Basketball fans were treated to a smorgasbord of B.League competition between October 5-9, making up the opening round of the 2023-24 season.
Each of the B.League's 24 first-division teams had two games apiece, with all but one of the two dozen games taking place on back-to-back days. That's the usual format: a two-game series on two straight days.
The one exception: The Saga Ballooners, who opened their first B1 season at home on Thursday, October 5 with an 80-63 loss to the reigning champion Ryukyu Golden Kings. And then the Ballooners faced the Golden Kings again two days later (see below).
Nine of B1's teams own 2-0 records entering the second round of competition, and nine squads remain winless.
A Dynamic Start for the Nagasaki Velca
The Nagasaki Velca, who were promoted from B2 to B1 along with the Ballooners after the 2022-23 season, recorded a two-game sweep of the visiting Chiba Jets on Sunday and Monday, winning their B1 debut 91-82. Matt Bonds and Jarrell Brantley scored 20 points apiece in the series opener and Velca teammate Hirohide Araya chipped in with 15 points on 6-for-6 shooting.
In Monday's rematch, Nagasaki edged Chiba 89-86.
Velca head coach Kenjiro Maeda's club knocked down 14 of 29 3-point attempts and held the Jets to 7-for-38 from 3-point range.
Brantley, a former College of Charleston and NBA forward (41 games over three seasons with the Utah Jazz), led Nagasaki's balanced offensive attack with 15 points along with seven rebounds and five assists before an announced crowd of 4,035 at Nagasaki Prefectural Sports Center.
Five of Brantley's teammates also scored in double figures: Nick Perkins (13 points), Masaya Karimata, Min Kug Chang and Bonds (12 apiece) and Masaaki Morikawa (10). Karimata and Chang both drained 4 of 5 3-point shots.
Bonds, who joined the Velca in 2021, grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds.
"I think it was a very good game," Bonds told reporters. "Chiba played with a very high performance [level], but we were able to play as one."
Nagasaki led 43-41 at halftime.
Insights from Velca Coach Maeda
After Monday's triumph, Maeda bounced from topic to topic in his post-game remarks to reporters.
"I told the players that this was a special day for us, as it was the second day for us, but the first time for some of the spectators to come and watch the game," Maeda said. "We went into the game with a clear understanding of what they were looking forward to and what they came to see in a professional team game on such a special day."
What was the key to victory for the Velca?
Maeda said his team's effort impacted the final score.
"The good part of the game was that we fought tough until the very end," he said, "chasing the ball and making good runs when we had to."
Up next: The Velca travel to face the Toyama Grouses (0-2) on October 14-15.
For Nagasaki, 58 regular-season games remain on its schedule, and the team's focus is on making improvements.
"I think the key from here on out will be how much we can grow and how quickly we can turn the cycle of growth around," Maeda said.
Jets Star Hara Sidelined
There was a noticeable absence from Chiba's lineup during the opening week of the season. Japan national team and Jets guard/forward Shuta Hara underwent surgery on both ankles on September 11 to treat bilateral posterior ankle impingement syndrome.
Hara is expected to be sidelined for 4-to-6 weeks.
The 29-year-old won the B.League's Best Defender Award last season (2022-23), when he helped the Jets (53-7) finish as the championship runners-up.
The Other Unbeaten B.League Teams
In addition to the Velca, the Golden Kings, Alvark Tokyo, Utsunomiya Brex, Fighting Eagles Nagoya, Yokohama B-Corsairs, Shinshu Brave Warriors, Osaka Evessa and Nagoya Diamond Dolphins have 2-0 records.
Alvark Rout 89ers in Series Finale
Tokyo outscored the Sendai 89ers 51-27 in the second half en route to a 90-61 road victory on Sunday.
Big man Sebastian Saiz paced the Alvark with 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting. Ryan Rossiter notched a double-double (11 points 10 rebounds) and newcomer Kai Toews contributed 12 points and four assists.
Rashawn Thomas, a Texas A&M-Corpus Christi alum, led the 89ers with 19 points and nine rebounds.
Brave Warriors Outplay Robots
Shinshu built a 27-14 lead by the end of the first quarter against the visiting Ibaraki Robots and sealed its 91-83 win on Sunday at the free-throw line.
The Brave Warriors made 19 of 21 foul shots, while the Robots converted 19 of 32.
Shinshu's Stanton Kidd, who played for the Akita Northern Happinets in the 2022-23 season, led his new team with 21 points and corralled 13 rebounds. Frontcourt mate Wayne Marshall added 16 points and 13 boards. Veteran point guard Kaito Ishikawa dished out 11 assists.
Thomas Kennedy was Ibaraki's top scorer with a 22-point effort.
The Brave Warriors opened their season with an 84-79 overtime triumph over the Robots on Saturday.
B-Corsairs' Kawamura Drops 30 on Hannaryz
Reigning B.League MVP Yuki Kawamura sparked Yokohama with 30 points, including five 3-pointers, and handed out six assists in a 77-75 Sunday victory over the host Kyoto Hannaryz.
A day earlier, Kawamura finished with a game-high 18 points in the B-Corsairs' season-opening, 81-67 win.
In the rematch, B-Corsairs forward Devin Oliver finished with 17 points.
Filipino-Canadian guard Matthew Wright led the Hannaryz in points (19) and rebounds (10). Now in his second season with the club, Wright established himself as a go-to scorer in 2022-23 (13.4 points per game).
