Basketball / BJ-League

Sendai's Johnson named MVP; Kyoto's Hamaguchi nabs coaching award

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Since he made his debut in the fall, star guard Kejuan Johnson has excelled for the Sendai 89ers, leading the team to its best-ever regular season (37-15).

Kyoto Hannaryz head coach Honoo Hamaguchi, meanwhile, guided the Kansai club to a bj-league record 44-8 regular-season mark.

The men were honored for their sensational seasons on Thursday in voting done by players, coaches and league officials. Johnson was selected as the 2014-15 regular-season MVP, and Hamaguchi received the Coach of the Year honors.

Johnson, a Long Beach State product, was the league’s leading scorer (23.8 points per game). He rang up 30 or more points in 10 games, including a 52-point outburst on March 27.

He finished No. 3 in the 22-team circuit in assists (4.9 per game) and first in steals (2.8). He shot 54.1 percent from 2-point range and knocked down 125 3-pointers, including 5-for-10 in the season opener against the Iwate Big Bulls.

“It is an honor to be recognized as suitable for such a prize,” Johnson said in a statement issued by the 89ers.
He added that he’s grateful for the “day-to-day support” of the coaching staff and teammates.

Sendai coach Shuto Kawachi praised Johnson’s impact on and off the court.

“He leads the team as a scoring leader and an assist leader and also shows great play to our Japanese players,” Kawachi told Gazette Newspapers, a Long Beach, California-based publication, earlier this season. “Those plays help Japanese players to learn another level of basketball and inspire them a lot. Even off the court, his personality is also great, understanding other cultures outside his country.

“He is essential for us to win the championship this year.”

In an interview with Gazette Newspapers, the 29-year-old Johnson talked about his approach to the game.

“There will be people who doubt you and might overlook you, but that shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your dream,” Johnson was quoted as saying. “It’s your responsibility to prove them wrong. You will have to work hard and put in long hours in the gym to be a better player. It’s not easy being a professional basketball player.

“There will be a lot of obstacles to overcome along the way such as frustration while waiting for contract offers, being away from your family for months at a time, language barriers, not eating the foods you are used to, and there is always the possibility of getting injured. Most of all, always stay humble, grateful and give all the glory to God.”

Johnson headlines this year’s Best Five Team. He is joined by four other stars on the all-league team:

*Akita Northern Happinets guard Shigehiro Taguchi, who averaged 16.3 ppg for the 41-11 squad.

*Akita forward Richard Roby, a Colorado University product who placed in the top 10 in four key categories (points, 20.0, third; assists, 4.3, sixth; steals, 2.3, third; and blocks, 1.1, 10th).

*Iwate forward Scootie Randall, a Temple University alum who was fourth-best in scoring (19.7 ppg) and helped the Tohoku franchise match Akita’s Eastern Conference-best record.

*Kyoto Hannaryz power forward Reggie Warren, a University of West Florida alum whose fiery attitude and rock-solid leadership sparked the Western Conference’s first-place squad. He averaged 13.4 points and 8.4 assists, thriving in Hamaguchi’s disciplined system.

Warren is the first player in league history to be named to the Best Five Team with three different franchises. He first earned the honor with the Takamatsu Five Arrows (2007-08) and then was recognized again in 2013-14 while with the Rizing Fukuoka.

Also Thursday, Fukushima Firebonds guard Masaya Karimata was named the league’s Most Improved Player award recipient.

The Okinawa native, who played 597 minutes last season for the Ryukyu Golden Kings, was an omnipresent force for the expansion Firebonds. The 27-year-old sparkplug logged a league-high 1,977 minutes and contributed 15.1 points, 4.4 assists (fourth-best average) and 1.8 steals (tied for sixth most).

Ryukyu’s Draelon Burns came off the bench in 47 of his 48 games. The veteran wing’s penchant for clutch shots and steady scoring (15.1 ppg) were vital for the defending champions. He is the Sixth Man Award winner. The DePaul University alum is one of the few players in league history to win a title with two franchises. He was a go-to player for the Yokohama B-Corsairs before moving on to the Kings in 2013.

Osaka swingman Takuya Soma received the Rookie of the Year accolade. He contributed 10.0 ppg in 40 games. (He made his Evessa debut in the 2013-14 campaign.)

Coaching departure: The Bambitious Nara announced on Thursday that bench boss Ryutaro Onodera will not return for a second season at the helm. He is the first coaching casualty since the regular season ended on Sunday.

Under Onodera, Nara went 12-40, the worst record in the 10-team Western Conference.

Onodera served as a Saitama Broncos assistant coach for one season before joining the Bambitious.

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