Basketball / B. League

Golden Kings counting on veteran Ishizaki

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Takumi Ishizaki brings a poised, cerebral presence to the court, and his arrival symbolizes a new era in Okinawa.

The veteran floor leader’s steady, polished game can boost any B. League team’s backcourt.

Which is what the combo guard will be expected to do for the retooled Ryukyu Golden Kings this season under new bench boss Norio Sassa, who replaced departed coach Tsutomu Isa.

There are numerous newcomers on the Kings, including national team standout Ira Brown and former NBA big man Hilton Armstrong, who suited up for the Sunrockers Shibuya and Chiba Jets, respectively, last season.

Another new face in the Ryukyu frontcourt is forward Hassan Martin, a gifted shot blocker who played at the University of Rhode Island. The 22-year-old rookie was with the Orlando Magic in the NBA Summer League.

In 2016-17, his final college season, Martin impressed in the Atlantic-10 Conference, averaging 13.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. He received the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year award. He also claimed that accolade in his junior season, and averaged at least 2.5 blocks in his freshman and junior seasons and 3.1 as a sophomore.

Other offseason acquisitions include former Tochigi Brex forwards Yutaro Suda and Takatoshi Furukawa and ex-Alvark Tokyo playmaker Kohei Ninomiya for the West Division squad.

Most of the roster is comprised of new players, and so the Golden Kings, who played their first game as a bj-league expansion team in 2007, enter a new era, making a transition from their storied past.

Veteran mainstays Shigeyuki Kinjo and Ryuichi Kishimoto are back for the Kings, who parted ways with team legend Anthony McHenry after this past season. McHenry, a driving force behind the team’s four bj-league championship teams, is now with the second division’s Shinshu Brave Warriors. He spent nine seasons with Ryukyu.

A change of scenery could revitalize the do-it-all McHenry’s career and also help the Brave Warriors plant the seeds for future success.

The same could be true for the 188-cm Ishizaki.

In Okinawa, the 33-year-old Ishizaki, appears to be in an ideal situation. He has a chance to be one of several veteran leaders and not face the pressure of being a go-to guy every game. Ryukyu’s depth should make that possible.

Ishizaki is an intriguing pickup for the Kings. He’s flown under the radar at times during his pro career, but remains one of the few Japanese ballplayers to experience success in an overseas circuit.

In his heyday, Ishizaki averaged 13.7 and 12.8 points for BV Chemnitz 99 in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, respectively, in Germany’s Basketball Bundesliga, while leading the team in assists (3.7) in the latter campaign. A former Japan national team player, Ishizaki began his pro career with the JBL’s Toshiba Brave Thunders in 2007. He jumped to the bj-league’s Shimane Susanoo Magic in 2010, spending the club’s first season under the watchful eye of then-coach Zeljko Pavlicevic.

After leaving Germany in 2014, he joined the Mitsubishi (now known as Nagoya) Diamond Dolphins. Three seasons later, Ishizaki awaits a new challenge.

“I would look for Ishizaki to be a role player, a backup more than a major contributor this season,” a B. League observer told The Japan Times in an in interview last week.

“Not saying he could not play that role (as a primary guard), it’s just I think he is much older now and he’s had a few lingering injuries so he’s not the same guard he was five, six years ago.”

Rather than posting gaudy statistics, the well-connected source said he expects Ishizaki to make a greater impact with intangible contributions.

“I don’t see him being a guy who will put a lot on the stat line but his leadership and experience could be a major contribution to the younger guards and to the team,” the observer noted. “(But) playing in a different system may help him to contribute more.”

In 2011, Osaka Evessa legend Lynn Washington praised Ishizaki’s abilities in an interview at the bj-league All-Star Game in Osaka.

“He’s the best Japanese basketball player I’ve ever played with,” the retired Indiana University product said of Ishizaki.

“He doesn’t turn the ball over. He knows how to find players on the fast break and in the halfcourt sets. And probably the most important thing that he does is that he knows how to finish over Americans, and that’s very rare here in Japan.”

The Golden Kings open their season on Friday night against the visiting Sunrockers Shibuya. It’ll be the first official opportunity for Ishizaki and the rest of Sassa’s squad to test their chemistry and the progress they’ve made over the past several weeks.

In the paint

Ryukyu went 3-2 in The Super 8 in Macau last week, including a 3-0 record in group play, matching the Chiba Jets Funabashi for the best record entering the semifinals.

China’s Zhejiang Guangsha Lions defeated the Kings 78-60 in the semis.

In the third-place game, South Korea’s Goyang Orion Orions won 88-71 against Ryukyu in the eight-team tournament (Chiba won the title).

To close out the tourney, Martin had 19 points and 10 rebounds against the Orions, while Brown contributed 15 points and 13 boards. Teammates Shota Tsuyama and Ryunosuke Watanabe both scored eight points.