Whenever he steps onto a basketball court, Reggie Warren’s fierce desire to win is a recognizable trait.
Since 2006, the veteran power forward has been a key piece to the puzzle for five bj-league franchises: Takamatsu Five Arrows (2006-08), Saitama Broncos (2008-09), Kyoto Hannaryz (2010-11, 2014-15), Rizing Fukuoka (2012-14) and Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (current season).
It’s no coincidence that the Hannaryz had the best regular-season mark in league history (44-8) last season. Warren helped set the tone.
Listen to his explanation about what it takes to win:
“As far as rebounding goes, it has pretty much always been priority No. 1 along with defense. I have always tried to approach each and every game I’ve ever played with that mindset,” stated Warren. “The reason being is because to me these two things you can control the most in basketball. I say that because nobody shoots 100 percent from the field and also players make mistakes and turn the ball over, but you can always give 100-percent effort on defense and rebound, which I think is one of the most important keys to winning basketball games.”
Warren has always played with the intensity of a bull in the ring and the tenacity that matches any of the bj-league’s all-time greats. He’s always a threat to post double figures in points and rebounds and make an impact in other facets of the game. All-out hustle is one of his trademarks.
While Warren, 35, has been one of the league’s most consistent rebounders during his career in Japan, he’s elevated that aspect of his game this season.
More than ever, Warren’s rebounding is an important element for the reigning champions, who are 26-10, currently in fourth place in the 12-team Western Conference, as they seek to defend their title in May.
The bottom line: This is the University of West Florida alum’s eighth season playing in Japan, and he is averaging 14.2 rebounds (No. 2 in the league; Shimane Susanoo Magic big man Josh Davis, 25, is the leader at 15.2 per game), by far his highest total in this league. He collected 12.6 boards per game for the championship runner-up Rizing in the 2012-13 campaign.
What’s more, Warren has grabbed 482 rebounds, more than 300 more boards than any of his teammates.
It’s a revealing statistic that underscores Warren’s sustained excellence as a rebounder at this stage of his career.
“I definitely have heard that from people saying that I really have a knack for knowing where the ball would bounce off the rim,” Warren told The Japan Times. “I also relied on my athletic abilities more so than positioning early on in my career.”
He admitted that strength, positioning and effort have become bigger keys for him in recent years.
“Definitely being a big guy that has been a lot quicker on my feet than most guys my size also has played a major factor in my ability to rebound,” he noted.
Warren, who has also played pro ball in Venezuela, Canada, Israel, Turkey and South Korea, is scoring at a 15.2 point-per-game clip entering this weekend. He’s also Hamamatsu’s leader in assists with 120 in 34 games.
Aomori Wat’s guard Nile Murry, who also made his bj-league debut in 2006, said Warren does what it takes to be a dominant rebounder.
“He’s strong and he likes to get physical,” Murry told The Japan Times on Wednesday. “He is good at being in the right position.”
Phoenix coach Tomoya Higashino agreed that Warren is a gifted rebounder.
“Rebounds in basketball are a routine part of the game,” Higashino told The Japan Times on Thursday. “There’s no question about the fact Reggie has the routine with such tremendous body strength.”
Desire is the biggest key, said Warren.
“Rebounding is about who want it the most and comes down to who is willing to put in the most effort to come up with the ball,” he told this newspaper, “and I try my best to be that guy with the ball. I always tell my teammates let’s start on the defensive end and rebound the ball. I say it so many times throughout a game and then I go out and try to lead by example. I think that’s the main reason why I am the No.1 rebounder on the team that and me putting it as my primary job on this team.”
It didn’t hurt that a legendary rebounder piqued Warren’s interest in the often thankless task. He also gleaned a few other character traits from the Chicago Bulls dynasty.
“Growing up I was a big Chicago Bulls fan,” Warren said. “I wanted to rebound like (Dennis) Rodman, who was one of the best that ever did it as far as rebounding goes. I wanted to be able defend like (Scottie) Pippen, meaning being able to guard other positions. I saw the pride Pippen took in defending his matchups and that stuck with me.
“Last but not least, I wanted to be able to shoot a fadeaway jump shot like the greatest player of all time, MJ (Michael Jordan). So I kind of mixed all that in my game. Rebounding still was priority No.1. I am one of those that think basketball was a lot better in the ’90s so I studied those guys from that era.”
He also uses film to analyze his own game and make adjustments.
“The film never lies,” Warren said. “You can (see) exactly what your mistakes were in the game and learn from them. Film shows you a lot of your opponent’s weaknesses and strengths and then its on you to capitalize on it.”
Teammates and foes have helped Warren elevate his game, and he credits them for doing so.
“I definitely have learned a thing or two from fellow teammates throughout the years here in Japan and other places,” he commented, “For instance, even last year playing against Kevin (Kotzur) every day in practice seeing how he used positioning and his body to get rebounds. Him being young and not athletic at all, he still had a knack for rebounding.”
“Playing against one of my hometown guys, Reggie Evans, who per minute in the NBA is one of the best rebounders in NBA history,” Warren said of Evans, who played for seven NBA teams from 2002-15. “I picked up a lot playing against him and watching him in the NBA.”
Quality free-throw shooting: The Ryukyu Golden Kings are not a team foes want to repeatedly send to the foul line.
The Kings’ Shuhei Kitagawa is No. 2 in the league in free-throw shooting accuracy (93.9), and teammate Draelon Burns is fourth at 87.8 percent. Ryukyu’s Ryuichi Kishimoto is No. 6 (85.3) and Evan Ravenel 10th (83.6).
In other words, it’s remarkable for any team in any pro basketball league to have four guys in the top 10 in any statistical category.
Meanwhile, the league’s top free-throw shooter is Fukuoka’s Cohey Aoki, who has made 95 percent of his shots (76-for-80).
League accolades: Xavier Gibson has played an instrumental role in the Shinshu Brave Warriors’ turnaround this season. He is the league’s February MVP, it was announced on Wednesday.
The Florida State alum averaged 25.0 points and 9.4 rebounds in February, helping the Brave Warriors post a 7-1 record and climb from 10th to seventh in the Eastern Conference standings.
Gibson had top scoring games of 34 (on Feb. 28 against the Fukushima Firebonds) and 36 points (Feb. 13 against the Aomori Wat’s) last month.
Teammate Mike Bell has described Gibson as the “most talented player in Japan.”
Fukushima forward Le’Bryan Nash was named the Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP after two banner performances against Shinshu.
Nash, who attended Oklahoma State, had 34 — and 54-point games against the Brave Warriors, the latter of which broke the league record for points. (The old record? Fukuoka’s Michael Parker scored 53 points on Nov. 7, 2010, against Takamatsu.)
Upcoming matchups: The Oita-Hiroshima series was to get underway on Friday. The rest of the week’s action is scheduled to tip off on Saturday. The following series are on the docket: Iwate vs. Sendai, Akita vs. Shinshu, Fukushima vs. Niigata, Toyama vs. Tokyo, Gunma vs. Yokohama, Saitama vs. Aomori, Kanazawa vs. Nara, Hamamatsu vs. Shiga, Osaka vs. Kyoto, Fukuoka vs. Shimane and Ryukyu vs. Takamatsu.