Basketball / B. League | B. LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Kawasaki star Nick Fazekas gives support to referees

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Any meaningful discussion about the quality of a pro basketball league’s officiating ought to include prominent players.

Which is why this reporter reached out to Kawasaki Brave Thunders star Nick Fazekas after Sunday’s game against the Yokohama B-Corsairs.

Fazekas makes a living taking — and making — lots of shots. He led the B. League in scoring (27.1 points per game) last season, the circuit’s inaugural campaign. He’s No. 2 this season, averaging 25.5 a game for the title-chasing Brave Thunders. All told, he’s attempted more than 1,800 shots from the field since the league staged its opening weekend in September 2016.

So the former University of Nevada standout and NBA center knows a thing or two about getting fouled and stepping to the line afterward. (Through Sunday, he’s attempted 645 foul shots in regular-season B. League games since the beginning.)

Speaking specifically about the referees’ performance this season, Fazekas told The Japan Times this: “You know, one thing I think they are doing a great job of this year is protecting shooters. One thing that was an emphasis for them last year, it kind of felt like if you shot a jumper and a guy ran into you, it was just like, ‘it might be a foul, it might not be a foul.’

“But now this year, it’s like if you got hit they are pretty consistent with calling that,” added Fazekas at Yokohama International Swimming Pool.

Fazekas pointed out what others have said in a variety of ways over the years — that is, that officiating is a thankless business.

“I don’t envy officials,” he said. “It’s a tough job. They are going to miss some calls. It is what it is, so it doesn’t bother me. Those guys are doing the best that they can, so I appreciate that.

“I know I am guilty of barking at them every once in a while, and I think we all are. But it’s a fast-paced game and the level of play is getting faster and faster. They are trying to catch up as well, but I think they are doing a pretty good job.”

Is the level of officiating consistent across the board this season?

“I think so,” Fazekas said, “because you always get different guys every weekend, and so some guys are a little bit different than others, but I think it stays consistent for the both games. I do think that. Every weekend could be a little bit different, but that’s the adjustment. That’s the job that a player has to do to adjust to the officials about what they are calling for that weekend and what they are not calling for that weekend.”

Watch for . . . Keita Imamura

The Niigata Albirex BB rookie swingman had a pair of breakthrough performances last weekend against the visiting Alvark Tokyo, sparking the club with 18 and 19 points on Saturday and Sunday.

The 22-year-old Imamura, appearing in his 21st and 22nd games as a pro, canned 4 of 6 3-pointers and was 3 of 3 from inside the arc in the series opener.

The Niigata Prefecture native made 5 of 6 3s in the series finale, helping Niigata top the powerhouse Alvark 81-72 to complete a series sweep. Imamura also pulled down a season-high eight rebounds.

On back-to-back days, he notched his first double-digit scoring performances of the season.

Sure, Imamura doesn’t have a long history of game-day feats as a pro, but the youngster’s confidence must be on the rise after two impressive outings.

The 191-cm Imamura made his B. League debut on Dec. 2. He has started 14 games.

A look ahead

This weekend’s action tips off on Friday as Kawasaki faces Nishinomiya and Osaka plays host to Toyama in series openers. A day later, it’s Shimane vs. Chiba, Kyoto vs. Shiga, Tochigi vs. Nagoya, Tokyo vs. Shibuya, San-en vs. Ryukyu and Yokohama vs. Niigata. The Mikawa-Hokkaido series starts on Sunday.

By the numbers

The Akita Northern Happinets are having a remarkable season, leading B2 with a 36-4 record. . . . The Ehime Orange Vikings are the top-scoring team (83.8 ppg) in the second division. The Happinets are the lone team in B2 averaging double digits in steals (11.3 per game), while the Aomori Wat’s and Shinshu Brave Warriors are tied for second at 8.1 a game. . . . Power forward Reggie Warren, one of the enduring stars in Japan pro hoops, is the third-leading scorer in B2, averaging 20.05 points for the Kagawa Five Arrows, and the 37-year-old is by far the leading rebounder (12.4 per game) in the second division.

Coaching move

In the flurry of activity at the Winter Olympics last month, a significant decision was made by the Bambitious Nara that has not yet been reported by this newspaper.

On Feb. 9, the team announced that veteran bench boss Zeljko Pavlicevic, in his first year in charge, was leaving the team.

Haruyuki Ishibashi became the new head coach. Tanaka, who turned 44 in December, was one of the oldest active players in Japan pro basketball when the season began.

The Bambitious were 7-27 when Pavlicevic, a two-time winning Euroleague coach and former Japan national team bench boss (2003-06, including the 2006 FIBA World Championship), departed.

Under Ishibashi, the team is 2-4.

Ishibashi acknowledged it’s a “tough situation,” but vowed to do his best to improve the team.

“I would like to thank the boosters that have always supported us tremendously,” Pavlicevic said in a statement. “My players gave their all during practices and games, even though the results might not have shown it. Also thank you to the club for the opportunity to work in Nara. Unfortunately my wish to build a team that this city and its fans deserve, was not possible under current conditions as well as mutual frustrations at this point in time.

“I would also like to thank the people working at front office for the conditions and the support they gave me. In the remainder of the season, I wish the team, its boosters and sponsors more satisfaction and better results than until now.

“And lastly, I would like to mention that some of the messages that I received from my players, have convinced me that the last couple of months of our work have definitely left a trace.”