After splitting a pair of away games last weekend with the Utsunomiya Brex, the Osaka Evessa passed the midway point of the season with a realistic shot at capturing the West Division title.

It all starts with defense, solid rebounding and an effective run-and-gun offense that utilizes the team’s 3-point shooting talent, but also involves a methodical slow-it-down approach at times to showcase its effective half-court offense, too.

Head coach Kensaku Tennichi, in his second stint at the helm after famously guiding the Kansai based club to three bj-league titles in the now-disbanded circuit’s first three seasons (2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08) in a splendid five-season stint in charge, is relying on the building blocks of success that have defined many teams in the current era.

Tennichi replaced Kensuke Hosaka as bench boss in June after Osaka finished with a 23-37 record in the 2018-19 campaign and missed the playoffs.

Evessa center Josh Harrellson confirmed he likes his team’s overall approach after Sunday’s game against the Brex in Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture.

The former University of Kentucky and NBA player said the Evessa have made steady progress since the season began.

The West-leading Evessa (22-10 through Wednesday) are a determined, hard-working club, a team that relies on a spread-the-wealth mentality on offense.

“Our unselfishness to share the ball, you know, it doesn’t matter who scores 20 points, as long as we win,” Harrellson told The Japan Times. “That’s all that we really care about.”

Harrellson, who scored 30 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in a 72-66 victory over the visiting Ryukyu Golden Kings on Wednesday, acknowledged that rebounding and defense are strong points for the Evessa this season.

Through Wednesday, Osaka was second in the 18-team first division in rebounding (40.9 per game), trailing only the Shiga Lakestars (41.2). The Evessa are allowing 74.4 points per game, making them the fourth-stingiest defensive club.

“Those three things have really carried us to this point so far,” said Harrellson, the league’s leading rebounder (13.0 per game), of unselfish play, strong defense and stellar rebounding.

Harrellson played for the New York Knicks, Miami Heat and Detroit Pistons during the NBA portion of hoop career. He’s also plied his craft in Puerto Rico, China and Latvia.

He competed for the Evessa in the B. League’s inaugural 2016-17 season, then spent a season with the Sunrockers Shibuya before returning to Osaka in 2018. He also led the league in rebounding in 2018-19 (12.3).

Asked about the B. League’s progress and general improvement since the start of the inaugural campaign, Harrellson responded by saying, “I think it’s been great from year one to year four now. It definitely has made big leaps. They are promoting basically a lot more in Japan. They are trying to broadcast it more in Japan. There are teams themselves that are putting posters up, trying to get recognition in their cities, and they are signing a lot of good players.

“A lot of ex-NBA guys are coming over here instead of going to Europe and China, because Japan is a market now. And with all the new sponsorships and stuff, money has been just going up and it’s drawing a lot more attention.”

Is it a better league now than in 2016?

“Oh, for sure,” Harrellson declared. “Competitive-wise, it’s much better. Especially now with a lot more guys getting their (Japanese) passports, so that adds another edge to the competitiveness, too, because now you’ve got more imports that can play. They (teams) might sign (foreign-born) guards. You never know.

“It’s definitely really competitive. Every night you are going against great players.”

Shimane hires Kawai

Veteran coach Ryuji Kawai has agreed to join the Shimane Susanoo Magic as an associate coach, the West Division team announced on Tuesday.

Shimane bench boss Yukinori Suzuki is currently serving a two-month suspension for power harassment. The league-issued ban began last week.

Starting in 2011, the 44-year-old Kawai held head-coaching positions in the bj-league with the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix, Shinshu Brave Warriors and Oita HeatDevils (later known as the Ehime Orange Vikings during his tenure, which extended into the B. League era). After leaving Ehime, he also led the B. League’s Rizing Zephyr Fukuoka, a position he held until being dismissed in October 2018.

“Although I am joining in the middle of the season, I look forward to becoming one of the gears of the Shimane Susanoo Magic and fighting with you,” Kawai said in a statement.

Honoring Kobe Bryant

The Sunrockers Shibuya held a moment of silence (24 seconds for silent prayer, to be precise) for former Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant before practice on Tuesday.

Former Lakers forward Ryan Kelly, now in his second season with the Sunrockers, also posted a message on Instagram, reflecting on his memories of the NBA legend, who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday near Los Angeles.

“At a loss for words,” Kelly wrote on Monday. “So blessed to have gotten a chance to play with a true legend of the game @kobebryant along my basketball journey. A dream come true. My heart is broken for the Bryant family. My deepest condolences. I’m holding my family close today.”

Another ex-Laker, retired center Robert Sacre, who also played alongside Kelly and Bryant, also posted a heartfelt tribute on social media.

“My condolences to the Bryant family. This man has influenced so many people in this world and to know he’s gone is hard,” Sacre tweeted. “I’m just grateful and blessed to say I was in his presence for 4 years and what an impact he had. R.I.P. @kobebryant A god among men.”

The Kyoto Hannaryz, meanwhile, recognized Bryant, whose Nos. 8 and 24 Lakers jerseys are retired, with 24 seconds of silence before their Wednesday home game against the Shimane Susanoo Magic.

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