During the past four seasons of major personnel changes for the Sendai 89ers, veteran guard Takehiko Shimura has been the one constant on the club’s roster.
He’s the lone player still on the club who competed under original 89ers bench boss Honoo Hamaguchi in the 2010-11 campaign, which was cut short by the Great East Japan Earthquake. Sendai was 24-12 at the time, sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference behind the eventual champion Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix.
He suited up under then-coach Bob Pierce, when the new-look team resumed operations the next fall and reached the playoffs. He then made an impact under interim coach Takeo Mabashi, the general manager, who took over for Pierce in the second half of the 2012-13 season.
The 89ers have hit their stride in their second season under 29-year-old Shuto Kawachi, the team’s current head coach.
They have won eight of their past 12 games. They are 26-14, tied with Niigata for the fourth-best record in the 12-team East. They are 17-5 at home. Between Nov. 15 and Dec. 20, they triumphed in 10 of 11 games.
Through it all, the 160-cm Shimura, one of the league’s best decision makers, sets his teammates up for success.
Nothing unusual about Shimura’s jaw-dropping assist-to-turnover numbers this season (169 assists, 49 turnovers); he does it year after year — 1,272 assists against 293 turnovers from 2008-14.
Shimura is averaging 5.6 points and 4.2 assists (seventh-best average in the league) in 40 games. Teammate Kejuan Johnson, who starred at Long Beach State before turning pro, leads the team with 4.8 assists (No. 3 in the league) and is its premier scorer (22.6 points per game, No. 1 in the league), followed by Wendell White’s 19.0 ppg and 216-big man Jeral “Stretch” Davis’ 12.7. Ex-NCAA title-winning post player Adrian Moss (University of Florida) brings the essence of old-school work traits to the mix, too, his 12.0 ppg and strong rebounding skills a perfect complement to his aforementioned teammates.
But this much is clear: Shimura remains a vital 89ers contributor on and off the court, a team leader who sets the tone with his hard work, commitment to excellence and community involvement.
Shimura, a Miyagi Prefecture native, has endeared himself to many people around Japan, not just bj-league fans, in the aftermath of the March 11 disasters.
One longtime league observer illustrated this point in an email to The Japan Times just days after the earthquake: “Sendai’s Takehiko Shimura deserves the MVP this season for helping the victims and showing what the bj-league is all about. The bj-league has said and stressed that it is ‘community based.’
“I never saw any of the teams being ‘community based’ until I saw Shimura’s tweets. It would be a great story for the bj-league to send out to the world. I think he is taking a leadership role and doing a great job. In one of his tweets, he has a picture with (then) coach (Honoo) Hamaguchi and other members of the team. They were helping unloading the trucks with aid supplies.
“He was the one who contacted the bj-league to tell (officials) everyone was safe, he’s helping the victims by volunteering himself and he’s tweeting about his city asking for help.”
Weekly accolade: Kyoto power forward Reggie Warren earned the Lawson/Ponta MVP honor, it was announced on Wednesday.
Warren played a key role in the Hannaryz’s series sweep over Hamamatsu last weekend in Ise, Mie Prefecture. In the series opener, he had 21 points and 14 rebounds. On Sunday, Warren scored 11 points and grabbed five rebounds, with two assists, two steals and a block.
The 34-year-old University of West Florida product is averaging 12.9 points and 8.8 rebounds in 36 games for the West-leading Hannaryz (34-6).
Potent trio: Iwate featured three leading passers with nearly identical assist totals: Tsubasa Yonamine (117), Lawrence “Trend” Blackledge (116) and Scootie Randall (110).
Yonamine has the fewest turnovers among the veteran trio, with just 27 on the season.
What makes the Big Bulls offensive click is that all three players are equally important in setting up their teammates and getting them the ball.
It’s working. Iwate sits in first place in the 12-team East (33-7) through Sunday.
Tohoku rival Akita (32-8) has had success employing a similar approach, with Richard Roby (175 assists), Ruben Boykin (156) and now-injured Akitomo Takeno (151) delivering similar results.
Toyama is the league’s other winning team with three triple-digit assist men, with Tatsunori Fujie (152), Takeshi Mito (116) and Masashi Joho (110) sharing the primary playmaking duties.
Among the West teams, Oita (15-25) leads the league with four players passing the century mark in helpers. They are Demetri McCamey (126), Taishiro Shimizu (105), Naoto Takushi (104) and Hiroki Oshiro (103).
Takamatsu (11-29), meanwhile, is led by top passers Koki Yabuuchi (153), Dexter Lyons (132) and Justin Watts (104).
Injury report: Tokyo swingman Jemal Farmer, the team’s leading scorer, will be sidelined for three weeks due to lateral collateral ligament damage to his right knee, the team announced on Wednesday.
Farmer sustained the injury in Saturday’s home loss against Iwate.
The University of Arkansas alum is averaging 19.1 ppg, seventh-highest average in the league.
U.S. coaching update: Former Shiga bench boss Chris Boettcher, who led the Lakestars for the 2013-14 campaign, completed his first season as the head coach of Southern Utah women’s basketball team last Saturday.
The Thunderbirds (13-15 overall, 6-12 in Big Sky Conference play) didn’t qualify for the conference tournament.
Boettcher’s assistant is former Shiga big man Dionisio Gomez, who retired last spring.
Upcoming games: This weekend’s Saturday-Sunday docket features Aomori vs. Shinshu, Iwate vs. Toyama, Akita vs. Tokyo, Gunma vs. Sendai, Saitama vs. Fukushima, Yokohama vs. Niigata, Kyoto vs. Shiga, Osaka vs. Hamamatsu, Nara vs. Fukuoka, Shimane vs. Oita and Ryukyu vs. Takamatsu.
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