Sendai 89ers forward Wendell White joined fellow league legend Lynn Washington, the retired Osaka Evessa icon, as the bj-league’s only two-time regular-season MVPs, as the league’s 11th and final regular-season awards were announced on Wednesday.
White earned his first MVP honor for the 2009-10 season, when he helped the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix capture their first title.
On his Facebook page, White weighed on on what the MVP honor means to him during an unforgettable day in his life. He wrote: “Won the season MVP today on the same day my Daughter was born and my 9 year Marriage Anniversary. I guess you can say I’m one of the most blessed people in the world right now.”
Sendai point guard Takehiko Shimura posted a short message on Facebook to honor his teammate. “He got it. Congratulations Season MVP,” Shimura wrote.
A cerebral, productive presence on both ends of the floor, the 198-cm UNLV alum racked up 43 double-doubles this season. He averaged 25.3 points per game (No. 2 overall), 12.2 rebounds (No. 4) and 3.1 assists. With White having a sensational all-around season, the 89ers went 21-5 on the road and placed second in the 12-team Eastern Conference with a 37-15 record.
“I genuinely love and respect the game of basketball,” White said in a 2014 interview with the The Japan Times. Asked to describe his demeanor on the court, he added: “I hate to lose. I am a leader by example. I never give up. I never put my head down. I am a tough competitor. I score ‘at will.’ “
The 31-year-old star, who hails from Los Angeles, told The Japan Times in the same interview that team unity is a key ingredient for success in pro basketball. White also said he’s a throwback player to an era when small forwards played the game a different way.
He put it this way: “No one in the NBA today resembles my game. I would have to go with past NBA legends like Charles Barkley and Larry Johnson. They were undersized at power forward, fearless, could take control of the game at anytime, and didn’t back down from anyone. I think the most accurate comparison would be to Bernard King of the New York Knicks. Our style of play almost mirrors each other. I didn’t grow up watching him but was compared to him recently and I started watching some of his old games. I definitely agree that we are very similar on the court.”
Last season, Sendai guard Kejuan Johnson received the MVP award. He joined the Shiga Lakestars in the offseason before moving on his current team, defending champion Hamamatsu.
White headlines this year’s Best Five Team, and it’s his second appearance on the team, first in six seasons. He’s joined on the squad by forwards Le’Bryan Nash of the Fukushima Firebonds and Josh Davis of the Shimane Susanoo Magic. Guards Masashi Joho of the Toyama Grouses and Ryuichi Kishimoto of the Ryukyu Golden Kings were also selected in voting done by the bj-league’s players, coaches and commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi. (Votes were not released to the media.)
As a rookie, Nash, an Oklahoma State product, led the 24-team league in scoring (26.6 ppg). He nabbed All-Star Game MVP honors on Jan. 24 in Sendai. He also set the league’s single-game scoring record of 54 points on Feb. 28 against the Shinshu Brave Warriors. Nash also averaged 8.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists while appearing in all 52 games.
Davis, who played college ball at San Diego State, was a force in the low post. A powerful rebounder, the 203-cm player averaged a league-best 15.5 boards a game, including a league record of 31 in a game against the Rizing Fukuoka on March 6. He scored 12.5 ppg and averaged 1.6 blocks (No. 8 in the league) in 49 games. This is Davis’ first season in Japan.
Joho, who became the first (and only) Japanese player in league history to win regular-season MVP honors during the 2013-14 campaign, led Toyama in scoring (17.1 ppg). A high-energy, gutsy performer, the Hokkaido native played 52 games and finished with 3.9 assists and 3.1 rebounds a game. Joho sank 101 3-pointers. He is a third-time Best Five selection.
Kishimoto, a Best Five debutant, averaged 11.9 points, 3.3 assists and 2.6 rebounds for the Golden Kings, who went 40-12 to secure the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed for the playoffs. Kishimoto, who can put points on the board in a hurry when he’s at the top of his game, had a season-high 41-point performance on March 27 against the Shiga Lakestars, including 8-for-12 on 3s.
Toyama bench boss Bob Nash, in his fourth season at the helm, received the Coach of the Year accolade. Nash guided the Grouses to an Eastern Conference-best 39-13 record.
Toyama had one loss in the season’s final two months, and since Feb. 28, went 16-1 to secure the top spot in the East.
A former University of Hawaii forward (and part of school’s “Fabulous Five” team), assistant coach and head coach, Nash was the No. 9 overall draft pick in the 1972 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons.
This season, Nash’s son, Bobby, who played under him at the University of Hawaii, joined the Grouses as an assistant coach.
“I’m honored to be name the bj-league 2015-2016 Coach of the Year and I thank the selection committee for recognizing our organization,” Nash said in a statement. “However, any award given in a team sport has to be a shared honor so I would like to recognize some people would made this all possible.
“First, I accept and share this award on behalf of the Toyama Grouses’ management for giving me the opportunity to coach/work for this fine organization.
“Secondly, I accept this award on behalf of my coaching staff for the tireless effort and time they spend helping to prepare the team for the games. Thirdly, I’m honored to share this award with the players, who trust my judgement and give maximum effort to be the best team that we can become.”
He added: “Finally, I share this award my wife and kids for allowing me to practice my craft a world away from them. I’m truly blessed by the Lord to be in this place, doing what I’m called to do, with the people he has put before me. All glory for this award is to God.”
Former Coach of the Year recipients who played in the NBA are John Neumann (Rizing Fukuoka, 2007-08) and Reggie Geary (Yokohama B-Corsairs, 2011-12).
The expansion Kanazawa Sanmuraiz, who advanced to the playoffs with a 27-23 record in their inaugural season, received stellar production from forward/center Andrew Fitzgerald, the Sixth Man Award recipient. A University of Oklahoma product, Fitzgerald came off the bench in 46 of 50 games and made a big impact, averaging a team-best 16.3 points. He collected 6.5 rebounds a game. He shot 53.4 percent from inside the arc and 77.3 from the free-throw line.
Saitama Broncos shooting guard Masaya Ueda, 22, was selected as the Rookie of the Year. Making his season debut in February, Ueda averaged 7.7 points in 20 games.
Oita Ehime HeatDevils guard/forward Tatsuhiko Toshino earned the Most Improved Player Award. The 28-year-old increased his scoring average to 14.5 points from last season’s 3.1, and logged 1,654 minutes of court time after playing 574 in the previous campaign. Toshino’s 41-point outburst on Nov. 28 included 10-for-17 from 3-point range against the Bambitious Nara. In that game, he set the league’s Japanese single-game scoring record later equaled by Kishimoto.
By the numbers: Fukuoka guard Cohey Aoki picked up his sixth free-throw shooting title this season. The league legend, a nine-time All-Star, converted 94.5 percent of his foul shots (103-for-109). . . . Shimane’s Tatsuhiro Yokoo finished No. 1 in 3-point shooting accuracy (45.8 percent, 97-for-212). . .. Kyoto’s Kevin Kotzur finished first overall in field-goal shooting percentage (60.3 percent). . . . Oita’s Chehales Tapscott led the league in minutes played (1,824).
Historically bad: Over the past three seasons, the Saitama Broncos compiled a 16-140 record.