HANNO, Saitama Pref. — Every season must begin with a game. But few games can create as much intrigue as the one that took place on Monday in this small city beautified by lush green mountains.
Here’s what you need to know: The Tokyo Apache returned to Japan’s capital city on Monday evening after their first game of the Bob Hill era, a 68-58 win over the Saitama Broncos.
In a game filled with plenty of highlights and sloppy play — as expected in the exhibition opener — fans got a quick glimpse of what to expect from both teams this season.
“There was a lot we did well and a lot not at all,” said Hill, the veteran coach. “We’ve had 17 practices and one exhibition game, so it is still early on in our season.
“Overall, I’m pleased considering the circumstances. (Forward) Kendall Dartez played extremely well. (Center) Robert (Swift) and (guards) Kensuke (Tanaka), Cohey (Aoki), and Byron (Eaton) all played well. I think (veteran point guard) Darin (Satoshi Maki) surprised me and a lot of people with his play. I was impressed.”
Broncos coach Bob Nash, also in his first season leading a bj-league team, was impressed with the way the Apache played.
“I think they are extremely athletic,” Nash said of Hill’s club. “They have some very good basketball players on their side over there, and I think once they get their legs under them — this is their first exhibition game — they are going to be a force to be reckoned with in this league.”
He added: “To lose to the Apache in an exhibition game by only (10 points), I think, speaks volumes for how hard our guys have worked to get themselves ready to play.”
Dartez scored a game-high 18 points for Tokyo and Tyler and Aoki had 11 apiece. Swift, who played for Hill while both were with the Seattle SuperSonics, added 10 and Eaton chipped in with seven.
Center Bruce Brown, who exhibited his dunking skills in the fourth quarter, paced Saitama with 14 points and Kenny Satterfield had 12.
The Apache out-rebounded the Broncos 38-29, including a 13-6 edge on the offensive glass, and collected more steals (15-10). Saitama had 20 turnovers to Tokyo’s 16.
Aoki made 3 of 9 3-point shots, leading all players in both departments. Satterfield, showing the poise of a true veteran, was 7-for-7 at the free-throw line.
Asked to assess Satterfield’s performance, Hill responded by saying, “I know his game. I coached him on a tour in France when he was coming out of high school. He is very quick, savvy and knows how to play. He’s a better shooter than he shot against us (1-for-6 from 3-point range). He will have a positive impact on this league and will be a great player for Saitama.”
Due to scheduling issues, the Apache’s next game won’t be until Oct. 23, when they play their regular-season opener on the road against the Sendai 89ers. That doesn’t mean, however, that Hill will give his charges a light workload over the next four weeks.
“We have one exhibition game scheduled and we will probably have one intrasquad scrimmage,” he noted. “We scrimmage a lot in practice. But, the most important thing now is to practice so that everyone can understand how we want to play.”
Furthermore, one thing Hill is already certain of is that the team will give Aoki a chance to be a go-to option in crunch time, much like he did while playing under ex-Apache coaches Joe Bryant and Motofumi Aoki.
“When you can control the situation, he should be the first option, but we have others that can shoot, too,” Hill said, referring specifically to the fourth quarter. “He will absolutely be a part of that group.”
Dartez’s eight rebounds and strong defensive performance gave Hill the confidence to say that he “played well.”
Tyler, who had 11 points in 20 minutes, can look to this game as a valuable lesson.
“He could have had 18 in that time if he ran the floor,” Hill said of Tyler.
Nash knows that Hill has a reputation for working well with young players and he expects the veteran of four NBA head coaching jobs to have a positive impact on Tyler’s career.
“He just has unlimited potential,” Nash said of Tyler. “I think if anyone can unlock that key and bring that potential to fruition, it’s Bob Hill. He’s been noted for his ability to develop players, and I think Jeremy is very fortunate to have a guy like Bob Hill coaching him.”
To a man, Swift’s size and length put its own stamp on the game, though, he didn’t overpower the opposition for lengthy periods of time. Simply put, he had a solid outing — six rebounds and one blocked shot to go along with his double-digit scoring effort.
But Swift will often force teams to double down in the low post, creating options for the team as it swings the ball around the perimeter, which it did effectively on a number of occasions in its half-court offense against Saitama.
Nash, meanwhile, admitted his team doesn’t have the size or depth (10 players listed on its roster to Tokyo’s 13) to effectively combat bigger teams for an entire 40-minute game.
