Basketball / B. League

First-ever B. League All-Star Game delivers high-octane thrills

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Entertainment was the name of the game on Sunday evening.

The inaugural B. League All-Star Game was expected to provide a lot of scoring highlights and above-the-rim antics, and that’s precisely what it delivered.

In spurts, the contest was high-performance art. Mostly, though, it was a speedy showcase of scoring skills in every imaginable way.

B. Black, guided by Tochigi Brex bench boss Tom Wisman, made shots more consistently and sustained longer scoring runs in a 117-95 victory over B. White at Yoyogi National Gymnasium.

The victors shot 55.8 percent from the field and doled out 31 assists, with nine of 12 players registering two or more assists, including ex-Phoenix Suns player Yuta Tabuse (Brex) and Yuki Togashi (Chiba Jets) with six apiece before an announced crowd of 9,567.

In fan voting done on a trio of social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram), Togashi got the nod as All-Star Game MVP. The former Montrose Christian (Maryland) High School and NBA D-League guard finished with 16 points, six assists, five rebounds and a block. He also dunked for the first time in a game in his life.

Togashi received the fans’ affection, outvoting Tabuse, who scored two points, B. Black teammate Justin Burrell (Nagoya Diamond Dolphins), who had the game’s lone double-double with 18 points on 9-for-13 shooting and 12 rebounds, and B. White floor leader Diante Garrett (Alvark Tokyo), who scored a game-high 27 points with seven rebounds, three assists and two steals.

In the post-game hero interview, Togashi reacted to the honor, which included a ¥300,000 award, by saying, “I’m really happy about it, but I couldn’t have done it without the help of my teammates.”

Togashi’s shock-the-crowd dunk happened late in the third quarter, when he leaped past Burrell in the lane to slam the ball through the cylinder. That gave B. Black an 84-67 lead. Seconds earlier, Togashi had dished the ball to Burrell, delivering a crisp kick-out pass that the big fellow capitalized on for a short jumper.

“That was the first dunk in my life,” a beaming Togashi admitted, “and it felt really good.”

Asked if the dunk was planned with Burrell, Togashi had this to say: “That’s a secret.”

He went on: “But it’s the All-Star Game. I wanted to do something spectacular, and I had said I would dunk, so it was good that I did.”

It’s been a banner month so far for Togashi, who helps the Jets capture the Emperor’s Cup crown last Monday at the same venue.

“The B. League (has) started and I was honored to be able to play in such a great atmosphere,” he said. “Hopefully I will grow as a player and play in a place like this again.”

In addition to Burrell and Togashi, B. Black had four more double-digit scorers: Nick Fazekas (Kawasaki Brave Thunders) with 17 points, Makoto Hiejima (SeaHorses Mikawa) with 15, Naoya Kumagae (Brex) with 12 and Seiya Ando (Akita Northern Happinets) with 10. Brex forward Ryan Rossiter chipped in with nine points and nine boards.

For the B. White, Kosuke Kanamaru (SeaHorses) canned four 3-pointers in a 14-point night. Shuhei Kitagawa (Ryukyu Golden Kings) added 10 points and Anthony McHenry (Golden Kings), Joji Takeuchi (Alvark) and Hilton Armstrong (Jets) finished with eight apiece.

“It was a great turnout,” Garrett said of the crowd, “and the fans had a lot of fun.”

B. White trailed throughout the second half, but made a spirited 11-0 run to close the gap to 88-80 on a pair of Kitagawa free throws with 7:51 to play.

Rossiter then buried a 3-pointer from the left wing to push the margin back to 91-80, and B. Black’s lead remained in double figures for the rest of the game.

Tabuse, a former Suns guard, said he enjoyed teaming up with talented players from various teams.

He also admitted that “a teammate was named MVP, and I’m glad.”

Garrett, another ex-NBA guard, was pleased with the overall product that the B. League provided for the fans.

“I thought it was a lot of fun,” he said.

“It turned out to be a good game.”

Noted for his passing skills, Garrett also has the ability to handle a heavy scoring load when the opportunity arises.

“I just saw a lot of openings going to the lane,” he said of Sunday’s game. “I was just being aggressive and being myself.”

Trailing 72-53, B. White called a timeout with 6:02 remaining in the third quarter.

B. Black extended its lead to 74-55 moments later when Tabuse converted a difficult scoop shot.

Wisman’s squad was in front 88-72 entering the final stanza.

B. Black led 58-49 at halftime and shot 53.1 percent in the first half.

Togashi and Hiejima each had 11 points for B. Black before the break, while Garrett was the top B. White scorer with 15 points in that span, and Kanamaru had eight to augment Garrett’s effort.

To the delight of the crowd, Tanaka, Hiejima and Kumagae provided slam dunks in the opening quarter, as did Burrell.

