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Kyoto awarded bj-league’s 13th franchise; team to begin play in 2009

by Ed Odeven

The bj-league’s 13th franchise will be based in Kyoto, the league announced on Wednesday.

The team will begin play in the 2009-10 season.

Sports Communication Kyoto was one of 10 ownership groups to apply to the league for an expansion team last fall. The league announced six applicants, including groups in Chiba, Nagano, Miyazaki, Kanagawa Prefecture and one unnamed group, became expansion finalists.

The Kyoto group met the financial obligation (a startup fee of ¥250 million to ¥300 million) to join the bj-league, which began play in the fall of 2005 with six teams.

The league has added two teams to the fold in each of the past three seasons, and it will begin the 2008-09 season with 12 teams, including the first-year Shiga Lakestars and the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (formerly the OSG Phoenix of the JBL) on Oct. 11.

In previous interviews with The Japan Times, bj-league commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi has said he would like to add two teams per year whenever it expands. By doing so, it would simplify the league’s schedule, meaning at least two teams would be off on any given game day.

The league said it may announce another expansion team for the 2009-10 season, but no formal decision has been made yet.

Sun joins Phoenix

THE JAPAN TIMES

On Wednesday, the bj-league formally announced 236-cm Chinese center Sun Ming Ming has signed a one-year contract to play for the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix.

The Japan Times first reported the deal on Aug. 1.

Sun attended the bj-league’s summer camp at the Tarkanian Basketball Academy in Las Vegas in July. The 167-kg player also participated in a tryout for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2005.

He previously played in the United States Basketball League, the American Basketball Association and the International Basketball League. He also suited up for the Fuerza Regia, a Mexican League team, last season, but didn’t play for China in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.

If Sun appears in an NBA game, he would become the tallest player in league history. Manute Bol and Gheorghe Muresan, 231-cm retired centers, currently share that distinction. Houston Rockets center Yao Ming, the most famous Chinese basketball player in history, is 229 cm.

Phoenix coach Kazuo Nakamura said Sun is a long-term project for the team, but he embraces the challenge.

“We are going to develop his ability and in the future we hope we will have an NBA player from the bj-league,” Nakamura said.

At Shibuya ward’s Amway Japan office, Sun and team officials posed for pictures with league commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi on Wednesday.

Looking ahead to the future, Sun said he wants to be known as a strong all-around player.

“I want to play guard but I also want to make all the plays,” said Sun, who turned 25 on Aug. 23.

Naturally, Nakamura has other plans.

“I hope he plays around the (basket),” Nakamura said with a laugh.

“I guess there will be some conflict between us,” the coach added with a chuckle.

In 2005, Sun underwent surgery at The Skull Base Institute in California to have what was diagnosed as a benign brain tumor removed from his pituitary gland. Dr. Hrayr Shahinian told reporters the life-threatening tumor was causing Sun’s tremendous growth spurt.