TOKOROZAWA, SAITAMA PREF. – The Niigata Albirex BB and Saitama Broncos have provided a decade-long case study: different ways of doing business.
Their records speak for themselves.
As the two charter members of the bj-league, formed as a six-team circuit for the 2005-06 season, they were once viewed as the renegade clubs in Japan basketball after breaking away from the archaic, rigid ways of the JBL and its overseer, the Japan Basketball Association.
Niigata has been a model of consistency, making the playoffs on an annual basis and winning its fair share of games. Including Sunday’s 91-64 thrashing of the host Broncos at Tokorozawa Municipal Gymnasium, the Albirex have an overall regular-season record of 289-197. Conversely, since the bj-league’s inception, Saitama is 136-348, with zero winning seasons and no playoff appearances.
In a nutshell, Sunday’s lopsided victory for the rejuvenated Albirex (9-1) under first-year coach Kazuo Nakamura, who turns 75 next month but remains a tireless tactician on the sideline throughout a 40-minute game, provided a snapshot of Saitama’s decade-long basketball crisis — constantly in catch-up mode, and usually falling way short of respectability.
The club, which changes head coaches basically every offseason, was whipped by a trio of big runs in the opening half.
First, the Albirex jumped out to a 9-0 lead before Saitama made a basket. Then the Broncos scored a pair of field goals, then Niigata rattled off nine more points.
Trailing 18-4 after longtime Niigata standout Kimitake Sato’s smooth jumper in the lane, Saitama, now led by bench boss Ryutaro Onodera, never recovered.
The Broncos showed some signs of life, though, cutting it to 27-11 to close out the first quarter. But a 17-2 Niigata spurt fueled by aggressive defense, Saitama turnovers, quick passes and long-range jumpers gave the visitors a commanding 46-25 advantage late in the second quarter.
Saitama trailed 52-25 at halftime.
Onodera admitted after the game that his team’s “poor start” was too much to overcome. He credited his players for their hustle and energy in the second half.
“We had a stronger second half,” the Saitama coach said, “and our energy was better.”
He noted that Niigata played at a level above his team’s.
A few key statistics from the opening half: Saitama had more turnovers (11) than field goals (eight); Niigata sank 7 of 12 3s, including newcomer Chris Oliver’s 3 of 4 (he led all players with 15 points before intermission) and shot 13 of 22 from inside the arc; and the Broncos misfired on 14 of 17 2-point attempts.
The Albirex played at a frantic pace and substituted frequently. Nakamura rotated 11 players in the first half, with only Ikeda seeing more than 15 minutes of court time.
Saitama’s rag-tag unit was unable to match Niigata’s swagger and high-level playmaking capabilities at both ends of the floor.
Nakamura said after the game that his players are beginning to grasp his style of play, getting acclimated to his strategic decisions on offense and defense. He told reporters he has “a good feeling” about his team, insisting the club has a number of good players.
Over and over, he revealed, his message to the Albirex is this: “Ariake, Ariake, Ariake,” repeating the destination three times for emphasis, referring to the bj-league’s Final Four site, Ariake Colosseum, in May.
The Broncos trailed by as many as 32 points in the third quarter on two occasions, the second time on an inside bucket by Pape Faye Mour late in the period.
The native of Senegal was a force in the paint and a key contributor in the high post, setting picks, dishing the ball to teammates and being constantly aware of the action wherever the ball went. Mour finished with 10 points, a game-high 13 rebounds, five steals and four assists in 30 minutes.
Entering the fourth quarter, Niigata led 74-45 and its large cushion stayed at around 30 for the duration of the game.
The Broncos had zero rhythm on offense, and like in the series opener, were badly beaten on the boards (50-26 on Sunday).
Oliver, a Radford University alum, scored a team-high 24 points for the Albirex, followed by Ryan Reid’s 15-point game. Sato finished with 13 points and Ikeda had 11 along with Faye’s aforementioned 10. Reid handed out six assists, Oliver had four and Ikeda three.
For Saitama, Evan Harris led the way with 21 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and four steals — team-high totals in all four categories. Yuta Kurihara had a spirited performance, scoring 14 points, including four 3s.
Looking back at Niigata’s weekend sweep, Reid, a Florida State product, said his team’s positive frame of mind played a key.
“It’s just everybody (staying focused), coach giving us confidence, and just basically coming out and running the plays coach gave us and, you know, playing hard,” Reid said. “It doesn’t matter if you win by one point or 100 points. It doesn’t matter. A win’s a win. So that was just our goal: to come here and win, no matter how we win.”
Niigata kept steady pressure on Saitama’s ball handlers for 40 minutes and made a concerted effort to dominate in the rebounding battle.
Reid credited his team for giving the effort that was needed to accomplish those goals.
