The Ryukyu Golden Kings have experienced incredible success over the past nine years. The Okinawa-based franchise’s record fourth title was its crowning achievement in the final game in bj-league history in May at Ariake Colosseum.
This season is a different story — so far. The Golden Kings are coping with the ups and downs of competition in a new league.
Coach Tsutomu Isa’s club has dropped four straight games and sits in fifth place in the six-team West Division with an 8-11 record through Sunday.
Sustained slumps have been rare for Ryukyu, and the team has months left to turn things around. The Kings still have 41 regular-season games to play.
What’s more, they are closer to second place than last place in the West. The first-place SeaHorses Mikawa are 15-4. The Nagoya Diamond Dolphins and Osaka Evessa both have 10-9 marks. The Kyoto Hannaryz are 9-10. The Shiga Lakestars (4-15) presently sit at the bottom of the division.
So what ails the Golden Kings?
Taking stock of their seven November games, 3-point shooting struggles and poor rebounding have caused problems on several occasions.
For instance, in a 96-57 loss to the Evessa on Nov. 5, Ryukyu made 3 of 23 3-point shots, while Osaka whipped the Kings on the boards (by a 55-31 margin).
On Nov. 23, Kyoto held Ryukyu to 2-for-15 from beyond the arc and recorded a 69-54 triumph.
Last weekend, the SeaHorses raced out to a 34-17 lead after one quarter in a 100-88 Saturday win and outrebounded Ryukyu 51-31. A day later, the Kings yielded 52 points in the paint in a 92-86 setback.
Kings newcomer Reyshawn Terry has seen action in five games since joining the club. As he adjusts to his new team and the B. League, the former University of North Carolina forward, averaging 10.2 points a game, could become Ryukyu’s X-factor.
Shuhei Kitagawa leads the squad in scoring (13.8) and Lamont Hamilton is second (12.3).
Second-division spotlight on … Draelon Burns: By announcing the acquisition of the free-agent guard on Wednesday, the Nishinomiya Storks (14-4) have clearly signaled their intention of competing for the B2 title this season. The Storks have raised the stakes in the second flight.
Burns, a DePaul University alum, played a starring role on three bj-league title-winning teams: the Yokohama B-Corsairs (2012-13) and Golden Kings (2013-14 and 2015-16).
A supremely confident and cerebral player, the 31-year-old Burns has a knack for making big plays at pivotal moments. He thrived in pressure-packed situations during his distinguished stints with Yokohama and Ryukyu.
Meanwhile, there is clearly a void in Okinawa left by Burns’ departure, a league insider declared, analyzing the Golden Kings’ play so far this season.
“They probably underestimated what Burns brought to their team for sure,” the source told The Japan Times on Thursday night. “As a three-time champion in the bj-league and only now has he (Burns) landed a job back in Japan, maybe every team has (underestimated him).
“Obviously the Mo Charlo move turned out not to be a good fit or they didn’t give it enough time. But the biggest reason might be they found themselves in the West Division where there’s the most parity, in my opinion, from top to bottom of competitive teams.”
Through Sunday, only the Central Division rival Fighting Eagles Nagoya (15-3) and Kumamoto Volters (16-2) had better won-loss records in the second division. The Gunma Crane Thunders and Hiroshima Dragonflies are also 14-4.
Drexler update: Iwate Big Bulls forward Adam Drexler, Hall of Famer Clyde’s son, has now appeared in four games for the Tohoku-based club. He’s had limited playing time, averaging 7-plus minutes, 1.8 points and 1.25 rebounds since joining Iwate.
B-Corsairs talk: Yokohama bench boss Taketo Aoki recognizes that part of his job is to find ways to strength the team’s offense. Passing the ball isn’t the only part of this task, but it’s a key part.
Speaking to reporters after the B-Corsairs 80-67 home victory over the San-en NeoPhoenix on Saturday, Aoki analyzed the club’s passing.
Yokohama (7-12) finished with 14 assists, including Takuya Kawamura’s team-high seven, and nine turnovers.
“We moved the ball well and had very few turnovers,” Aoki said. “If we keep playing like this, we are going to be fine.”
In addition to making smart decisions with the basketball, Aoki wants his team to get better at outmaneuvering opposing defenses.
“We think that it’s important to move the ball,” Aoki said. “We have imports that are strong inside and we can certainly use them, capitalizing on the mismatches. But when you are moving the ball, it gives (your opponents) time to come for help easily and it can also confuse your opponents. Before (in previous games), we had long minutes that we were just watching the ball, but when we are playing better, we are playing like today.
“But we still are inconsistent (in terms of moving the ball). We have ups and downs.”
League sanctions: Shiga big man David Weaver and Kyoto forward Takuya Sato have been fined ¥50,000 apiece and handed one-game suspension for their on-court scuffle in last Sunday’s game at Hannaryz Arena.
With 4:25 remaining in the second quarter, the players were ejected. Kyoto posted a 91-67 victory.
Upcoming games: Kawasaki plays host to Hokkaido and Sendai entertains Ryukyu in a pair of series scheduled to start on Friday. On Saturday, the following matchups are set to begin: Nagoya vs. Yokohama, Tochigi vs. Mikawa, Shiga vs. Niigata, Chiba vs. Shibuya and San-en vs. Tokyo. The Osaka-Toyama pairing is penciled in for Monday and Tuesday.
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.