In the first half, Tabuse was first among all players in assists (four), while Togashi had three.

Razzle-dazzle plays and lots of fast-break opportunities punctuated the opening 10-minute period.

B. Black was ahead 28-16 after one quarter, and the up-tempo play highlighted the second stanza.

Early in the second quarter, the 167-cm Togashi was defended by 211-cm center Armstrong, his Chiba teammate. Togashi quickly dribbled to try to free himself from the long reach of the ex-NBA big man, using his crossover dribble on multiple occasions and drawing a warm round of applause from the fans. Togashi broke free, but missed a layup attempt.

Armstrong spoke about that play after the game.

“I told him before the game I’m going to guard him for one possession,” the ex-Uconn big man told reporters with a smile.

Both teams employed a wide-open offensive attack, with B. Black taking 20 3-pointers (six makes) in the opening 20 minutes; B. White was 4-for-22 from beyond the arc in the half.

B. Black used an 11-0 run to take its largest lead of the half, 48-36, capped by an Ando jumper.

Like many pro all-star showcases, this game placed a premium on offense. B. Black was whistled for three first-half fouls; B. White was charged with four.

In the paint: Taguchi provided a dramatic finish in the second round of the 3-Point Contest on Sunday afternoon. Taguchi needed to score 22 points to beat Kanamaru in the second round to win the two-day competition.

Taguchi did exactly that, nailing his final shot from the left corner, a two-point “money ball” to reach 22, giving him a two-round total of 43 points.

Kanamaru had 24 second-round points — out of a maximum 30 points (25 shots in total, with five apiece from five set locations around the perimeter, with the last shot from each spot counting two points) — as the next-to-last shooter in the seven-player competition. He totaled 42 points in the two rounds.

After a slow start, Kanamaru heated up. He scored a maximum six points from the right wing in the second portion of the second round, then had five apiece in each of the last three spots.

Taguchi had 10 points after taking his 10th shot, then 11 after 15, and challenging Kanamaru for the crown appeared unlikely.

But he finished with a flourish, going 5 of 5 from the left wing and scoring five more points from the left baseline, including the needed final attempt.

When his point total flashed on the big scoreboard above the court, Taguchi raised his arms to celebrate the triumph. He clapped excitedly and encouraged the fans to join him in celebrating the feat.

“I’m well,” he declared.

“Yes, I’m glad,” he added in an on-court TV interview. “I’m really happy.”

Taguchi was presented with a giant cardboard sign, which announced he was the winner.

“My legs are shaking,” he joked. With a playful smile, he added: “I’m pleased that I’m standing between you two.” He was referring to the two B. League game managers, tarento Misako Yasuda and model Maggy.

Other two-day scores in the 3-Point Contest: Josh Harrellson (Osaka Evessa) 27, Yusuke Karino (Shiga Lakestars) 27, Shuto Tawatari (San-en NeoPhoenix) 26, Yusuke Okada (Kyoto Hannaryz) 24 and Shogo Asayama (Hiroshima Dragonflies) 20. …

In the Dunk Contest’s final round, Burrell squared off against Ira Brown of the Sunrockers Shibuya.

Fan voting, conducted by social media, determined the outcome. Brown received 55 percent of the vote to Burrell’s 45. When the voting was announced moments before the start of the second half, Brown had impressed the fans with his one-handed grab of the ball in mid-air and powerful dunk. He initiated the play with a high bounce of the ball and timed it perfectly.

Burrell had four missed dunk chances before an impressive windmill jam on his final attempt with 10 seconds to spare.

“It’s an honor to win the very first dunk contest,” Brown said. “I really appreciate the fans’ support.”

Brown was the oldest of the six dunk contestants. He said extra work in the gym and eating healthy Japanese food help him take care of his body.

In the first round of the Dunk Contest, which was held about an hour before the game, Burrell received a perfect score of 50, getting all five judges to raise a 10-point placard over their heads. The St. John’s University alum accomplished the feat with a powerful double-pump reverse slam, soaring through the air, going right to left, near the baseline. Brown had the help of an assistant for his one-minute segment. The helper forcefully bounced the ball off the backboard, Brown grabbed the high rebound and slammed it home with a crowd-pleasing windmill for 49 points. Also in the opening round, Garrett earned 47 points, Kumagae got 46, Ken Sakamoto (Fighting Eagles Nagoya) garnered 44 and Tshilidzi Nephawe (Sendai 89ers) 40. …

Different generations of head coaches patrolled the sidelined, with the 67-year-old Wisman and B. White/Alvark Tokyo bench boss Takuma Ito, 32, running the show for their respective teams. … Female J-pop group Flower performed at halftime. .. It was a rough day at the office for Yokohama B-Corsairs guard Takuya Kawamura, who was 0-for-7 on 3-point shots and missed both of his free throws in a zero-point outing.

Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.