The Sendai 89ers have relied on the stellar contributions of several players en route to six straight wins to open the new season.
Credit longtime point guard Takehiko Shimura and irreplaceable forward Wendell White along with several newcomers for setting the tone.
Third-year bench boss Shuto Kawachi’s club and the Niigata Albirex BB share the Eastern Conference lead entering the fourth week of the 2015-16 campaign, the bj-league’s 11th and final season.
The 89ers are slated to join the first division of the three-tier, 45-team B. League, a new entity combining the bj-league and the Japan Basketball Association-backed NBL and NBDL next fall. But first, Sendai is focused on staying with the basics over the next 46 games — and possibly the playoffs.
“We are sticking together as a team and continuing to believe in each other especially on defense,” said White, whose father-in-law is former MLB outfielder Ellis Valentine. “Every individual on this team is playing with a chip on their shoulder. We’re just taking it one game at a time.”
With three weeks in the books, Kawachi’s team can look back at series sweeps over the Aomori Wat’s Tokyo Cinq Reves and Akita Northern Happinets as positive building blocks. The club, meanwhile, has a strong desire to end this chapter in team history on a positive note.
“The Sendai 89ers have extra motivation knowing that this is the last year of the bj-league,” White told The Japan Times on Tuesday.
“We set a standard last year (with a regular-season record 37 wins), so yes we want to continue the winning tradition here and hopefully come up with a championship this year.
“I also have motivation as well knowing that my family and I would love to stay in Sendai next year. Who knows, I might want to retire here in Sendai.”
White is second on the team in scoring (21.0 points) and rebounds (10.3). His shooting form has been impressive, making 64.1 percent of his shots from inside the arc and 50 percent from beyond.
The former UNLV standout and 2009-10 bj-league MVP during his time with the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix is joined in the frontcourt by rookie center Dallin Bachynski, a 213-cm University of Utah product, and big man Jamal Boykin, who played at the University of California.
White, now in his third season with Sendai, called Bachynski and Boykin “great additions to the Sendai 89ers.”
“Dallin is still adjusting to the bj-league and he’s young as well,” White said of the 24-year-old Bachynski. “I’ve been trying to help him out with adjusting to the bj-league. Dallin has a lot of potential and a positive attitude.
“Jamal has experience in the bj-league, so he already knows what to expect,” White said, referring to Boykin’s stint with the Iwate Big Bulls during the 2011-12 season. “Jamal is a very crafty player and can score from anywhere on the court.”
Boykin has made an immediate impact for Sendai. He tops the scoring chart (21.5), is No. 1 in rebounds (10.8) and has handed out 26 assists in six games.
Fellow newcomer Masaharu Kataoka, a former Kyoto Hannaryz swingman, came on board after a stint with the NBL’s Levanga Hokkaido. He’s averaging 14.8 ppg and has converted 66 percent of his shots (31 of 47) from inside the arc.
“Masaharu is a very smart player,” White said. “He doesn’t force anything and stays focused on the tasks at hand, especially on defense. Masaharu’s best attributes are cutting to the basket and finishing underneath the basket as well.
“I love the fact that he takes the defensive assignments extremely serious.”
In the backcourt, Fumiya Sato is contributing 8.7 pppg and Shimura has a 6.7 ppg average while continuing to be a master decision-making conductor at the point (38 assists, three turnovers).
White insists the 89ers know what it will take a claim their first championship.
“Three things,” he said. “Defense will help us win the championship, taking it one game at a time and of course being one as a unit.”
League accolade: Boykin received the Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP honor after his stellar weekend against Akita, it was announced on Thursday.
Boykin finished with 25 points, 10 boards and six assists in the series opener. A day later, he had 20 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.
Who’s hot: Fukushima forward Le’Bryan Nash has scored 30 or more points in five of six games to open the seasons.
The Firebonds rookie , an Oklahoma State alum, torched the Gunma Crane Thunders with 47 points (six shy of the league’s all-time record), including 17-for-20 from inside the arc, in a series-opening home victory last Saturday.
Scoring woes: In an 83-42 blowout defeat to the visiting Shinshu Brave Warriors on Saturday, the Saitama Broncos (now 0-6) set a mark for the fewest points scored by a team in league history.
The previous low score? Forty-four points.
Last season, the Broncos suffered a 72-44 defeat to the Niigata Albirex BB on Oct. 12, 2014.
The Oita HeatDevils were beaten 78-44 on Dec. 7, 2014, by the Kyoto Hannaryz.
Roster moves: The Yokohama B-Corsairs (3-3) this week parted ways with post player Emanuel Willis, releasing him after six games and filling his spot on the roster by signing Wichita State product Carl Hall, who suited up for the club last season.
The 205-cm Willis, 30, averaged 8.0 points and 5 rebounds before his departure.
The 201-cm Hall, 25, is an explosive leaper. He was Yokohama’s leading scorer in the 2014-15 campaign (18.2 ppg) and grabbed a team-best 12.0 rebounds while appearing in 26 games.
Catching up with . . . Jermaine Green: The former Hamamatsu standout, who played a key role on Phoenix’s 2009-10 and 2014-15 title teams, has joined Al Ahli, a club in Bahrain.
Green, a North Texas, alum, began his pro career in 2003.
Upcoming games: The Saturday-Sunday series rundown is as follows: Aomori vs. Akita, Sendai vs. Fukushima, Niigata vs. Gunma, Toyama vs. Yokohama, Shinshu vs. Iwate, Tokyo vs. Saitama, Kanazawa vs. Oita, Hamamatsu vs. Shimane, Kyoto vs. Hiroshima, Osaka vs. Ryukyu, Nara vs. Fukuoka and Takamatsu vs. Shiga.
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