Basketball / BJ-League | BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Battle-hardened Hannaryz looking to contend for title

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

For the Kyoto Hannaryz, last season’s 44-8 record — the best in bj-league history — was no fluke.

After all, they have mostly played at an elite level since the arrival of coach Honoo Hamaguchi in 2011. But, in May, the Hannaryz failed to reach the Final Four for a fourth consecutive season.

Hamaguchi’s club is still chasing its first title and remains as dangerous as ever.

After a 2-2 start in October, the Hannaryz are firing on all cylinders on offense and providing fits for foes on defense. They edged the Ryukyu Golden Kings by two-point margins on both Saturday and Sunday. In doing so, they improved to 11-3, and they sit second in the 12-team Western Conference behind the reigning champion Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (13-3), who have won nine straight.

With 14 games in the books, Kyoto has made it clear that longtime bench boss Hamaguchi’s everlasting message — spread the wealth on offense — is being followed. This has been a staple of his teams, first the Sendai 89ers (2005-11) and Kyoto, and a recipe for success.

Eleven Hannaryz players have seen court time this season; all 11 players have 10 or more assists, with Koki Yabuuchi leading the way with 41. Former NBA forward Larry Owens, a newcomer to the league this season, is No. 2 with 35.

After their 87-85 Sunday triumph over the Golden Kings, Hamaguchi stressed the importance of “teamwork” as the key factor in the victory.

In addition, Owens, an Oral Roberts University alum, is a tone-setter for the club, averaging a team-best 16.1 points. Returning standouts David Palmer and Kevin Kotzur are next with 14.0 and 11.3 points, respectively, followed by Takuya Komoda (8.9), Yabuuchi (8.6) and Sunao Murakami (6.4).

In addition to his scoring contributions, Palmer exudes confidence in his teammates — and, in turn, makes each of them more effective — thanks to his brilliant shooting form. A perimeter marksman, who first made his mark on the Osaka Evessa’s first title-winning squad (2005-06) and latter starred for the Golden Kings, the Southern Utah product is off to a terrific start in the bj-league’s 11th and final campaign. His shooting numbers: 61 percent from inside the arc, 48.9 on 3-pointers and 87.0 from the free-throw line.

As longtime Ryukyu assistant coach Keith Richardson told The Japan Times in a 2012 interview about Palmer, “I have said this a thousand times, ‘The best shooter not in the NBA!’ “

Kyoto is a veteran team with proven veteran leadership in the starting lineup and on the bench, and the potential to contend for a title. It will be interesting to see how the Hannaryz perform over the remaining five months of the regular season.

League accolade: Owens received the Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP accolade after helping the Hannaryz collect the aforementioned victories over West rival Ryukyu in Okinawa City over the weekend.

On Saturday, Owens had 23 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. He followed up that performance with a 20-point, eight-rebound, four-assist effort a day later.

By the numbers: The Cinq Reves (1-15) have been outscored by 446 points and the Broncos (1-14) by 225. . . . The East-leading 89ers (12-4) have a league-best eight road victories. The Phoenix lead the circuit with eight home triumphs. . . .

The passing game: The top passer among frontcourt players is former California Golden Bear Jamal Boykin of Sendai. The veteran big man is No. 4 among all players in assists (4.8 per game). The top three are guards: Nara’s Tatsuya Suzuki (5.9), Osaka’s Narito Namizato (5.8) and Fukushima’s Masaya Karimata (5.0).

Many forwards have more turnovers than assists. Indeed, many big men aren’t known for their passing or dribbling skills, but Boykin excels as a playmaker. He has 77 assists and 33 turnovers.

His older brother, Ruben Boykin, starred for Akita during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. He is now playing in Germany for BC Goettingen.