After a dreadful start, the Shimane Susanoo Magic became one of the league’s most improved teams as the 2014-15 season marched on.
Now, as the new season enters its third week, they are looking to maintain their hot start: four wins in as many games.
Shimane fired head coach Reggie Hanson last fall — the Susanoo Magic were 1-11 at the time — and promoted his assistant, Tomohiro Moriyama, who orchestrated the team’s turnaround. Shimane completed the season with a 22-30 record and qualified for the eight-team Western Conference playoffs.
Weeks later, Moriyama replaced Joe Bryant on the Rizing Fukuoka bench, and the Magic were back to square one. And Moriyama landed another rebuilding project, taking over a Rizing squad that went 13-39 last season.
Michael Katsuhisa replaced Moriyama as Shimane coach after his two seasons in charge of the Yokohama B-Corsairs. Katsuhisa had spent the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons as the B-Corsairs assistant coach, helping former sideline supervisor Reggie Geary, a former NBA guard, guide the club to two Final Fours and a championship in the later campaign before his promotion.
This season, the Susanoo Magic’s four victories have all come at home, beginning with a season-opening sweep of the Bambitious Nara (70-64 and 94-52), followed by a 124-119 double-OT triumph last Saturday over the upstart Kanazawa Samuraiz and a 77-72 decision against the expansion squad a day later.
Shimane makes its first road trip of the season this weekend, facing the Osaka Evessa, the team that picked Katsuhisa, a guard, in the 2009 bj-league draft, and is now led by new coach Dai Oketani, who brings vast experience in this league and two titles on his resume, and advisory coach and former Chicago Bulls and Osaka bench boss Bill Cartwright. (Katsuhisa spent two seasons with the club before joining the expansion B-Corsairs.)
Next weekend, the Magic travel to take on the defending champion Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix, followed by a home series against the perennial title-contending Ryukyu Golden Kings on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.
League observers will have a broader perspective about Shimane’s potential in a few weeks, but so far, so good.
The Magic’s revamped roster has several key newcomers, including go-to scorer Scootie Randall (26.5 points per game, including 39 in the season opener), 203-cm banger Josh Davis (12.5 points and 17.0 rebounds to date), well-traveled point guard Naoto Takushi (who had 18 points and 10 assists on Saturday, three days before his 34th birthday) and big man Wayne Marshall (like Randall, a Temple University alum; he played under Katsuhisa for two seasons at Yokohama).
Floor leader Edward Yamamoto, who’s played for Shimane since the team’s inception in 2010, has had a hot start, averaging 15.5 points and knocking down 14 of 27 3-point shots.
Katsuhisa has a versatile, experienced roster to work with, and recognizes the long season will presents plenty of challenges.
After the aforementioned double-OT triumph, he told reporters that “the team is growing every day,” adding the team has “many things” to learn.
New faces: Through Sunday, 34 new import players have made their debuts in the league this season.
Upcoming games: All 24 teams will be in action between Friday and Monday, starting with three series — Yokohama vs. Tokyo, Fukuoka vs. Shiga and Hiroshima vs. Takamatsu — tipping off on Friday. Starting Saturday, it’s Aomori vs. Toyama, Iwate vs. Niigata, Akita vs. Sendai, Fukushima vs. Gunma, Saitama vs. Shinshu, Hamamatsu vs. Kanazawa, Osaka vs. Shimane and Ryukyu vs. Nara. The Oita-Kyoto series begins on Sunday.
Playing elsewhere: Shot-block maestro Jeral Davis, a former Shimane and Sendai big man, has recently joined Al Hala in Bahrain, according to asia-basket.com. Center Dzaflo Larkai, who collected championship rings as a member of Hamamatsu (2009-10, 2010-11) and Ryukyu (2011-12) and later suited up for Sendai and, most recently, Yokohama, is in Europe this season after a recent move to the Leicester Riders of the British Basketball League. The Riders, established in 1967, are Britain’s oldest pro basketball club.
Weekly accolade: Fukushima forward Le’Bryan Nash has scored 30 or more points in all four of the team’s games.
A rookie who played college ball at Oklahoma State, Nash is the Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP, the league announced on Thursday.
Against Toyama last weekend, Nash had 31 points, six rebounds and two blocks in the series opener on Saturday. He provided 34 points, six boards and two assists in the finale.
Nash is averaging 33.3 points a game.