Basketball / B. League | B. LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Diamond Dolphins star Justin Burrell helps Overseas Elite capture summer hoop crown

by Ed Odeven

Who says lounging on the beach, camping in the mountains or holding a block party should be the only plans for summer fun?

Playing basketball can be a serious summer activity (ask any Rucker Park alumni), but it can also be a lot of fun. Especially if you’re winning.

Overseas Elite have turned winning into a lucrative annual tradition in The Basketball Tournament. The team recorded its fourth straight summer title last weekend, winning the top prize (a winner-take-all $2 million check) in the 72-team, single-elimination tournament.

In the fourth quarter, established star Justin Burrell of the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins sank the championship-clinching free throw, his team-high 15th point of the game. The former bj-league MVP (2011-12 season while with the Yokohama B-Corsairs) knocked down the shot that gave Overseas Elite the magic number they needed: 70. The tourney’s format followed this rule: first team to 70 points wins the final.

Overseas Elite defeated Eberlein Drive 70-58 in the final last Friday. Their title quest began on July 14 in Richmond, Virginia, and ended in Baltimore. Six victories in as many games, and a large sum of cash to split among the players and team staff.

“It was so overwhelming and exciting and all those different things,” Burrell told a news conference, referring to the winning shot

Burrell revealed that he has a routine to get himself focused every time he goes to the free-throw line. “My daughter has to eat,” he tells himself.

It helps, admitted Burrell, who was 5-for-5 at the line in the final.

“And that allows me to not be in the moment,” he added. “But it was so difficult for that point right there to not be in the moment. . .”

Lou Amundson, an NBA veteran who was a near-midseason signing by the Kawasaki Brave Thunders last season, played for Eberlein. He didn’t score in six minutes. Alvark Tokyo star Alex Kirk played in the Drive’s 80-76 semifinal victory over Team Fredette on Aug. 2, but didn’t step on the court in the final.

The Drive’s coach, David Nurse, a well-known NBA shooting coach and consultant, also has ties to Japan. He joined the Sunrockers Shibuya as an advisory coach for skill development last fall. His uncle, Nick Nurse, is the new Toronto Raptors bench boss (Dwane Casey’s replacement).

Burrell, also a part of the 2017 title-winning squad, was a potent offensive force for Overseas Elite, showcasing his powerful inside moves and dunks.

“He finishes inside,” teammate Errick McCollum said of Burrell, who also pulled down eight rebounds in 23 minutes, according to thetournament.com. “He’s the first guy we had that could post up inside. He just changes the game. He’s a beast.”

McCollum spoke with conviction about the team’s accomplishments in a tourney that has grown and featured hundreds of former NCAA Division I players since it was established in 2014. (There were dozens of player with NBA experience competing in the 2017 event, according to a TBT press release.)

“People don’t give us the respect that we deserve because it’s not the NBA or even the EuroLeague,” McCollum commented. “But, this is open competition — the best players in the world outside the NBA. Everyone knows who we are, and they’re stacking up to beat us. . . . We just come out and do our job . . . and we’ll leave it for all of you to debate. It’s got to be something that’s historic (25-0 record in the tourney) and something that will never be repeated again.”

Center William McDonald, who competed for the B-Corsairs last season, was also on the winning squad. Overseas Elite’s 10-man roster consisted of players plying their craft in pro circuits outside of the United States. Rabid fans may recognize the names of the other players on the roster: Jeremy Pargo, McCollum, Johndre Jefferson, Todd O’Brien, D.J. Kennedy, Kyle Fogg, Paris Horne and DeAndre Kane.

Kennedy and Horne both attended St. John’s, too.

It’s a veteran-dominated squad, with only one player (Fogg) born as late as 1990 (January). Everyone else besides McDonald (October ’79) was born in the 1980s.

Murakami sets tone

More than any other player, Shinya Murakami remains the face of the Fukushima Firebonds for the upcoming season.

That’s because he will serve as team captain once again, the franchise announced on Wednesday. With that responsibility, of course, comes additional media appearances and various public events.

Like any team captain, the 27-year-old Murakami will also be expected to set an example for his fellow players on and off the court.

Murakami joined the Firebonds, a bj-league expansion team, in 2014 after a season with the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix.

The 172-cm point guard embraces his role as captain, recognizing that he’s a tone-setter for the club.

“Since there are many young athletes overall this season, I will devote myself to being able to pull the team (together) aggressively, taking advantage of that youthfulness,” Murakami said in a team-issued statement.

In 57 games last season, he contributed 9.5 points, 4.2 assists and 1.2 steals.

New addition for Mikawa

Former Syracuse University forward James Southerland, whose pro career has included stops in France, Italy, Germany and Puerto Rico, the NBA Development League and its successor, the NBA League, is joining the SeaHorses Mikawa, it was announced on Monday.

Southerland, who attended Cardozo High School in Queens, New York, suited up for both the Santa Cruz Warriors and South Bay Lakers this past season.

“I can’t wait to start my next chapter with the SeaHorses,” the 28-year-old Southerland said in a statement. “I will work my hardest to help this great organization and its talented players to complete an ultimate goal of winning a championship.”

As a college senior, Southerland averaged 13.3 points for Syracuse in 2012-13. He saw limited time in the NBA, appearing in a combined four games for Charlotte and New Orleans the next season.

The countdown

It’s less than two months until the season-opening match: a Thursday night showdown between the 2017-18 championship runner-up Chiba Jets Funabashi and the visiting Kawasaki Brave Thunders on Oct. 4 at Funabashi Arena. Tipoff is 7:05 p.m. and the game will be aired by NHK-BS1.

The other 16 top-flight teams are set to make their regular-season debuts on Oct. 6.