The Sendai 89ers are a symbol of Tohoku region and their fierce loyalty to the locals reflects that fighting spirit.
But with so much devastation surrounding them and financial woes, too, team employees are struggling to put their lives back together. Team employees do not know now precisely when they’ll have jobs to return to.
Head coach Honoo Hamaguchi, for example, had his contracted terminated by the team. With their season concluded, the 89ers staff are not working, as they are now focused on their personal lives.
The club, which was in second place in the Eastern Conference before the March 11 earthquake, could use assistance from those around the league, particularly for the team’s Japanese staff who could struggle to find employment, even a temporary job, in the weeks and months to come in Sendai.
As for the team’s Japanese players, they are finding their way on to the rosters of other teams via temporary contracts. Similar options are available for Saitama Broncos and Tokyo Apache players, whose teams also suspended operations last week.
On Thursday, the Ryukyu Golden Kings added point guard Takehiko Shimura (53 assists, nine turnovers).
In a tribute to his regular team, Shimura will wear No. 89 while playing for the Golden Kings.
Forward Yoshihiro Tachibana, the two-time Slam Dunk Contest champion, moved on to the Toyama Grouses.
Forward Takuya Kumoda, coming off an 11-point game on March 6, joined the Osaka Evessa. The 23-year-old has become a solid scorer and earned increased playing time as Sendai’s season progressed. 89ers point guard Hikaru Kusaka has joined the Kyoto Hannaryz.
In other news, Saitama forward Daiki Terashita, who’s averaging 8.6 points per game, was picked up by the Shiga Lakestars.
Among the still available players are guards Cohey Aoki, Jumpei Nakama and Kensuke Tanaka of Tokyo; Saitama’s Kazuya “J.” