Basketball / B. League

Hometown hero Shintaro Kobayashi steals the show at B. League All-Star Game in Kumamoto

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

The players didn’t take themselves too seriously during the second annual B. League All-Star Game.

Instead of focusing on lock-down defense for the full 40 minutes, they aimed to please. They put the focus on scoring points in a hurry with an emphasis on razzle-dazzle plays and lots of 3-point shots. In other words, it was standard fare for an All-Star contest. And on this day they often over-exaggerated their moves, such as a player falling backward after taking a mock charge or putting an extra dash of playground flavor to an inside move.

Yes, the game featured lots of highlights and plenty of clowning around, giving the fans plenty to laugh and cheer about.

B. White, guided by Kawasaki Brave Thunders bench boss Takuya Kita, defeated B. Black 123-111 on Sunday afternoon at Kumamoto Prefectural Gymnasium.

While the game didn’t follow a play-by-play or statistical script, it came close to a perfect plan.

Hometown hero Shintaro Kobayashi, a shooting guard and captain for the second-division Kumamoto Volters, was the fans choice for game MVP. He was ecstatic afterward and expressed gratitude to the fans for giving him their votes. Kobayashi also spoke about the occasion as not just being about basketball as the media spotlight returned to Kumamoto after the magnitude 7.3 quake that struck the prefecture in April 2016.

“I thank you all,” he told the fans before holding up a mini version of Kumamon, the popular Kumamoto Prefecture mascot. (Earlier, he posed for photos with the life-size mascot.)

“Our job is basketball . . . but this moment means more,” he added in a heartfelt reflection.

Starring for B. Black, Kobayashi finished with 18 points in about 21 minutes of court time. He knocked down 6 of 11 3-point shots and handed out four assists. He gave high-fives to each of his B. Black teammates as he carried his ¥1 million MVP prize poster near the bench.

For B. White, Davante Gardner (Niigata Albirex BB) and Takatoshi Furukawa (Ryukyu Golden Kings) led the way with 19 points apiece. The Kings’ Ira Brown chipped in with 14 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. He also dunked six times.

All told, the teams combined for 26 dunks. In a normal game, that stat would’ve irked both coaches.

This time, though, the wide-open offenses had ample opportunities to attack the rim.

Former Los Angeles Laker Robert Sacre matched Brown’s slam dunk total in a 16-point, 13-rebound effort for B. Black.

Takuya Kawamura was the high scorer for B. Black with 17 points. He attempted a game-high 15 3s and canned five. Kawamura received the Kumamoto MVP accolade for the game, recognizing his showmanship and entertaining effort. Akita Northern Happinets standout Shigehiro Taguchi had 16 points and Marc Trasolini (Levanga Hokkaido) finished with 11 points, 10 boards and six assists.

Also for B. Black, Tatsuya Suzuki (San-en NeoPhoenix) had seven points and three assists, while Kosuke Takeuchi (Tochigi Brex) and Naoya Kumagae (Osaka Evessa) scored six points apiece. Kumagae used his dunking skills to score all of his points. Alvark Tokyo teammates Joji Takeuchi and Daiki Tanaka were four-point scorers. Fan favorite Yuta Tabuse of the Brex chipped in with four points and three assist.

B. Black, led by Brex coach Ryuzo Anzai, shot 32 of 48 on 2-point shots and 14 of 52 from 3-point range. The team had 35 assists, 11 turnovers and was whistled for one foul (on Kumagae).

B. White was assessed six personal fouls. The team converted 36 of 51 shots from inside the arc and 17 of 52 from long range while registering 36 assists.

Ryukyu’s Yutaro Suda had 11 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter as B. White began to pull away late in the game. Kings teammate Furukawa, who had three points entering the final stanza, also delivered a huge performance in the last quarter, and Tenketsu Harimoto (Toyama Grouses) supplied 13 points and seven boards, with Ryumo Ono (Chiba Jets Funabashi) handing out five assists to supplement his five points.

Furukawa was one of four MVP finalists announced for the game along with Kobayashi, Kawamura and Brown.

Kobayashi garnered 51 percent of the fans’ votes on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Kawamura, Furukawa and Brown received 22, 15 and 12 percent, respectively.

Before the results was announced, fans demonstrated that they wanted Kobayashi to win, as thunderous claps filled the gym when his named was mentioned by the on-court M.C.

Brown insisted that his MVP was Coach Kita “because he’s one of the best coaches in the B. League.”

Kawamura said he was able to make a “number of good plays because of teammates.”

Indeed, the second quarter belonged to Kobayashi. For him, it was an opportunity to excite the local fan base, and his teammates gladly obliged by frequently passing the ball.

In about the same amount of time that it takes to eat a ham-and-cheese sandwich, Kobayashi dropped a quick trio of 3s on B. White, nailing a pair from the left wing to ignite his team, followed by another from the right side. Then after a Trasolini bucket, it was Kobayashi again draining a 3 from his hot spot on the left side. To recap: he scored 12 of his team’s 14 points in about a 2-minute, 20-second stretch, the last shot of which made it 47-35 at the 5:35 mark, and the local fans, who made up the majority of the jam-packed cozy venue (3,242 spectators), were delighted, clapping and smiling.

Kobayashi, who came off the bench after watching the game from his seat for the opening 10 minutes, became the story of the second quarter.

Just after the midway point of the second quarter, on-target Kobayashi knocked down a 3 from the left baseline to give B. Black a 54-41 lead.

The lead quickly vanished.

Ryusei Shinoyama (Kawasaki Brave Thunders) connected on a 3 from the opposite left baseline to trim it to 59-55. He finished with 11 points and five assists. Nick Fazekas, who also suits up for Kawasaki, had a six-point, 10-rebound outing.

B. Black led 61-57 at halftime.

Kobayashi was the leading scorer in the first half with 15 points, all coming in an electrifying performance in the second quarter.

Both teams shot incredibly well from inside the arc in the opening half. B. Black was 20 of 28. B. White converted 21 of 28.

B. White outscored its foe 33-22 in the decisive fourth quarter.

After a Sacre jam gave B. Black a 103-102 lead with 5:30 remaining, Yasuhiro Yamashita (Rizing Fukuoka Zephyr) canned a go-ahead 3 moments later, putting B. White in front 105-103, and they never trailed again.

Sacre was pleased the game picked up in intensity over the final several minutes.

“You know, I thought we started competing at the end of the game,” the Gonzaga University product said. “Obviously it’s an All-Star Game, but when it came down to the fourth quarter, guys really started to compete and really wanted to win the game. And it shows a lot of grit at the end of the day. . . . That was really cool.”

IN THE PAINT

After Sunday’s game, it was announced that the 2019 All-Star Game was awarded to Toyama. Osaka was the other finalist.

Kobayashi handed Uto a ball featuring the B. League logo after the announcement was made, bowing in front of the Toyama star. The two stars shook hands and posed for photos.

Moments later, Kobayashi, standing near the center circle, led a spirited, brief chant to end the festivities. He asked the crowd to join him in saying, “One, two, three, B. League.”

A trio of records were set in the second annual midseason showcase: most 3-pointers (Kobayashi), most dunks (Sacre and Brown with six apiece) and most rebounds (Sacre with 13).

B. Black won the inaugural All-Star Game last January 117-95.

Five-member Japanese boy band FlowBack performed at halftime. . . . Kumamoto Gov. Ikuo Kabashima addressed the crowd before the game, spending about five minutes to welcome the All-Stars, and thanking the fans for their support and the B. League, particularly chairman Masaaki Okawa, for the opportunity to stage the game in Kumamoto. Eighteen cheerleaders, one representative from each of the first-division teams, comprised the All-Star cheerleading squad…

Kyoto Hannaryz perimeter marksman Yusuke Okada captured the 3-Point Contest title, edging defending champ Taguchi by a 19-18 margin to claim the ¥100,000 prize.

Shiga Lakestars’ Tomonobu Hasegawa and Ono both finished with 11 points and Toyama’s Yuto Otsuka had 10.

Taguchi finished strong, making three of his last four shots, but a slow start proved too much to overcome.

Contestants were given one minutes to take 25 shots, with five from five designated spots starting at the right baseline. On each of the five racks, the fifth ball, or bonus ball, colored red, white and blue, was worth two points while other made shots counted as one points.

Taguchi said he was fatigued in an on-court interview after firing up his last shot, taking deep breaths while speaking.

Okada said competition at team practices paid off. He thanked his Hannaryz teammates for their support and the competitive energy at practice that has helped him stayed focused on being a quality 3-point shooter.

In the earlier Slam Dunk Contest, Brown defended his title, beating Shimane’s Tyler Stone in the two-man final round.

Social media was again used to determine the winner.

Fans selected Brown with 57 percent of their online votes. Stone had 43 percent.

The first round was judged by a five-person panel sitting courtside.

Kumamoto’s Josh Duinker went first and received 46 points. He was followed by Nishinomiya’s Seaun Eddy (45 points), Stone (49), Sacre (45) and Brown (50)

Showcasing his athleticism, Duinker caught a lob tossed by a teammate and then completed a dunk.

Eddy wowed the crowd with a nifty 360-spin move and then dunked.

Stone’s left-handed power slam locked up a spot in the final, while Sacre unleashed a two-handed jam, which was a sign of things to come in the game.

Working quickly, Brown was able to attempt four dunks in the allotted time (one minute). He missed his first two tries, with Ryukyu teammate Hassan Martin delivering the ball of the backboard for him. Brown’s timing was off.

The crowd’s support for Brown increased as the fans clapped in unison and he then attempted a right-hand power jam, missing again. On his fourth attempt, the sequence came together as Brown unleashed a powerful slam, booking a spot in the final. It was a reminder of his explosive leaping ability.

Stone went first in the final round. He tried to catch a high bounce and pounce the ball through the net in one graceful motion but missed. Stone then delivered a forceful left-hand windmill slam. Then he sat down to watch Brown.

Again, Brown was unsuccessful on his first three tries. For attempt No. 4, a two-handed jam sparked by the bouncing ball off the backboard convinced fans to award the title again to Brown.

“I have more tricks,” a beaming Brown said after the votes were tallied. “I wasn’t as explosive (as I wanted). My legs were kind of tired.

“I can do better.”

Stone was proud of his performance.

“I felt like I did pretty good,” he said, adding that “I could’ve gone a couple more rounds.”

Addressing the fans, he added, “The crowd’s amazing, and I knew the crowd was gonna love it (dunk contest). Thank you for your support. It’s a wonderful league. and we couldn’t do it without you.” …

Chiba star Yuki Togashi, who received the 2017 All-Star Game MVP award at Yoyogi National Gymnasium, didn’t play for B. White. Togashi is resting his bruised left thigh, which kept him out of the Emperor’s Cup that ended on Jan. 7. He was selected by fans to one of the two starting point guards (along with Tabuse).

In a video message to fans, Togashi apologized for his absence. “A lot of people supported me,” he acknowledged, so “it’s a pity I couldn’t play.”

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