwate’s Jun Nakanishi (377 games, 6.6), Oita’s Kazuya “J.” Hatano (374 games, 6.0), Niigata’s Yuichi Ikeda (363 games, 9,9) and Aomori’s Kenichi Takahashi (358 games, 8.4).
Who’s hot?: Akita starting guards Akitomo Takeno and Shigehiro Taguchi have combined to make 35 of 66 3-pointers this season. Taguchi is 23-for-46; Takeno 12-for-20. . . . Yonamine has 30 assists against four turnovers. . . .
Tokyo big man Will Foster, a Gonzaga University alum, has 17 blocks in the past four games; he also hauled in 28 rebounds in a Sunday loss to Aomori. . . .
Aomori forward Damian Saunders, a Duquesne University product, has two or more steals in seven straight contests and leads the league in that department (2.8 per game). . .
Tokyo swingman Jemal Farmer, who’s averaging 22.9 ppg (second only to Iwate forward Scootie Randall’s 23.0) has scored 30 or more three times in eight contests.
Who’s not?: Saitama (0-8) lost 103-50 to Sendai on Sunday.
League accolades: Joho and Okada earned the league’s weekly and monthly MVP accolades, respectively, it was announced Wednesday.
Joho had 18- and 33-point games against Shinshu in a weekend sweep. He dished out four assists in the opener and five a day later.
Okada averaged 20.7 points per game (currently No. 4 in the 22-team circuit) for the Lakestars (5-1) in October, including a pair of 27-point outings. He shot 65.1 percent (28-for-43) on 2-pointers in the season-opening month and knocked down 16 of 42 3s. He’s No. 2 in steals (2.5 per game).
Upcoming games: This weekend’s docket is as follows: Aomori vs. Toyama, Iwate vs. Tokyo, Fukushima vs. Sendai, Shinshu vs. Saitama, Gunma vs. Niigata, Yokohama vs. Akita, Shiga vs. Oita, Shimane vs. Kyoto, Takamatsu vs. Osaka and Ryukyu vs. Fukuoka.
Scheduling quirk: After its upcoming weekend series, the Broncos are idle until Nov. 22.
Roster move: Saitama is poised to add former University of Southern California forward Ari Stewart to its roster, according to online reports.
Court-side.com announced that the 201-cm Stewart will begin his pro career with the Broncos.
He started his college career at Wake Forest, then transferred to USC in 2011.
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