Basketball / B. League | B. LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Sendai gets boost from victory in Early Cup

by Ed Odeven

Last weekend ushered in the first real phase of preseason action as B. League teams prepare for the circuit’s third campaign.

The B. League Early Cup was staged as six regional tournaments (Kanto, Kansai, Tohoku, Tokai, Hokushinetsu and Nishinihon, with 36 teams in total registered from the B1 and B2 ranks, and six per event, though the Levanga Hokkaido were absent from the Hokushinetsu tourney) on Friday through Sunday. It gave teams a measuring stick for where they are and provided fans with a glimpse of how their teams will take shape.

The defending champion Alvark Tokyo claimed the Kanto crown, edging the host Tochigi Brex 72-70 in the final at Brex Arena Utsunomiya. Alex Kirk paced the Alvark with 25 points and eight rebounds.

“Today’s game was a really tough fight,” Tokyo coach Luka Pavicevic said on Sunday. “Tochigi is an aggressive and tough defense team, and also we are a team that defends hard as well. It was a game where the desire to win (for both teams) at the Early Cup final was on display.”

Further north, the Sendai 89ers made a positive start under new bench boss Dai Oketani, beating the Akita Northern Happinets 70-67 in the Tohoku final at Xebio Arena.

The second-division 89ers outscored the Happinets 40-32 in the second half.

Newcomer Tyler Harris, a power forward with college stops at North Carolina State, Providence and Auburn, sparked Sendai with 19 points, and Keita Sawabe poured in 10 points. (In July, the 89ers front office had a chance to see Harris in action at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, where he played for the Los Angeles Clippers.)

Takeshi Shingo (nine points, six assists) and Taisei Shirato and Shugaku Izumi (also with nine apiece) also provided a big boost on offense.

The 89ers went 21-39 in 2017-18 in B2. They are looking to elevate their play this season, which tips off in early October. A victory over Akita, which cobbled together a remarkable 54-6 regular-season mark this past season to punch a ticket back to the top flight, raises Sendai’s confidence level and creates additional buzz for the team’s rabid fans.

After the game, Oketani described it as a victory achieved by the entire team. He said the team’s cohesiveness and endurance paid off, according to Nikkan Sports.

And now, with Oketani at the helm after guiding playoff-bound teams at Oita, Ryukyu, Iwate and Osaka, there are lofty expectations for the club over the next few seasons. After all, Oketani guided the Golden Kings to two bj-league championships during his four seasons in Okinawa.

Other regional winners included:

Kansai — Ryukyu Golden Kings, who prevailed 79-62 over the host Osaka Evessa in the finale. Key for the Kings: Four players scored in double figures: Josh Scott had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Takumi Ishizaki added 15 points, Ryuichi Kishimoto had 13 and Narito Namizato 10.

Nishinihon — Kumamoto Volters, who outplayed the Ehime Orange Vikings in the title contest by a 90-76 margin. Vital numbers: Josh Duinker delivered a 36-point output for the Volters, while Chehales Tapscott poured in 26 points.

Tokai — Nagoya Diamond Dolphins, who recorded a 78-71 triumph over the SeaHorses Mikawa in the championship tilt. A few keys for Nagoya: Markeith Cummings’ 20 points, Justin Burrell’s 18 and nine rebounds and Taito Nakahigashi’s nine assists.

Hokushinetsu — Toyama Grouses, who defeated the Niigata Albirex BB 108-78 in the final. Noteworthy: Toyama, which led 56-37 at halftime, got 23 points apiece from Leo Lyons and Joshua Smith and 22 from Yuto Otsuka. Jun Uzawa had 17 points for the Albirex.

Growing ranks

The Gifu Swoops have entered the fold as a new third-division team this season.

Meanwhile, the Veltex Shizuoka received the green light to join the B3 ranks next season. The B. League Board of Governors formally approved the expansion franchise’s application this month.

The team’s nickname was one of 298 submitted by the public, according to Sports Hochi. Veltex is in reference to vertex or summit, as in “the highest point of something.” The fledgling team’s logo features the second “E” written backwards.

Did you know?

The Chiba Jets Funabashi, Golden Kings and Diamond Dolphins are among the dozen teams scheduled to compete in the east Asian event known as The Terrific 12 from Sept. 18-23 in Macau.

The other squads are from China, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines.

Upcoming coverage

A look at key player acquisitions and coaching changes within B1 and B2 and big question marks for various teams will appear in a later installment.