Basketball / B. League | B. LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Hiroshima leads B2 with 15-2 mark

by Ed Odeven

Through last weekend, there are two B1 teams with double-digit win totals: the Kawasaki Brave Thunders (11-3) and Utsunomiya Brex (10-4).

In the second flight, which is also an 18-team circuit, seven clubs have 10 or more wins, with the Hiroshima Dragonflies (15-2), Shinshu Brave Warriors (13-2) and Nishinomiya Storks (13-4) setting the early pace along with the Gunma Crane Thunders (12-4) and Sendai 89ers (12-5).

The Dragonflies, guided by first-year bench boss Takeshi Hotta, have dominated on the road, winning nine of 10 away games, including 88-86 and 80-78 decisions over the Ibaraki Robots on Saturday and Sunday.

Riding a six-game win streak, Hiroshima returns to action on Monday in the series opener against the visiting Yamagata Wyverns.

When he was hired in May to lead the Dragonflies after two seasons as the Kanazawa Samuraiz bench boss, Hotta made it clear that the team’s top priority was to challenge for B2 supremacy in 2019-20.

“We will continue to fight with the whole spirit to realize ‘B2 victory’ and ‘B1 promotion,’ ” he said at the time.

So far, so good.

The Dragonflies have a dependable, productive rotation. It includes power forward/center Jamari Traylor, a University of Kansas alum in his second season with the club, who is averaging 2.16 points, 10.1 rebounds and 5.0 assists in 14 games, and Takumi Furuno and Shogo Asayama, who are among the league’s top 10 in 3-point shooting accuracy.

Furuno, who joined the club after playing for the Kumamoto Volters, is currently No. 6 (at 40.6 percent) and Asayama is ninth (39.1). Furuno is also No. 2 in assists (7.3 per game) behind Volters floor leader Kaito Ishikawa (9.8). Other key players include center Gregory Echenique (18.1 points and 13.1 rebounds per game) and high-flying forward Thomas Kennedy (20.5 points), a key offseason acquisition.

Hiroshima is winning games by consistently producing numbers that secure victories.

To wit: The Dragonflies are averaging 83.8 points per game and yielding 72.5. They are shooting 55.3 percent from 2-point range and holding foes to 46.4 percent. They are making 36.9 percent of their 3-point attempts while limiting opponents to 33.2 percent. And they are averaging 34.2 rebounds a game while opponents pull down 30.7.

Determined to improve

The SeaHorses Mikawa have struggled so far this season. With a 3-11 record, they have the second-fewest wins in the 18-team top division. Only the San-en NeoPhoenix (0-14) have had less success.

Mikawa has lost six straight games.

Led by veteran coach Kimikazu Suzuki, who’s run the team since the mid-1990s, the SeaHorses are determined to elevate their play. They have had 13 consecutive winning seasons in the JBL, NBL and B. League eras. They won 31 of 60 games last season.

Guard Takuya Kawamura, one of the elite Japanese scorers of the 21st century who joined the SeaHorses in the offseason, expressed the team’s collective mindset via Twitter.

“We’re in a tough situation right now,” Kawamura tweeted on Monday morning. “But I know we can do it. We’re going to believe in our team and believe in each other and go out there and fight hard with a hungry mindset for all the people who continually support us.”

Mikawa lost its last three games by a combined 11 points, falling 91-89 to the visiting Sunrockers Shibuya on Nov. 3 and 81-77 and 81-76 last Saturday and Sunday against the host Shimane Susanoo Magic.

New challenge in Canada

Point guard Shota Tsuyama, a former Rizing Zephyr Fukuoka and Ryukyu Golden Kings player, has finalized a contract to play for the Halifax Hurricanes in the NBL Canada.

The deal was announced on Nov. 7.

Last season, Tsuyama, now 23, averaged 7.4 points and 2.3 assists in 59 games (four starts) for Fukuoka in the B. League first division. He knocked down 79 of 207 3-point attempts. He suited up for the Golden Kings from 2015 to 2018.

“Shota is a rising star as a basketball player” Hurricanes head coach Mike Leslie said last week. “He has played professional basketball since he was 18, has learned how to become a true professional player, and now wants to take his game to a higher level. As a dedicated and focused athlete, Shota wants to grow his game and compete in our league, using it as a stepping stone to elevate his pro career. He is excited to come to Canada and we are very pleased to welcome to Halifax and the Hurricanes.”

The eight-team NBL Canada season gets underway in late December. The Hurricanes play their first game on Dec. 28 on the road against the Island Storm in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.