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Readers weigh in on top underrated players

by Ed Odeven

It’s often easy to identify the superstars in sports.

After all, people talk about their accomplishments repeatedly and recognize their faces from widespread exposure in the social media era.

But what about the more unheralded players who fill roster spots and contribute to their respective teams?

They are, of course, important pieces to the puzzle.

In a recent survey sent out to an estimated 75 people who closely follow the B. League — players, coaches, agents, die-hard fans — this reporter asked folks to identify the most underrated player and coach in B1 and B2. That’s a lot of ground to cover — 36 teams in all.

Not everyone responded to the survey, but those that did provided a range of interesting and thoughtful answers.

What follows is a recap of those responses.

“Not sure if ‘underrated’ is the proper term but Josep (‘Pep’) Claros has done an excellent job this season at Akita,” Ehime Orange Vikings coach Richard Glesmann told The Japan Times, referring to the first-year coach from Barcelona who has guided the Northern Happinets to a league-best 47-6 record through Sunday. “Yes, they have high resources so they are in a different situation than the Orange Vikings and other teams. That being said, Akita is always focused and consistent no matter the opponent.”

Looking at the action from baseline to baseline, Glesmann continued his analysis by saying, “I believe there are many ‘underrated’ players in B2. One specific player who I have been impressed with that fits the underrated term is Rizing player Takuya Komoda. He consistently makes winning plays in all areas.”

With Komoda helping lead the way, the Rizing Zephyr Fukuoka boast a 44-9 record.

Gary Ebert, an American agent who has kept tabs on Japan pro hoops for years, penciled in Sunrockers Shibuya guard Leo Vendrame as his choice for the most underrated player.

The reason?

“Good production on an underperforming club,” Ebert remarked.

A pair of pundits offered praise for the commendable job Levanga Hokkaido head coach Kota Mizuno has done this season (Hokkaido is 25-28). They cited him as their top choice for most underrated coach.

Shiga Lakestars coach Shawn Dennis said this of Mizuno: “What he achieves with his small budget is amazing. Some of the bigger teams would do well to chase him because he is an extremely astute young coach who is doing a great job.”

Another survey participant agreed that Mizuno deserves wider recognition.

“The reason why I chose him is because he’s made Levanga a competitive team,” the source added.

One reader, who provided analysis while traveling to Italy on business, gave a superlative review of the impact that Ryukyu Golden Kings power forward Hassan Martin, a first-year pro out of the University of Rhode Island, has made for the West Division champions. Martin is averaging 15.5 points and 8.2 rebounds a game.

“He is a really good and a dedicated player both defense and offense,” the source declared. “Despite his first overseas living, it is amazing to have his results as a rookie. But unfortunately only Japanese rookies are focused on usually. I hope his efforts would be known more.”

Orange Vikings star Chehales Tapscott believes Hiroshima Dragonflies forward Kevin Kotzur perfectly fits the description of most underrated player.

“He doesn’t do anything great,” Tapscott said of Kotzur, “but he sure as hell doesn’t do anything bad. A true example of consistent basketball . . . rebounds and scores efficiently and is solid on the defensive end.”

Tapscott also admitted he’s impressed with the job that Glesmann, in his first year at the helm, has done at Ehime, which is currently 29-24.

“He came into the organization late,” Tapscott said of Glesmann, “and as a first-time coach in Japan he has adapted to the culture quickly and will most likely lead his team to a team record number of wins in a season, more wins than last season (29-31), with virtually the same roster the head coach (Ryuji Kawai) at Fukuoka had.”

While the SeaHorses Mikawa, who have a top-flight best 44-9 record, have steamrolled past foes this season en route to 16- and 17-game winning streaks, one Japanese reader sent in an analysis that spells out why.

“I think the most underrated player in the B. League is Mikawa’s Ryoma Hashimoto,” the reader stated. Though most people say the best point guard is (Chiba’s Yuki) Togashi, (Toyama’s Naoki) Uto or (Shiga’s Narito) Namizato, Hashimoto’s stats are terrific.”

Hashimoto is averaging 7.4 points and 3.4 assists a game, with 151 assists and 32 turnovers in the books.

“His assist/turnover ratio is by far the best in the league,” the reader noted. “Also, his shooting is solid (43.0 percent from 3-point range and 84.7 percent at the charity stripe). Hashimoto is not a standout on Mikawa, the best team in B1, behind (Makoto) Hiejima, (Kosuke) Kanamaru) and (J.R.) Sakuragi.”

When it comes to providing maximum effort, Lakestars frontcourt stalwart D’or Fischer received a ringing endorsement from Dennis.

