KAWASAKI - What a difference a year makes for the SeaHorses Mikawa.
Actually, it kind of makes sense because of the departure of some of their core players from last season.
Although it must be taken into consideration that the SeaHorses have already faced stronger teams like the reigning champ Alvark Tokyo, they had the best record in the league (48-12) last year.
On Wednesday, Mikawa fell to 0-5 to open the 2018-19 B. League campaign.
The Central Division club lost slashing guard Makoto Hiejima and veteran floor leader Ryoma Hashimoto during the offseason. It also added two Americans in forwards Grant Jerrett and James Southerland, who had NBA experience. Hiejima, the 2017-18 B. League MVP, joined the Brisbane Bullets of the Australian NBL in the offseason.
Due to all of the changes, it appears that star guard/forward Kosuke Kanamaru now has to shoulder a heavier load for the Kariya, Aichi Prefecture-based team.
“Well, if we find more options in ourselves, it’s better. But the thing is, we really haven’t,” Kanamaru said after the SeaHorses’ 69-60 defeat to the Kawasaki Brave Thunders.
It is interesting that he used the word “options” because, right now, Kanamaru is one of the few offensive options for Mikawa, which led the league in scoring (84.6 points per game) last season, but has slipped to 13th (tie, 70.4) in the 18-team top-flight division.
Against Kawasaki, the SeaHorses regrouped in the third quarter and rallied back from 12 points down around their bigs (J.R. Sakuragi and Isaac Butts) and Kanamaru. The 29-year old scored 10 of his team-high 21 points in the third quarter and helped his team take the lead at one point.
Interestingly, Kawasaki head coach Takuya Kita said after the game that he told his players to watch out for Kanamaru, because every time Mikawa put the ball in Sakuragi’s hands in the post, he was just looking for Kanamaru, who is recognized as one of the top Japanese scorers in the league.
It was uncertain whether Kita wanted to say Mikawa has fewer guys to “look for” this season. But it is a fact that the team has lost some significant options and has to go to Kanamaru more often than in the last few years.
Kanamaru was on the floor for 35 minutes, 24 seconds — the most in the game and a season-high total — on Wednesday. The Fukuoka Prefecture native averaged 29:11 of court time in the first five games.
Mikawa bench boss Kimikazu Suzuki said that he kept Kanamaru on the court longer than usual because there wouldn’t be another game the next day (most games are played on consecutive days on the weekend), while he also needed the eighth-year player to help his team catch up with Kawasaki.
“But when we have to play on consecutive days, it’ll get harder on him, and to be honest, we feel like we will have to reduce the burden on him a little bit,” said Suzuki, whose SeaHorses lost to the Alvark in the playoff semifinals last spring.
The coach added: “He’s always been a player who has been able to score points for us, and we have to compete around him. So we certainly have high expectations for him.”
Kanamaru, a former national team player with one of the quickest shooting motions in the league, took 18 shots in the aforementioned contest. He thought that he took a few too many shots. But on second thought, he believed he needed to do so to give his team a spark.
Yet once again, Kanamaru thinks the SeaHorses have to work on building their chemistry more, playing as a team. In order to achieve that, he stressed that every player needs to step up with a sense of responsibility to contribute.
“I do,” he said, when asked if he feels he has to elevate his game after guys such as Hiejima and Hashimoto left the team. “But all five players on the floor have to feel that way. When one guy feels that way, this team becomes more like a one-man team, but when all five do, it leads to making your team more like a team. So I’m hoping we’re going to be like that.”
Kanamaru averaged 15.7 points (second most for a Japanese-born player) and ranked third in 3-point shooting percentage (39.5) last year. Through five games this season, he had a 13.8 ppg average and shot 28.6 percent on 3s.