By Mitchell Boatman

MUSKEGON – Sunday’s West Michigan Lake Hawks game was about more than just basketball.

Ralph Monday posts up for West Michigan against Kawachi Kodai. Photo/Jason Goorman

The Lake Hawks welcomed a special guest to Muskegon High School’s Redmond-Potter Gymnasium – the Shizuoka Gymrats of Shizuoka, Japan.

West Michigan won the contest 136-116, then presented their guests with Lake Hawks t-shirts and posed for photos with the Gymrats.

The Gymrats, like the Lake Hawks, are members of the American Basketball Association, and are traveling throughout the U.S. playing other ABA teams. This was the sixth consecutive year that the two teams have played.

The game in Muskegon was perhaps the most special of the tour for the Gymrats, because Muskegon and Shizuoka share a bigger connection.

“Their city is the sister city of the city of Muskegon,” said Lake Hawks head coach Ron Jenkins. “It’s just really fun to always have and host this type of game.

“(The Gymrats) will be here in town tomorrow. We’re going to do some things with them in the city tomorrow.”

Jenkins, who is also the ABA’s North Central Region director, has regular contact with Shizuoka player/coach Takuya Okada, and said another element to the relationship may be coming soon.

“These guys love doing clinics with kids,” he said. “One of these times, next year probably, we’re going to get them in and do a camp together, to promote basketball that way.”

Taguchi Sho drives into the lane against Lake Hawks guard William Roberson Jr. Photo/Jason Goorman

There isn’t a high level of competition available in Japan, so the team travels to the U.S. to play. Many of the Gymrats players are 18- or 19-year-olds, according to Okada.

The international matchup shines a light on the difference in style of play between the two nations.

Since the U.S. teams usually have a size advantage, the Gymrats have to employ a lot of double-teams defensively.

Jenkins noted the more unselfish style of play of Shizuoka.

“They like to pass the ball,” he said. “They’re very unselfish throughout the entire game. You can see the difference from U.S. play. These guys find the open player.”

In the game, West Michigan dominated after a slow start, and end up improving their record to 12-4 on the season.

The teams went back-and-forth during the opening minutes, with the Gymrats leading 14-13 after 6 ½ minutes. The Lake Hawks turned it on with a 20-0 run over the next 2:30 to take control.

The Lake Hawks led 36-22 after one quarter. They extended the advantage to as many as 28 points in the second, and led 68-47 at halftime.

The Lake Hawks went up by 32 points, 86-54, during the third quarter. The Gymrats responded with a 12-2 run to prevent the game from getting further out of hand, and West Michigan led 98-72 after three.

Shizuoka outscored West Michigan 44-38 in the fourth quarter, but the point spread was never closer than 17 points.

Every West Michigan player scored at least eight points. Terry Walker was the star offensively with 39 points, including 23 in the first half, and snagged eight rebounds. Jacarrius Scott added 30 points and William Roberson Jr. had 20. Marquis Brewer chipped in 14 points and seven assists.

Kawachi Kodai was the big scorer for the Gymrats. He poured in 43 points, including 10 makes from long range. Leo Bando added 19 points, all in the second half. Soa Jin scored 22 points and Taguchi Sho totaled 15.