Kyoto outrebounded Yokohama 40-28.
Former B-Corsairs center Charles Jackson scored the game's final points on a layup with 43 seconds remaining. He finished with 15 points.
The Hannaryz trailed 29-17 after the first quarter, then they outscored the B-Corsairs 46-34 in the next two periods. As a result, the score was tied 63-63 entering the final stanza.
"Winning two games in the season-opening [series] was one of the positives for the team," B-Corsairs bench boss Taketo Aoki said. "In the process, we reconfirmed that we still have more work to do.
"There were many areas in which we failed to execute in detail on offense and defense, especially on defense. … I want to share this with the team so that we can all work on the details and play good basketball."
Evessa Display Defensive Toughness Against Grouses
In Osaka, the Evessa blocked eight shots, setting the tone for their 86-77 win over the Grouses on Sunday.
Veteran center Joji Takeuchi, a member of Japan's 2006 FIBA World Basketball Championship squad, swatted five shots to spearhead Osaka's interior defense.
Angelo Caloiaro and Shawn Long scored 23 and 21 points, respectively, for the Evessa, who led 31-18 entering the second quarter. Makoto Kinoshita chipped in with 10 points.
Long, the B.League's 2021-22 scoring champion, joined the Evessa in the offseason after previously suiting up for the Levanga Hokkaido.
British forward Myles Hesson led Toyama with 24 points.
Diamond Dolphins Overcome Slow Start
When the first quarter ended on Sunday, Nagoya trailed 25-11 against the Sunrockers Shibuya.
Then the Diamond Dolphins flipped the script, outscoring the visitors 65-49 the rest of the way.
Nagoya also had an 18-8 advantage in second-chance points in its 76-74 victory.
Shibuya's Josh Hawkinson, who had 23 points and 11 rebounds, converted a buzzer-beating layup in the fourth quarter to account for the final score.
Diamond Dolphins forward Robert Franks had 22 points and 10 rebounds. Teammate Yutaro Suda supplied 15 points, making 5 of 7 3s. Tatsuya Ito doled out six assists.
Brex Overpower Crane Thunders
DJ Newbill's 20-point performance paced Utsunomiya in a 77-63 win over the Gunma Crane Thunders on Sunday.
Newbill was 4-for-9 from 3-point range a day after missing all five of his shots from beyond the arc in the Brex's 80-73 season-opening victory.
Veteran forward Isaac Fotu, who competed for New Zealand at the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup, added 15 points and seven rebounds for Utsunomiya, who took a 14-point advantage into the second quarter. Longtime Brex guard Hironori Watanabe had the hot shooting hand in a 15-point outing, burying 5 of 6 3-point attempts.
Watanabe, 35, said he has high hopes for the team this season.
"I think we have another chance [to contend] now that we have such a great group of players," Watanabe told reporters. "So I want to put all my energy into making every minute count. We will only do our best for the many people who are involved with the Brex."
For Gunma, Ben Bentil had 17 points and 12 rebounds and Narito Namizato poured in 14 points.
Golden Kings Prevail in Overtime
Strong rebounding helped carry Ryukyu to an 80-79 overtime win over Saga on Saturday.
The Golden Kings held a 53-44 rebounding edge.
Furthermore, they outscored the Ballooners 28-5 on second-chance points.
Alex Kirk scored 15 points, making 7 of 8 shots from the floor, Ryuichi Kishimoto had 14 points and Ryukyu teammate Allen Durham chipped in with 13 points, 14 rebounds and five assists.
Saga's Josh Harrellson, an active presence as a perimeter shooter, had the green light and sank 7 of 12 3s in a 27-point, 15-rebound effort. Reynaldo Garcia added 20 points and nine assists.
Kawashima Energizes Fighting Eagles in the First Quarter
Starting shooting guard Hayato Kawahima played with purpose and maximized his playing time (nearly 13 minutes in total) on Sunday, especially in the first quarter, of Nagoya's 81-63 decision over the visiting Hiroshima Dragonflies.
Kawashima made four of his game-high five steals in the opening period and added four points and three assists in the tone-setting quarter.
The Dragonflies trailed 28-17 entering the second quarter.
Jeremy Jones (20 points) and Hiromu Nakamura (16) led the Fighting Eagles' offensive attack. Sean O'Mara and Tensho Sugimoto contributed 12 and 10 points, respectively.
Eight Nagoya players recorded a steal, wreaking havoc on the Dragonflies, who committed 24 turnovers.
For Hiroshima, Dwayne Evans was the high scorer with 18 points, followed by Toshiki Kamisawa, who had 14.
Fighting Eagles coach Taizo Kawabe's team opened its season with a 74-65 win on Saturday. A day later, he said the team has plenty of room for improvement.
"I think the fact that we were able to win two games on the opening [week] of the season with a full house was a result of a lot of support and the hard work of the players and coaches," Kawabe said after the series finale. "Yesterday, when we were up by 30 points, we were not able to attack well against the press at times, but today we were able to carry the ball well against that press.
"However, we need to grow every day, and there are still areas where we are lacking, so we will continue to pursue our own style of basketball."
- Golden Kings Soar Past Ballooners in B.League Opener
- From B2 to B1: Nagasaki Velca Aim High for 2023-24 Season
- [ODDS and EVENS] Expect an Exciting, Drama-Filled B.League Season
Author: Ed Odeven