It shouldn’t be a big shock that the Niigata Albirex BB have made a sizzling start under fiery bench boss Kazuo Nakamura, whose alleged retirement lasted one season.
Nakamura, who turns 75 next month, has transformed the East-leading Albirex (9-1) into the league’s highest-scoring team (87.7 points per game). They have walloped their foes by 226 points to date.
From 2008-11, Nakamura’s Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix team went 36-16, 41-11, 40-6 in the regular season in succession and captured back-to-back titles in the last two years. His Akita Northern Happinets squad had more mixed success, going 28-24 in 2011-12 in his first campaign at the helm of his hometown team, 26-26 in 2012-13 and 40-12 and a championship runnerup finish in 2013-14, a feat matched by Nakamura’s successor, Makoto Hasegawa last spring. (Nakamura took his team to the playoffs in all six of those seasons.)
The new-look Albirex steamrolled the host Saitama Broncos last weekend, recording 24- and 27-point victories.
And after Sunday’s rout, veteran forward Ryan Reid, a Florida State alum, took stock of the team’s fast start and the Albirex’s style of play.
He credited Nakamura for setting the tone for the team in practice.
“Everything that we do in practice is the same thing that we do in the game,” Reid told The Japan Times, citing trapping and full-court defensive schemes as examples.
He added: “We come (to practice) during the week, we work very hard, just like every team does we scout teams . . . and he just puts us in position to be ready for everything.”
“His mentality is ‘we have to win, and for everything, I want you to work. You’re tired, but don’t tell yourself you’re tired. . . . You have to push yourself, but after a while you get used to it.’ “
Niigata is not relying on one or two scorers to carry the offensive load. Longtime Alibrex shooting guard Kimitake Sato is averaging 13.8 points per game and Reid has a 12.2 ppg stat line. Faye Pape Mour and Shuhei Komatsu are next with 12.0 and 11.3, respectively.
Perimeter marksman Charles Hinkle was the team’s highest scorer (22.9 ppg in eight games), but was let go and picked up by Nara. His roster spot was quickly filled by Chris Oliver, a Radford University alum, who averaged 22.0 ppg against Saitama in his series debut.
In the passing department, eight Niigata players have dished out 10 or more assists, with Reid and Faye leading the way with 35 apiece and Hiroaki Takei dishing out 32.
Reid and Faye have both pulled down 112 rebounds to share the team lead. Faye and Komatsu are tops in steals (20) and the former is also first in blocks (nine).
Faye, a native of Senegal who suited up for the Yokohama B-Corsairs (2011-13) and NBL’s Chiba Jets and Hiroshima Dragonflies since then, has developed into a vital part of Niigata’s frontcourt rotation. His energy and hustle — including five steals in Sunday’s game against the Broncos — have made him an Albirex fan favorite.
“I also feed off of Pape,” Reid said. “Once I see him going, it gets me going, too. He’s been here, he’s more experienced, he knows what it’s like (in the bj-league). . . .
“He’s a big spark to the team.”
Roster moves: Defending champion Hamamatsu parted ways with rookie guard Addison Spruill, who averaged 9.6 points in eight games, and reunited with veteran forward Mo Charlo, the team announced this week.
Essentially, it was a swap for experience over youthful promise.
Spruill, 22, is just beginning his pro career.
Charlo, 33, and a well-traveled NBA Development League and overseas pro, played a key role for the title-winning squad last season.
Weeks ago, Charlo, a University of Nevada product, was reportedly set to join the NBL’s Hitachi Sunrockers. Instead, he’ll be back in a familiar place.
“I can’t wait to get back on the court with my teammates and defend our championship,” Charlo said in a statement. “I also can’t wait to play in front of the best fans and boosters, who showed me and my family so much support.
“The Charlo family is back and back to win.”
League accolades: Fukushima forward LeBryan Nash was named the monthly MVP for October, the league announced earlier this week.
The Firebonds rookie leads the league in scoring (33.0 ppg). The Oklahoma State alum appeared in eight October games and scored 30 or more in seven of them, including a 47-point outburst on Oct. 17.
Nara power forward Josh Ritchart, a University of California Davis product, received the Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP honor. He had a pair of double-doubles in the Bambitious’ weekend sweep of Takamatsu. It started with a 13-point, 12-rebound effort in the opener, followed by 25 points, including 5-for-10 on 3s, and 10 rebounds, in the rematch.
Other stat leaders: Nara’s Tatsuya Suzuki is the league’s top passer through Sunday (6.7 assists per game). Shimane’s Josh Davis leads the circuit in rebounding (15.6). Fukushima’s Stephan Van Treese is No. 1 in steals (3.3). Yokohama’s Jordan Henriquez-Roberts is first in blocks (2.8).
Stark contrast: With six home games in the books, the Oita Ehime HeatDevils are averaging 330 fans per game. Call it an ongoing crisis. Conversely, Niigata leads the league in attendance (3,233 for four home games), followed by Ryukyu (3,184 for two contests).
Weekend schedule: Here are the Saturday-Sunday matchups: Iwate vs. Tokyo, Akita vs. Yokohama, Fukushima vs. Aomori, Niigata vs. Shinshu, Gunma vs. Sendai, Kanazawa vs. Shiga, Hamamatsu vs. Hiroshima, Osaka vs. Takamatsu, Nara vs. Kyoto, Oita vs. Shimane and Ryukyu vs. Fukuoka.
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