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Lockdown defense fuels championship teams.

Defense was a key component of the Ryukyu Golden Kings’ three championship teams, first in the 2008-09 season, then again in the 2011-12 campaign and repeated last season.

The league’s rapid growth — nonstop expansion for a decade has made statistical analysis a bit tricky, what with watered-down rosters for many clubs — but there’s no denying the longtime consistency of Ryukyu’s pursuit of defensive domination.

Exhibit A: The defending champion have yielded fewer points per game (opponent’s scoring average) in each of the previous four seasons, and if the current numbers hold up, they’ll stretch that streak to a remarkable five straight seasons.

Currently, Western Conference-leading Ryukyu (26-4) is allowing 66.9 points per game.

Last season, the Kings allowed 68.5 over 52 regular-season games. In 2012-13, they yielded 69.4, while in 2011-12 foes averaged 73.8. In 2010-11, they gave up 79.0.

In-game statistics, of course, aren’t the most significant statistic.

It’s the wins during floor leader Anthony McHenry’s tenure with the team that resonates with basketball observers from Okinawa to Hokkaido and overseas.

The Kings are on pace to increase their victory total for a sixth straight season — and they won a league-record 43 games last season.

What makes this possible?

The roster that team president Tatsuro Kimura has assembled is built for the present, while also putting pieces in place to be better in the future — short-term and long-term planning, in fact. (It helps, too, that the team has a well-documented virtual monopoly on signing top Okinawan players, what with the league’s draft an option instead of a requirement for teams.)

Since the start of the 2008-09 campaign, when McHenry, a Georgia Tech product, joined Ryukyu, the team has won 258 regular-season games and lost 82 of ’em. Of those 340 games, the Kings have a 75.8 winning percentage, and McHenry has appeared in 328 of those games.

In other words, his health has been a key part of the team’s high-powered offensive attack and tenacious defense under former bench bosses Dai Oketani and Koto Toyama and current head coach Tsutomu Isa.

McHenry entered this season with a 13.4 scoring average over the previous six bj-league campaigns. He’s averaging 13.6 in 30 games through Sunday.

Pick a month — any month, really — and McHenry’s name ought to be a finalist for the league’s monthly MVP award.

His consistency as a playmaker, scorer, rebounder and overall defender is impressive.

In January, Ryukyu triumphed in all six of its games and takes an eight-game win streak into the All-Star break.

This week, McHenry was named the league’s January MVP. He averaged 14 ppg, shot 64.6 percent from 2-point range and sank 90.9 percent of his free-throw attempts in that span.

Call it more of the same for the league legend.

In May 2012 after helping the Kings capture their second title by beating the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix, McHenry explained how he approaches the game.

“I’ve never considered myself to be a go-to player,” McHenry told reporters after a 25-point, four-rebound, three-assist, three-block effort at Ariake Colosseum. “I think it shows in the way that I play. On any given night I can score points, get rebounds, assists, steals or blocks. It doesn’t really matter.

“I’m more of a player that just wants to go out and do what it takes to win. So tonight it was points, but it could’ve been any of those other categories, and I think a lot of the players on this team are the same way.”

Then-Phoenix star Wayne Arnold, who now suits up for the Iwate Big Bulls, offered his perspective about what makes McHenry such a special player.

“We play a lot of games (in Atlanta) and a lot of the time he’s the best player on the court,” said Arnold, referring to the offseason. He stated that McHenry has the skills to defend players at all positions.

Weekly accolade: Takamatsu Five Arrows swingman Dexter Lyons earned the Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP accolade for games last weekend.

More importantly, Lyons helped the Five Arrows snap a 14-game losing streak.

The University of Central Florida alum scored 19 points in the series opener against the Rizing Fukuoka and added 26 on Sunday, when Takamatsu completed a weekend sweep.

Catching up with … Ryan Blackwell: The former Osaka and Gunma head coach recently started working as a pregame analyst for Syracuse University games on the Time Warner Cable sports channel.

Blackwell, who played at Syracuse from 1997 to 2000, suited up for Sendai and Osaka before beginning his pro coaching career in 2010.

***

All-Star Game info: Sunday’s ninth annual All-Star Game will be held in Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture, and commence at 1 p.m.

East starters: Guards Masashi Joho (Toyama) and Shigehiro Taguchi (Akita) and forwards Richard Roby (Akita), Scootie Randall (Iwate) and Yuichi Ikeda (Niigata).

East reserves: Guards Kenya Tomori (Gunma), Masaya Karimata (Fukushima), Takato Saito (Shinshu) and Koji Nagata (Saitama) and forwards Kejuan Johnson (Sendai), Gyno Pomare (Aomori) and Will Foster (Tokyo).

West starters: Guards Cohey Aoki (Fukuoka) and Ryuichi Kishimoto (Ryukyu) and forwards Atsuya Ota (Hamamatsu), Reggie Warren (Kyoto) and Draelon Burns (Ryukyu).

West reserves: Guards Shunki Hatakeyama (Osaka), Tatsuya Suzuki (Nara), Edward Yamamoto (Shimane), Taishiro Shimizu (Oita) and Justin Watts (Takamatsu) and in the frontcourt Terrance Woodbury (Shiga) and Olu Ashaolu (Hamamatsu).

East coach: Gunma’s Charlie Parker.

West coach: Hamamatsu’s Tomoya Higashino.

The Slam Dunk Contest and 3-Point Shootout will be held before the game.

Feedback: Got a story idea about the bj-league? Send an email to: edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp

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