The Akita Northern Happinets have endured an up-and-down season, but point guard Seiya Ando has emerged as a key contributor with a bright future in the league.

With 34 Happinets games in the books, Ando, a starter, has provided a glimpse of his potential and overall ability, contributing 10.7 points, 3.1 assists and nearly 1.0 steals a game.

This week, Ando, whose speed and athleticism have contributed to his growth as a player, was named to the Japan national team squad, guided by interim head coach Luka Pavicevic, that will face Iran in a pair of exhibition games in Sapporo on Feb. 10-11.

“First of all, I am very happy that I was elected a member of this international competition game,” Ando, a first-time All-Star this season, said in a statement.

He thanked the fans for their support and acknowledged that he wants to take “full advantage” of the opportunity.

As a young pro, the 24-year old Ando has already played for teams in three countries, starting with the Halifax Rainmen of the National Basketball League of Canada (2014-15), followed by stints with the Meralco Bolts of the Philippine Basketball Associations (2015) and Tochigi Brex last season.

Ando received limited playing time with the Brex, and since joining Akita before the current campaign, he has seen major minutes in the backcourt alongside fellow starter Shigehiro Taguchi and others.

On Sunday, Ando and his teammates were outplayed by the visiting San-en NeoPhoenix, who recorded a 64-54 victory. That dropped Akita’s record to 8-26. Ando was held to two points on 1-for-12 shooting.

How will the Happinets respond in their next game?

Stay tuned.

Sacre’s impressions: Former Los Angeles Lakers center Robert Sacre, who joined the Sunrockers Shibuya in mid-January, is working to be a bigger presence for his team.

“I know what coach (BT Toews) wants me to do,” Sacre told reporters after his 16-point, nine-rebound, two-block performance against the Tochigi Brex on Sunday. “I just have to keep getting better offensively and defensively and just hold myself accountable, and I think we can just keep improving and I’ve just got to keep working.”

The 213-cm Sacre is averaging 17.4 points, 11 rebounds and a block in five games.

He wants to do more.

Reflecting on Sunday’s game, when he shot 5-for-20 from the field but exhibited a nice mix of post-up moves including a soft touch on his hook shot, Sacre said, “I’m frustrated that I didn’t make the shot at the end to win the game. They gave me a good look there at a place (the left baseline) where I wanted the ball, but you live and you learn. I know next time if I get that opportunity I’m going to take it again. . . . I’ve just got to keep focusing on what I need to do to improve.”

Asked to assess the good points about Japanese basketball while making a comparison to the NBA, Sacre offered this analysis of the B. League: “It’s fast. You’ve got a lot of quick guards. They might be little, but they are quick, and it’s smart basketball. I don’t think you can deny that it’s really smart, but I think overall it’s good basketball.”

Working through the pain: After scoring a team-high 20 points in Sunday’s double-overtime win over the Sunrockers, Brex veteran Takatoshi Furukawa said that he has been focused on using practice to fine tune his game while also dealing with plantar fasciitis in heels of his feet.

Brex coach Tom Wisman said the team is carefully monitoring his situation and has needed to give Furukawa rest in order to let the injury heal. The swingman has appeared in 20 games, averaging 10.6 points.

Furukawa said he’s at about 70 percent, but continues to value the time in the gym to work on improving his game. He said working on his footwork and running are important aspects of his training right now.

Pleased with spike in attendance: The Sunrockers were 17th among 18 B1 teams in home attendance in the latest monthly reported released on Jan. 16, averaging 1,931 spectators a game.

But the January acquisition of Sacre and a home series against fan favorite Yuta Tabuse and the Brex last weekend provided a positive buzz for the team with packed gyms for both games, with 3,100-plus fans on both Saturday and Sunday.

“The atmosphere was amazing,” Sunrockers forward Ira Brown said. “The fans kept us in the game, whether it was Tochigi’s fans or (Shibuya’s)fans. It was loud and it was a great atmosphere to play in.”

Sunrockers coach BT Toews said he’s pleased with the increased attendance, recognizing it shows potential for the team to build a stronger fan base in the large population center around Shibuya.

Impressive play: In the nine-team third division, the Rizing Zephyr Fukuoka (18-2) and Kanazawa Samuraiz (16-2) are the pacesetters.

Upcoming games: The Saturday-Sunday matchups are as follows: Niigata vs. Mikawa, Hokkaido vs. Shibuya, Kawasaki vs. Ryukyu, Tokyo vs. Nagoya, Shiga vs. Akita, Yokohama vs. Chiba, San-en vs. Sendai, Kyoto vs. Toyama and Osaka vs. Tochigi.

Feedback: edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp

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