Basketball / B. League | B. LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Ryan Rossiter's stellar play keeping Tochigi respectable

by Ed Odeven

Ryan Rossiter is having a spectacular season for the Tochigi Brex.

It’s not surprising, though. He played a major role throughout the 2016-17 campaign as the team captured the inaugural B. League title. The Siena College alum is once again a pivotal part of every component of the team’s game plan.

As the Brex plot a new course under Ryuzo Anzai, the former assistant who replaced Kenji Hasegawa on the bench in November after the team’s shaky 5-8 start, Rossiter has remained a steady anchor for the team on both ends of the floor.

Rossiter isn’t only leading the Brex (13-15 overall) in points, rebounds, assists and steals. He is ninth in the league in scoring (15.5 points per game), first in rebounds (11.0), ninth in assists (4.4) and 10th in steals (1.3).

Take away the New York native’s key contributions and Tochigi’s season looks different. Very different.

The Brex took a three-game winning streak in B. League games into the ongoing Emperor’s Cup. When they return to regular-season competition on Jan. 18, the Brex will need major productivity from Rossiter to climb over .500 and make a run at the playoffs.

The odds aren’t great for them in terms of reaching the playoffs, but team leaders like Rossiter, Yuta Tabuse, Jeff Gibbs and Yusuke Endo have been tested in pressure-packed moments in Japan and delivered.

Any conversation about legitimate MVP candidates for the 2017-18 season should include Rossiter’s name.

In the team’s latest triumph, 99-80 over the Niigata Albirex BB last Saturday, Rossiter filled the stat sheet with 23 points (a pair of dunks and a 3-pointer demonstrating his versatility on 9-for-12 shooting), eight rebounds, eight assists and two steals.

Rossiter, who joined the Brex in 2013, was the B. League’s leading rebounder (13.3) last season.

“He is perfectly suited to the B. League,” one coach who requested anonymity told The Japan Times on Wednesday. “In general, he impacts the game in more ways than most other MVP candidates.

“His ability to control the boards, make the right pass and play a combination of inside/out ball at the 5 spot makes him valuable.”

The coach added: “I would not say he is an MVP candidate as much as I like him as a player. But it’s early and he has helped keep them afloat.”

Rossiter’s free-throw shooting woes are well documented. He’s converted 50.5 percent (51 of 101) this season, and shot 50.7 from the charity stripe last season.

But, the coach noted, “his leadership on and off the court keeps the Brex in every game. He is a tireless communicator.”

Rossiter has real defensive liabilities, the source added, describing him as a “below average defender, but makes up for it with his defensive rebounding.”

Osaka Evessa coach Dai Oketani is impressed with Rossiter’s overall impact for the Brex.

“I love his enthusiasm to win the game,” Oketani said. “I think that makes him to do a lot of dirty work. Usually import players in our league only do scoring, rebounding, and maybe assists or shot blocking, which are on the stat sheet. But he does so much dirty work. That’s why Tochigi is tough to beat.”

Ryukyu Golden Kings forward Hassan Martin agreed that Rossiter is a tone-setting leader for Tochigi.

“Ryan is a tremendous player,” Martin told this newspaper. “He uses his length and high IQ to be effective. He doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be valuable to his team because he does a bit of everything. His presence on the court alone can be effective because everyone knows what he is capable of. Great touch around the rim, good footwork, can handle the ball. He can basically do it all, which is why he is a constant mismatch for his opponents night in, night out.”

Career milestones

On Monday, Alvark Tokyo forward Joji Takeuchi recorded his 3,000th career defensive rebound. . . . A day earlier, Sendai 89ers guard Takehiko Shimura dished out his 2,000th regular-season assist.

A look ahead

The second annual B. League All-Star Game will be held on Jan. 14 in Kumamoto. Tipoff is 3:05 p.m.

The head coaches are Kawasaki’s Takuya Kita (B. White) and Tochigi’s Ryuzo Anzai (B. Black).

Getting to know . . . Lou Amundson

The newest addition to the Brave Thunders roster has played for a jaw-dropping 10 NBA teams.

Since 2007, the undrafted 206-cm forward has suited up for the Utah Jazz, Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Chicago Bulls, New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans (two stints; nickname changed), Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks through 2016.

The UNLV alum was the 2007 NBA Development League Rookie of the Year.

Amundson appeared in a career-high 79 games for the Suns in the 2009-10 campaign. Phoenix went 54-28 that season, featuring Alvin Gentry and Steve Kerr as coach and GM, respectively, and veteran stars Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Amare Stoudemire on the roster.

In the NBA, he has career averages of 3.7 points and 3.6 rebounds in 428 regular-season games (42 starts).

Last weekend, Amundson came off the bench in back-to-back road victories over the Sunrockers Shibuya, helping Kawasaki extend its winning streak to six games. He had two points, six rebounds and four turnovers in 13:46 of court time on Saturday, with four points, four boards, three turnovers, a steal and a block in 15:26 the next day.

“I really didn’t play like I wanted to play, but I’m happy that we won,” Amundson told reporters on New Year’s Eve.

He admitted that he’s getting adjusted to the Brave Thunders’ style of play, getting his rhythm back and working on improving his fitness.

“But I’m just happy to help the team and glad we won those two games,” he added.

Upon joining the Brave Thunders, Amundson admitted he’s excited to resume his pro career here.

“It feels great,” he said. “I love Japan. I love everything about it. The rest of the world has a lot to learn from Japan. . .”

Looking ahead to the second half of the season, Amundson has high hopes for Kawasaki.

“We’re playing really well,” he said, “and hopefully we’ll continue to keep playing well.”

On a team with consistent scorers in Nick Fazekas, Naoto Tsuji, Ryusei Shinoyama, among others, Amundson said the defensive energy that he and fellow frontcourt player Josh Davis can provide will be vital for the team’s playoff aspirations.

Facing the Sunrockers, Amundson matched up against bigger inside players Robert Sacre and Harrellson, two NBA alumni. He said it was a different challenge than he often faced in the NBA, when he tended to guard players on the perimeter. But he said he was happy to contribute to the team’s defense.

“I’m still learning how the referees are going to officiate the game,” Amundson admitted.

He picked up two fouls on Saturday and three more on Sunday.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5