“Everything is just play as hard as you can until you get tired and then call for a sub,” Reid said. “But when you are in there, don’t just be walking around and just taking your time. Every time we get in there, we tell each other, ‘Play as hard as you can,’ even if it’s two, three minutes. . . .”
Asked to grade the team’s intensity level in the series finale on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the maximum), Reid gave his team a 10.
He added: “We always come out with the maximum, so I would say a 10. We’re a team and coach always tells us, ‘Go hard, go hard,’ and during the game and during practice, even when we are tired, that’s what we choose to do. But after that, we always go 100 percent, and even if we mess up, we go 100 percent.”
Evessa 77, Rizing 69
In Iizuka, Fukuoka Prefecture, balanced scoring carried Dai Oketani’s squad past its Western Conference rival, giving Osaka its second victory in as many days.
Lawrence “Trend” Blackledge paced the Evessa (7-3) with 20 points and Narito Namizato made an impact with 14 points, six rebounds and six assists. Olu Ashaolu chipped in with 13 points and three teammates had 10 points apiece.
Bingo Merriex led Fukuoka (5-5) with 15 points and Josei Maniwa and Keisuke Takabatake both had 14.
Phoenix 90, HeatDevils 63
In Oita, Terrance Woodbury scored a game-high 27 points and Hamamatsu Higashimikawa hammered the hosts for the second straight day.
Reggie Warren contributed 17 points and 15 rebounds for the Phoenix (7-3) and Shuto Tawatari added 17 points.
Chehales Tapscott finished with 18 points and 13 boards for the HeatDevils (1-9). Patrick Simon added 14 points and 11 rebounds for Oita Ehime, with Takato Hara scoring 11 points.
B-Corsairs 87, Brave Warriors 74
In Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, Yokohama crashed the boards with reckless abandon against Shinshu and that effort paid off as coach Taketo Aoki’s club completed a series sweep.
Jordan Henriquez-Roberts had a 17-point, 14-rebound afternoon and frontcourtmate Carl Hall supplied 14 points and 12 boards, with Cory Johnson scoring 16. Kenji Yamada and Seiji Kono added 13 and 12 points, respectively. Masayuki Kabaya dished out six assists for the B-Corsairs (5-5).
Mike Bell led the Brave Warriors (3-5) with 25 points on 7-for-26 shooting. Junki Kano finished with 12 points.
Shinshu was held to 24-for-67 shooting in the series finale.
Golden Kings 59, Susanoo Magic 54
In Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, the hosts dropped their third straight game and lost for the fifth time in six games, including back-to-back defeats to mighty Ryukyu over the weekend.
Evan Ravenel sparked the Golden Kings (8-2) with 18 points and nine rebounds and Shigeyuki Kinjo had 12 points and two steals.
Shimane’s Scootie Randall finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Josh Davis delivered 16 rebounds and six blocks for the Susanoo Magic (5-5).
Wat’s 91, Cinq Reves 58
In Inagi, Nile Murry guided Aomori to its second triumph of the weekend, scoring 22 points against lowly Tokyo in the series finale.
Center Paul Williams was a force in the middle for the Wat’s (3-5) with 15 points, 19 rebounds and five assists, while Daichi Shimoyama scored 12 points.
For the Cinq Reves (1-9), Tomoyuki Shinzato had a season-high 22 points.
Big Bulls 74, Crane Thunders 59
In Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture, guard Kaito Ishikawa ignited Iwate with 15 points and six assists and Hayato Kantake had a 14-point performance as the Big Bulls wrapped up a two-game sweep.
Alandise Harris provided 12 points and Abdullahi Kuso, a Gonzaga University product, had nine points, nine rebounds and two blocks for Iwate (5-5).
Kosuke Taneichi scored 14 points for Gunma (4-6) and Thomas Kennedy added 13. Michael St. John was the team’s top rebounder with 10.
Grouses 92, 89ers 77
In Kamiichi, Toyama Prefecture, former MVP Masashi Joho buried five 3-pointers in a vintage 26-point outing as the Grouses bounced back from a Saturday loss to Sendai.
Newcomers Drew Viney and Duke Crews each scored 16 points for Toyama (6-4), with Viney adding four steals and Crews collecting 13 rebounds.
Jamal Boykin paced the 89ers (8-2) with 27 points along with 12 boards and six assists. Wendell White had 16 points and 12 boards and turned the ball over seven times. Fumiya Sato finished with 15 points.
Bambitious 99, Five Arrows 79
In Zentsuji, Kagawa Prefecture, Nara floor leader Tatsuya Suzuki handed out 15 assists and Josh Ritchart scored 25 as the visitors defeated Takamatsu again.
It was Suzuki’s third game with 10 or more assists this season.
Ritchart sank 5 of 10 3s for the Bambitious (3-7). Charles Hinkle added 22 points and Julius Ashby scored 14.
Anthony Kent led the Five Arrows (4-6) with 22 points