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Sunrockers Shibuya Moving in the Right Direction

With five victories in their last six B.League games, the rebuilding Sunrockers Shibuya have showcased their talent and potential to be a playoff contender.

After finishing the opening month of the 2023-24 B.League season with a 2-7 record in October, the Sunrockers Shibuya have started to hit their stride. 

The Sunrockers have won five of their last six, including a pair of two-game series sweeps in December.

Shibuya (8-11 overall) opened the season's third month with 92-82 and 89-67 victories over the visiting Sendai 89ers on December 2 and 3 at Tokyo's Aoyama Gakuin University.

The Fighting Eagles Nagoya then topped the visiting Sunrockers 61-56 on December 6. Three days later, Shibuya returned to the win column with a 79-56 triumph over the visiting Osaka Evessa. And on Sunday, December 10, the Sunrockers completed the weekend sweep, beating the Evessa 77-65.

Up next: Shibuya faces the Chiba Jets (11-8) on Saturday and Sunday, December 16 and 17 at Funabashi Arena.

Sunrockers Shibuya
Sunrockers coach Luka Pavicevic (B.LEAGUE)

The Sunrockers are Rebuilding with a New Head Coach

Shibuya entered the season in a rebuilding mode, with new head coach Luka Pavicevic leading the effort. In the 2022-23 campaign, the Sunrockers had a 28-32 record and missed the playoffs. 

Pavicevic said recent games have been a positive catalyst for the Sunrockers.

"Winning two games in a row against the Osaka Evessa was huge and very important for us right now," Pavicevic told reporters on Sunday. "We had a tough schedule this week with a game on Wednesday [against the Fighting Eagles], but I told the players to fight hard. And in fact, we were able to fight hard and strong."

What's the coach's assessment of his team's play in December?

"Winning four out of five games after the bye week is great," Pavicevic said, "and it is a good result as we are rebuilding the team."

Nearly one-third of the way through the season, the Sunrockers have shown signs of being a potential playoff contender despite their poor start. First and foremost, climbing above .500 would be an important benchmark.

Sunrockers Shibuya
Shibuya guard Anthony Clemmons had 16 points in a 79-56 win over Osaka on December 9. (B.LEAGUE)

Weekend-Opening Win Over Osaka

In the weekend opener, offseason signee Josh Hawkinson scored a team-high 20 points and fellow newcomer Anthony Clemmons poured in 16 to lead Shibuya's balanced scoring attack. Former Duke University and NBA forward Ryan Kelly, a Sunrocker since 2018, chipped in with 11 points. 

The hosts outscored the Evessa 42-26 in the second half to secure a 23-point winning margin.

Also on Saturday, new teammates Aki Chambers and Daiki Tanaka contributed eight and seven points, respectively, for Shibuya. And 43-year-old backup center Jeff Gibbs, a formidable inside presence in the B.League era for the Utsunomiya Brex and Nagasaki Velca, had a productive outing in 20-plus minutes (six points, 12 rebounds) for his new team.

On defense, the Sunrockers players had a cohesive performance, holding Osaka to 35.9% shooting from the field.

Sunrockers Shibuya
Shibuya's Josh Hawkinson looks to score against Osaka on December 10. (B.LEAGUE)

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Another Successful Performance Against the Evessa

In its 12-point win in the series finale, Shibuya rode the hot shooting of Hawkinson, an American-born, naturalized Japanese power forward. The Washington State alum, who was a key player for the Japan national team at the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Okinawa, had a game-high 20 points on 9-for-11 shooting on Sunday. 

Kelly supplied 14 points and eight rebounds and longtime Sunrockers playmaker Leo Vendrame had an 11-point outing. Clemmons, a University of Iowa alum, finished with 10 points and doled out five assists, while Gibbs added eight points.

Sunrockers Shibuya
Shibuya's Leo Vendrame runs the offense as Osaka's Fumiya Iio defends. (B.LEAGUE)

Osaka's Shawn Long led his team in points (17) and rebounds (15).

Vendrame and Genki Kojima, another former Alvark guard who joined the Sunrockers before the 2022-23 season, each made three steals, and Clemmons and Hawkinson had two apiece.

"The reason for today's win was that we played strong defense," Kojima commented after the game. "During the bye week, we were able to practice well, especially on the defensive side of the ball, which led to back-to-back home wins."

Sunrockers Shibuya
Shibuya guard Daiki Tanaka defends Osaka's Tatsuya Suzuki on December 10. (B.LEAGUE)

Kojima also mentioned that the team's offense is showing signs of improvement.

"Also, on the offensive side, as time goes by with the new members, I feel that we are gradually getting better as we learn more about each other's characteristics and playing styles," Kojima told reporters.

Key Individual Statistics for the Sunrockers

Hawkinson is fifth in the B.League in scoring (18.1 points per game) and leads his team in that category. He's also averaging 7.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks.

Kelly is scoring 14.4 ppg, followed by Clemmons' 13.2. Vendrame is averaging 11.1 points, with Tanaka at 9.1 through December 10.

Gibbs is averaging 7.1 points and 6.9 rebounds.

Sunrockers Shibuya
Jeff Gibbs (B.LEAGUE)

Clemmons is No 1 on the club in assists (3.8 per game), with Vendrame (3.2) and Tanaka (3.1) also among the team leaders.

A Key Victory for the Sunrockers

Following an 80-59 defeat to the Yokohama B-Corsairs on November 11, Pavicevic challenged his team to close out the month's abbreviated schedule (it then included a two-week break) with a strong performance.

The Sunrockers responded to the challenge with a resounding bounce-back win on November 12, thumping the B-Corsairs 81-69.

Five Shibuya players, led by Kelly and Clemmons with 16 points apiece, scored in double figures.

Sunrockers Shibuya
Ryan Kelly joined the Sunrockers in 2018. (B.LEAGUE)

That victory marked the beginning of the Sunrockers' stretch of five wins in six games.

The Sunrockers are still not at full strength. Another veteran big man, James Michael McAdoo, hasn't played a game yet this season due to a left shoulder injury. The former NBA player was placed on the injured list in mid-October and is now aiming to make his season debut. 

"It was important for the team to finish strong in the games before the bye week and win in front of our fans, who continue to support us even in difficult circumstances," Pavicevic said on November 12, noting McAdoo's absence.

"We have been working on being focused, sharp, energetic, and aggressive, and I am glad that we were able to do that in today's home game and come away with a win."

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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