Basketball / B. League | B. LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

NeoPhoenix star Robert Dozier provides leadership, confidence for club

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

With power forward Robert Dozier in the lineup, the San-en NeoPhoenix are a more complete team. A more balanced team. A more dangerous team.

Dozier improves San-en’s offense and defense and rhythm at both ends of the floor.

A natural leader, the veteran is a tone-setter for the NeoPhoenix, who had their seven-game winning streak snapped on Sunday by the visiting Niigata Albirex BB.

Dozier made his season debut on Dec. 9 after missing the first two-plus months of the season with an injury to his right knee. The NeoPhoenix (22-22) missed Dozier’s presence in the lineup. They went 8-11 before Dozier’s season debut, and are now playing their best basketball of the season, going 7-3 in their past 10 games, the same record in that span as a pair of Central Division rivals, Niigata and the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins.

The 32-year-old Dozier, who join San-en in 2016, has made a profound impact.

Just ask SeaHorses Mikawa forward J.R. Sakuragi, who plays a similar role for his team.

Sakuragi declared on Sunday that Dozier’s return has been the biggest reason for the team’s turnaround.

“He gives his teammates confidence,” Sakuragi said of Dozier at Aoyama Gakuin Memorial University Hall after the SeaHorses’ game against the Sunrockers Shibuya. “You always need that one guy that builds up the confidence of the players. It’s very important.

“You need that player that’s unselfish, motivating. He does a lot with his actions. That type of player is very valuable on each team.”

This season, the 206-cm Dozier is averaging 15.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 23 games (20 starts). He scored a season-high 26 points on Sunday against Niigata. He added five rebounds, three assists and two blocks. It was a strong example of the impact that Dozier makes for San-en. He had 20 points in the previous game, and has scored 20 or more in five of the last seven contests.

While at Memphis (2005-09), Dozier played alongside future NBA MVP Derrick Rose, helping lead the team to an NCAA Tournament championship runner-up finish against Kansas in 2008.

Former Memphis bench boss John Calipari, who has guided the University of Kentucky into this year’s NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, has positive recollections of Dozier’s time in a Tigers uniform.

“Robert was a starter and an integral part of a team that went to a Final Four and three Elite Eights,” Calipari told The Japan Times in a statement issued this week. “He was a key player on arguably the most successful period in Memphis basketball history. His length played a major part in our defense and he was a great teammate.”

The Miami Heat drafted Dozier in the second round (60th overall) in 2009. His pro career, however, took him overseas with stints in Greece, Spain, France and the Philippines, among other places.

Different year, same approach

Sakuragi, who first played for longtime SeaHorses bench boss Kimikazu Suzuki in 2001, said one of the highly respected coach’s keys to success is his ever-present demeanor.

“There’s no change. No change,” Sakuragi said. “Coach is always cool, calm and collected. He doesn’t get rattled. We work together, me and him. I’m kind of like his coach on the court. He trusts me, I trust him. We work together. That’s the way it’s always been, so nothing’s changed, just personnel.

“We try to work within that personnel to get winning results.”

Sakuragi, who helped the UCLA capture the NCAA crown in 1994, has spent the majority of the 21st century playing for Suzuki.

Career milestone

Niigata point guard Kei Igarashi scored his 6,000th career point in a win over San-en on Sunday. He had 23 points, matching his season high, in the game.

The 37-year-old is averaging 11.2 points and 5.6 assists.

Upcoming games

This weekend’s B1 schedule is as follows: Diamond Dolphins vs. Evessa, Albirex BB vs. Sunrockers, Jets vs. NeoPhoenix, Brex vs. Brave Thunders, Alvark vs. Levanga, B-Corsairs vs. SeaHorses, Golden Kings vs. Grouses, Lakestars vs. Storks and Susanoo Magic vs. Hannaryz. All nine series begin on Saturday.

Streaks

Mikawa has won 12 straight games, the longest current winning streak in the top flight. On the other end of the spectrum, Nishinomiya has dropped 14 straight games and Shimane has lost 18 in a row.

Success story

Former Osaka Evessa and Gunma Crane Thunders head coach Ryan Blackwell guided the Liverpool High School boys basketball to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class AA title on Sunday.

Blackwell’s squad went 26-0 this season, including a victory over defending state champion Mount Vernon in the tournament semifinals.

In the championship game against Half Hallow Hills East, Warriors senior Nas Johnson sparked Liverpool in the second half, when he scored all 13 of his points. He was whistled for two fouls in the first half, but Blackwell, a Syracuse University alum and former Evessa and Sendai 89ers standout, showed his faith in Johnson to lift the team after the intermission.

Liverpool, a Syracuse-area school, trailed 37-30 at halftime. But the Warriors went on to win 71-65 at Floyd L. Maines Arena in Binghamton, New York. The victory gave Liverpool its first state crown.

Reflecting on the team’s perfect season to date, Blackwell had this to say in an interview with The Post-Standard: “You can’t write that, you can’t script that. It’s hard to do, for anybody on any level. It’s just a testament to these guys and their work. For them to stick together with their chemistry, the way they are on and off the court, their love for one another, it shows and I’m just proud of them.”

HHHE star Salvion Lewis, New York’s Mr. Basketball who had 24 of his 32 points in the first half, posed defensive challenges for the Warriors. Blackwell just continued to challenge and encouraged his players.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, Savion is a great player, he makes plays,” Blackwell told the Syracuse newspaper. “All year our team has been resilient, we’ve stuck it out through adversity. I knew we would make a run, and we did.”

One more challenge awaits. Up next for Liverpool: an appearance in the New York State Federation Basketball Tournament of Champions, which features champions from the various associations and classification divisions this weekend. In the Class AA bracket, Liverpool has a chance to claim a second winner’s trophy by beating South Shore in Friday’s semifinals and the Long Island Lutheran-Stepinac winner a day later in Glens Falls.

The Warriors are the lone unbeaten team in the various Tournament of Champions brackets.

Blackwell coached his first game at Liverpool in December 2015.

Feedback

Contact the reporter: edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp

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