Basketball / BJ-League | BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Passing skills elevate Sendai's game

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Building an offense around good ball movement isn’t a revolutionary concept in basketball.

It’s a proven formula for success at all levels. Good passing always helps to create scoring opportunities.

The Sendai 89ers rely on gifted passers to generate their high-powered offense. That approach has paid off this season, with the 89ers leading the 24-team league in scoring (86.5 points per game).

Sendai and the Toyama Grouses are tied for the best record (33-13) in the 12-team Eastern Conference.

The 89ers’ offensive success starts with the impressive ball distribution skills of point guard Takehiko “Take” Shimura, who’s No. 2 in the league with 4.7 assists a game, and big men Wendell White (3.9 per game, No. 9 overall) and Jamal Boykin (3.8).

Collectively, Shimura, White — a UNLV alum — and Boykin have handed out 212, 179 and 172 assists, respectively. They set the tone for the team’s offense. First and foremost, they make good decisions with the ball, as evidenced by the team’s 835 total assists against 533 turnovers. (What’s more, Shimura has only 35 turnovers in 45 games. That’s incredible at any level for a primary ball handler.)

This propels the team’s inside attack and also opens up the perimeter for sharpshooter Fumiya Sato, who has canned a team-high 110 3-pointers, and others.

Former Sendai power forward Mike Bell, who now plays for the Shinshu Brave Warriors, said the 160-cm Shimura is a great leader for the 89ers.

“Take is one of the toughest competitors that I’ve played with in Japan,” Bell told The Japan Times on Tuesday. “And he’s always been a team-first guy and that’s very important as a point guard. Small guy, big heart.”

Asked to sum up how important White, a former league MVP, has been for Sendai in its quest to compete for a title this season, Bell responded by saying, “Wendell reminds me of the player that he was when he won the championship with Hamamatsu (2009-10 season), but a much more smarter and matured version. A team is definitely destined to generate success by being built around those two guys.”

White is averaging 25.1 ppg, No. 2 in the league, trailing only Fukushina Firebonds rookie Le’Bryan Nash’s 26.1.

The 28-year-old Boykin was a key pickup for the 89ers in the offseason. His all-around game meshes well with the smart instincts and veteran savvy of White and Shimura.

Boykin, a former University of California player, received the 2005 Gatorade State Player of the Year honor as a high school senior, when he amassed 22.0 points, 12.0 boards, 5.0 assists and 4.0 blocks a game for Fairfax High School in Los Angeles.

Yokohama B-Corsairs post player Carl Hall said the 89ers are a difficult team to defend.

“They are a very talented group of men and they run a very good offense, which allows them to use their strengths to the best of their abilities,” Hall told The Japan Times on Tuesday.

“It’s not just offense, though, that stands out with them. It’s their team defense, which allows their offense to get easy transition buckets as well.”

League accolades: High-flying forward Thomas Kennedy of the Gunma Crane Thunders continued his brilliant play of late last weekend, sparking his team to a pair of road wins over the Tokyo Cinq Reves.

Kennedy, a University of Detroit Mercy alum, is the Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP.

He had 31 points on 11-for-17 shooting with four assists and three steals in the series opener last Friday. A day later, Kennedy scored a season-high 47 points on 16-for-22 shooting with nine rebounds, three steals, two assists and a block.

He is averaging 24.0 ppg and is the league’s No. 3 scorer. He had 45 points on March 27.

Weekend schedule: Tokyo, with 37 straight losses, plays host to Iwate in a series that gets under way on Friday. The rest of the weekend’s action tips off a day later. Here are the matchups: Aomori vs. Fukushima, Sendai vs. Gunma, Toyama vs. Saitama, Shinshu vs. Niigata, Yokohama vs. Akita, Shiga vs. Osaka, Kyoto vs. Kanazawa, Takamatsu vs. Hamamatsu, Fukuoka vs. Oita and Ryukyu vs. Hiroshima, which has suffered 38 straight defeats.