“I know he is my own, but I think D’or Fischer is the most underrated player,” Dennis proclaimed. “He is a great shot blocker and very efficient offensive player. He is a super competitor. He has had to carry a massive workload for us.”

One avid hoop fan dished out the opinion that Namizato is underappreciated and underrated.

“He is second-ranked in assists and eighth in points per game among Japanese players,” the loyal booster opined, “but his name isn’t on the roster of the national team.”

Indeed, Namizato is one of the premier playmakers in the B. League. He’s averaging 12.0 points and 7.2 assists per game.

Alvark Tokyo backup forward Jawad Williams, who plays a defined role exceptionally well for the title-chasing club — generally 20 minutes a game — considers himself the one who tops the most underrated chart. The former Cleveland Cavalier also heaped on praise for his coach, Luka Pavicevic.

“Our coach has been great and implemented a new system with new players,” Williams, a University of North Carolina alum, told this newspaper.

Longtime Japan resident Todd Wiley, an American businessman who has become a basketball agent in recent years, made a persuasive argument that Jets forward Michael Parker is the undisputed most underrated player here.

“Michael Parker without a doubt. Reasons: Besides scoring more than 10,000 points in his career look at the past four seasons,” Wiley, who represents Parker, commented.

Wiley offered some key facts:

❛ “Wakayama — goes to the (2013-14 NBL) Finals.

❛ “(Parker) moves to a .500 Toyota team — 28 game-winning streak, goes to the finals.

❛ “Chiba year one — Emperor’s Cup. Chiba Year two — Emperor’s Cup with all different imports but him. Now in first place and legitimate champion team possibly.”

Wiley went on: “Mike also does the things that are not in the stat sheet that makes for wins and makes every other player better. Unfortunately most people only look at scoring and don’t see help defense, changing shots, and one of the best field-goal percentages in the game. Japan needs heroes so focuses on promoting their Japanese players as they potentially should. But follow Mike and you follow wins and that’s why you play the game.”

Wiley also reached the verdict that Tom Wisman, currently in an advisory role for the Yokohama B-Corsairs, is No. 1 among underrated coaches.

“He has built and rebuilt Tochigi into a championship team twice,” Wiley said. “No one comes close to that accomplishment. Not taking anything away from Suzuki-san (longtime SeaHorses coach Kimikazu Suzuki) and Aisin’s success but when J.R. was the only import with a Japanese passport there was a clear advantage there.

“It’s very unfortunate that Coach Wisman was not rewarded for his success last season.”

The Brex didn’t offer him a new contract after they captured the 2016-17 title last May.

Another reader thinks Jets reserve point guard Fumio Nishimura should be cited first on the list of underrated players.

“He should get more playing time,” the survey participant said of Nishimura. “I think he can control his teammates and make good rhythm.”

One rabid B. League fan expressed the view that Brave Thunders veterans Takumi Hasegawa and Takahiro Kurihara are overlooked for their impact.

The hoop aficionado summed it up this way: They both contribute for the team by making plays that don’t appear on stats.”

Kotzur, a former Hannaryz standout, gave the nod to Nagoya post player Craig Brackins and Toyama rebounding maestro Sam Willard.

“They work hard and rebound, are productive around the rim, but they can also stretch the floor. They are both very efficient,” Kotzur decided.

As for the second division, he cited Kumamoto Volters standout Josh Duinker, providing the same aforementioned reasons.

Moreover, Kotzur insisted that Kyoto head coach Honoo Hamaguchi fits the description of most underrated sideline supervisor.

“He understands the game really well and always adjust to the players that are brought in each year,” Kotzur said.

A look ahead

Here’s a rundown of this week’s first-division matchups: Kawasaki vs. Tochigi (starting on Friday) and the following two-game sets that tip off on Saturday: Nagoya vs. Toyama, Shibuya vs. Chiba, Mikawa vs. Ryukyu, Tokyo vs. San-en, Hokkaido vs. Osaka, Nishinomiya vs. Shiga, Kyoto vs. Yokohama and Shimane vs. Niigata.

Special honor

Former Osaka and Gunma head coach Ryan Blackwell, now the varsity boys basketball bench boss at Liverpool (New York) High School was recently named USA Today’s New York Coach of the Year.

Blackwell, who played college ball at nearby Syracuse University, led the Warriors to the Class AA state title.

“It was nice,” Blackwell, who completed his third season at the helm, was quoted as saying by Syracuse.com of the award. “It adds on to all that we accomplished this year.”

Liverpool went 26-0 en route to the title before dropping its final game in the subsequent Federation Tournament of Champions.