The annual All-Star Game is making the rounds in the league’s brief history.
First, of course, was the 2017 edition at Tokyo’s Yoyogi National Gymnasium in mid-January. Last season’s entertaining contest was staged in Kumamoto, and the ongoing campaign’s midseason showcase is set for Jan. 19 in Toyama.
Which brings us to next season’s fan-pleasing spectacle.
B. League chairman Masaaki Okawa announced on Tuesday that Sapporo has been awarded the 2020 All-Star Game, set for mid-January at Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center, the Levanga Hokkaido’s main gym.
Okawa revealed that voting for the All-Star Game hosting bid during a board of governor’s meeting was decided by the slimmest of margins. Hokkaido received seven votes and Ibaraki Prefecture got six — and there were three abstentions, according to published reports.
In the aftermath of the powerful earthquake that struck Hokkaido in September, Okawa said he hopes the All-Star Game can help “energize Hokkaido” in its recovery efforts.
Fueled by media speculation, there’s additional interesting banter going on in Japanese basketball circles: Levanga guard/team president Takehiko Orimo, who will turn 50 in May 2020, may decide that the All-Star Game will be his final hurrah as a player. Orimo hasn’t provided definitive plans about his future as a player.
Top MVP candidate
In this reporter’s analysis, Tochigi Brex forward Ryan Rossiter is the leading first-division MVP candidate at this stage of the season. The East Division-leading Brex (13-2) benefit from the Siena College product’s all-around impact game after game.
Rossiter, an established star on the team that captured the 2016-17 championship, is the top flight’s No. 2 scorer (23.2 points per game). He is second in rebounding (12.0), seventh in assists (5.2), fifth in steals (1.5, tied with Tomokazu Abe of the Toyama Grouses) and eighth in blocks (1.2).
Among the title contenders once again, the reigning champion Alvark Tokyo have surprised no one that they are in the playoff hunt. Ten wins out of 15 games to open the season isn’t an earth-shattering achievement, nor is it a reason to panic for the Alvark.
Power forward Jawad Williams, who makes major contributions coming off the bench, believes the team is about where it should be. He noted the challenge of losing key players to injuries and Japan national team duty during stretches of the season affects player rotations and the rhythm of the season.
“We are going to continue to work hard and we’ll work through it just like we did last season,” Williams said, “and hopefully build up and take off at the right point.”
With 24 assists and just seven turnovers in Sunday’s 87-70 triumph over the Kawasaki Brave Thunders, the Alvark displayed supreme confidence in the team’s pick-and-roll scheme and overall offense. With 13 points and six assists, Williams was one of the catalysts in their bounce-back victory.
“I think we did a great job of moving the ball,” the former University of North Carolina Tar Heel said. “There were plays where we did the right thing as far as we see the double team come here, and we get rid of (the ball) and not hold it or pound it too much.
“When we play like that, we are pretty tough to guard. We have so many guys who can score.”
View from Kawasaki
Forward Shane Edwards, who joined the Kawasaki Brave Thunders in the offseason, said his new team is starting to hit its stride, though it had a five-game win streak snapped on Sunday.
“Obviously, we’ve been jelling and playing good basketball, and with that guys are feeling more comfortable and guys are falling into their roles better,” Edwards commented. “Obviously, we’ve still got things to improve to be a top team, but right now we are playing pretty good basketball. . .”
He described the 9-6 Brave Thunders as “being in a good place and we have even another level to get to.”
Edwards said that he’s impressed with the across-the-board competitiveness of the B. League.
After stops in the NBA Development League (now known as the NBA G League) plus stints in Italy, Germany, Sweden, the Philippines and Indonesia, Edwards has gained a broad perspective on the global game.
“With this league early on, and it’s still early, but I feel like a lot of these teams, if you don’t bring it every night, it’s going to be a battle,” the University of Arkansas Little Rock alum said at Todoroki Arena. “And that can be from top to bottom, and I realize that if you come out not focused or not ready, you can get beat by any team.”
The operative word, he said, is “balance,” referring to teams’ rosters. “And you’ve seen it this year, some of the good teams they’ll drop a game to what in the past have been lower teams.
“The quality of basketball over here,” he added, “is on the rise and it’s getting better from top to bottom.”
A look ahead
This weekend’s B1 two-game sets are Mikawa vs. Nagoya (starting Friday) and San-en vs. Shiga, Hokkaido vs. Kawasaki, Chiba vs. Osaka, Akita vs. Niigata, Shibuya vs. Kyoto, Yokohama vs. Fukuoka, Toyama vs. Tochigi and Ryukyu vs. Tokyo (all getting underway Saturday).
Eye on the second division
The Hiroshima Dragonflies (14-1) have the best overall record in B2 and better than any first-division squad, too. They are riding a six-game winning streak through last weekend. . . . Veteran forward Scootie Randall made a dramatic return to Japan hoops this month. He made his season debut with the Ibaraki Robots on Nov. 3 and poured in 30 points. The Temple University alum scored 19, 13 and 36 points in the Robots’ next three games. Randall also suited up for Ibaraki in the 2016-17 campaign. Last season, he played for the Gunma Crane Thunders.
So far, so good
In his first season as Sendai 89ers general manager, Takehiko Shimura has helped lead the team to the top of the second division under first-year head coach Dai Oketani. The 89ers lead the B2’s East Division with a 12-3 mark.
Shimura, who retired last spring, bravely guided his team on the court as a longtime point guard. For the media and fans, it’s interesting to follow his new occupation in the front office as he works to put his stamp on the team.
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