“I think we are going to have to build on our defense, the zone defense, because we sometimes don’t have the size,” Nash said. “When Bruce (Brown) isn’t out there, we need to put a little bit more pressure on people. I think our zone defense can do that and so, yeah, we are going to play a lot of zone.”
For Saitama, Daiki Terashita finished with eight points and Kazuya “J” Hatano scored six, pulled down a team-high six rebounds and added two steals. Both players earned a healthy dose of complimentary feedback from Nash in the post-game interview room.
“It may not show up in the stats, but I thought they were really aggressive going to the basket,” Nash said. “No matter who was underneath the basket, they were going to the basket to try to make something happen.”
In other preseason action, the Niigata Albirex BB defeated the Sendai 89ers 85-79 on Monday, while the Akita Northern Happinets, playing their first-ever game, beat the Toyama Grouses 86-77 on Sunday.
The Rizing Fukuoka topped the debutant Miyazaki Shining Suns 95-75 on Saturday and 75-70 on Sunday.
Looking ahead: Next week’s notebook will include highlights of this week’s other preseason games, including the fifth annual bj-league/Korean Basketball League Championship Games, featuring last season’s champions from their respective leagues, the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix and the Ulsan Mobis Phoebus.
Playoff format: As in the past few seasons, the Eastern Conference will send four teams into the playoffs in 2010-11. The Western Conference, now featuring nine teams to the East’s seven, will qualify six teams for the postseason under the league’s new playoff guidelines.
First-round series will remain two-game series with a tiebreaker game planned if necessary. More details were not released as of press time.
The West’s top two teams will earn a bye into the conference semifinals, while the third-and sixth-place teams will square off and the fourth and fifth-place teams will meet in another series.
The conference finals and championship series will retain their single-game formats.
National duty: Shimane Susanoo Magic point guard Takumi Ishizaki will represent the bj-league on the Japan national team at the 16th Asian Games in November in Guangzhou, China.
Commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi said he is “very pleased” about this, adding that he feels all bj-league players want Ishizaki to succeed on the national team.
Ishizaki, a Fukui Prefecture native, will be the first active bj-league player to suit up for the national team.
Big-time exposure: Sports Illustrated’s Selena Roberts wrote a back-page column entitled “Lost In Transition” about Tyler, who skipped his senior season at San Diego High School to jump-start his pro career, looking back on his rocky short stint in Israel last season and his work with Hill in recent months, including at the Integrated Athletic Development complex in suburban Dallas. The story appears in the Sept. 20 issue.
Roberts chronicled the difficulties Tyler had in Israel, but also points out that Maccabi Haifa helped create an environment in which the teenager was never comfortable and never really had a chance to succeed.
This story, along with well-written features about Kyoto Hannaryz guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf in the spring by Tokyo-based sports writer Jim Armstrong of The Associated Press and HoopsHype.com’s Jorge Sierra, have given the bj-league the greatest media exposure overseas.
Kudos to SI for devoting the space to an intriguing prospect, and one who happens to play on a team that hardly anyone knows about in North America.
That will change, though. NBA beat writers and sports talk-show hosts, looking to stay one step ahead of their competitors, will write and talk about Tyler, Hill and the Apache from time to time this season.
In her article, Roberts included the following insight:
“The welcome mat is out in Tokyo. Apache general manager Conor Neu, a former Princeton player, has created a family atmosphere. All players live in the same building downtown, within walking distance of Yoyogi National Stadium.”
Another quick nugget from the story: “If he learns his lessons, he’s a lottery pick,” Hill said of Tyler.
Quick update: Bryant’s new team, the JBL’s Rera Kamuy Hokkaido, began the new season with a pair of one-sided losses last weekend, falling 79-58 and 82-57 to Toyota on back-to-back days.
In awe: Terashita admits that Tokyo’s athleticism is impressive. In fact, before facing the team for t he first time, he told reporters he watched several YouTube highlights of Tyler from past seasons.
Bonus coverage: See this week’s Hoop Scoop on the expansion Akita Northern Happinets, featured exclusively on The Japan Times’ website. In the article, coach Bob Pierce, formerly the bench boss of the Shiga Lakestars, analyzes the team’s development and gives his thoughts on the team’s inaugural season.
Quotable: “Everything in the teaching itinerary is in. Now it is just fine tuning and making sure everyone understands their role in the system.”
— Bob Hill, explaining what the team will focus on in the coming weeks.
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