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Osaka’s Harrellson takes pride in toughness, versatility

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

While playing college basketball for the powerhouse University of Kentucky program, Josh Harrellson broadened his game beyond the traditional expectations of a big man, e.g. around the basket. The 208-cm power forward/center became a bigger threat on offense from the perimeter.

Now he’s a major contributor for the Osaka Evessa, and Harrellson’s ability to play on the perimeter or inside is on constant display. He is one of the B. League’s leading scorers (18.0 points per game, eighth-highest average through Sunday) and rebounders (13.13, second-best average behind Tochigi Brex stalwart Ryan Rossiter’s 13.14). He is also comfortable working near or beyond the 3-point arc and regularly getting in position to take 3s. He’s knocked down 54 of them, with 39.7 percent accuracy.

“Anywhere I can help my team win,” Harrellson said on Sunday, summarizing his objectives whenever he steps onto the court.

If X (center Xavier Gibson) is down there, I don’t mind stretching the floor,” he continued. “But when X isn’t in there, I love being down there fighting for rebounds. That’s what I’m very good at. That’s what makes me successful, and I love going down there and banging and trying to get rebounds.”

Harrellson, who hails from St. Charles, Missouri, credits his time at Kentucky with giving him this all-around ability to impact the game.

“I was always a big guy in high school, but I didn’t play against a lot of big guys in high school” recalled Harrellson, the No. 45 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft (selected by New Orleans, traded to New York). “But college was a turning point. I played against the best, even in practice every day.”

Harrellson cited current Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins and Oklahoma City Thunder big Enes Kanter as players he competed against during his days as a Wildcat.

“So that kind of transformed me into the player I am,” Harrellson said, “battling those guys every day, playing against the best. They just make you better and that’s what they did.”

Those experiences enabled Harrellson to expand his game and to make the 3-point shot a staple of his offensive repertoire.

“Even in college against DeMarcus Cousins it’s hard to post him up,” Harrellson said of the 211-cm bruiser who’s averaging 28.3 ppg for the Kings and was one of five Wildcats picked in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft.

“Even in my senior year against Enes Kanter he didn’t play (due to NCAA violations), but every day we practiced against each other so I had to stretch the floor a little bit. Even though I didn’t shoot as much in college as I do now, we just had so many weapons in college, and now I just feel more comfortable stretching that floor.”

“I think really in the NBA is when I started shooting the 3 more,” he said.

Harrellson appeared in 75 regular-season games for the Knicks, Heat and Pistons over the 2011-12 and 2013-14 seasons, and has also spent time with pro teams in Puerto Rico, China and Latvia. He saw action in seven preseason games for the Washington Wizards in the fall of 2015 before being cut, then went to Latvia.

And by frequently taking 3-point shots, Harrellson fits the description of the modern-day power forward/center who looks to score from anywhere.

Nearing the midway point of the 60-game season, Harrellson said he is satisfied with his overall productivity.

“I think I’ve done a really good job for this team — rebounding, shooting, scoring, whatever they need me to do I’m here to do it for them,” he stated.

With 23 regular-season games under his belt playing for Osaka coach Dai Oketani, Harrellson has developed a strong understanding of his mentor’s persona and methods.

“His strengths are putting us in positions to succeed,” Harrellson said of Oketani. “He’s real big on defense. He wants to be one of the best defensive teams in the league, and so that’s his strength, being able to communicate to us what he wants us to do, and not being shy.”

“He’s always blunt. If he wants you to do something, he tells you, and that’s what you’ve got to have in a coach is somebody that’s going to tell you what you have to do to succeed, and that’s what he does.”

Harrellson is encouraged by the positive progress the Evessa have made in recent weeks. They’ve won five of their last six games, and he noted, “We’ve picked it up these last few months, and we’ve gotten a lot better.”

Meanwhile, the addition last week of former Akita Northern Happinets star Richard Roby, who began the season with the San-en NeoPhoenix but was let go in November, has brought another element to Osaka’s lineup. The veteran forward, a two-time bj-league All-Star, is known for his ability to make plays in the open court and excel on the fast break.

“I believe that he can help us in transition,” Harrellson said of Roby, “getting easy baskets, running the floor, and maybe if a 4-man (power forward) or 5-man (center) switches on him it (can be) an easy mismatch where he can get a layup or something off of that.”

Harrellson also had words of praise for Evessa veteran point guard Hiroyuki Kinoshita, a longtime JBL floor leader for the Panasonic Trians, calling him “very smart, very experienced.”

“I love playing with Kino,” he added. “He’s a great passer and a great player. He knows where to put the ball, and he knows what to do to get guys buckets. He’s just always making the right pass and the right call on offense to get us a good possession.”

Upcoming games: The weekend tips off with the Alvark playing host to the Levanga in their series opener on Friday. The Saturday series openers are SeaHorses vs. NeoPhoenix, Diamond Dolphins vs. Sunrockers, Evessa vs. Golden Kings, Jets vs. Grouses, Northern Happinets vs. Albirex BB, B-Corsairs vs. 89ers and Lakestars vs. Brave Thunders.

Red-hot teams: The Chiba Jets (16-7) and Kawasaki Brave Thunders (20-3) have strung together winning streaks of 11 and 12 games, respectively.

All-Star rosters: For the Jan. 15 All-Star Game, the B. Black squad consists of guards Yuta Tabuse (Tochigi), Takuya Kawamura (Yokohama), Yuki Togashi (Chiba), Naoki Uto (Toyama) and Makoto Hiejima (Mikawa); forwards Ryosuke Shirahama (Akita), Naoya Kumagae (Tochigi) and Ryota Sakurai (Hokkaido); and import stars Rossiter, Justin Burrell (Nagoya) and Nick Fazekas (Kawasaki).

For the B. White squad, the backcourt includes Ryuichi Kishimoto (Ryukyu), Shigehiro Taguchi (Akita), Kei Igarashi (Niigata), Tatsuya Suzuki (San-en) and Kosuke Kanamaru (Mikawa); forwards Shuhei Kitagawa (Ryukyu), Tenketsu Harimoto (Nagoya) and Joji Takeuchi (Tokyo); and foreign standouts Anthony McHenry (Ryukyu), Diante Garrett (Tokyo) and Hilton Armstrong (Chiba).

For the B. Black, Brex bench boss Tom Wisman has been named the head coach, while Tokyo coach Takuma Ito is set to lead the B. White.

More lineups details will be announced after fan balloting ends on Sunday.

3-Point Contest: Participants have been announced for the All-Star Game skills contest on Jan. 15. Taguchi, San-en’s Shuto Tawatari, Kanamaru, Shiga’s Yusuke Karino, Kyoto’s Yusuke Okada, Harrellson and Shogo Asayama of the second-division’s Hiroshima Dragonflies are scheduled to compete.

Dunk Contest: Sendai’s Tshilidzi Nephawe, Kumagae, Garrett, Shibuya’s Ira Brown, Burrell and Ken Sakamoto of the B2’s Fighting Eagles Nagoya were named to compete in the All-Star Game day event.

Feedback: edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp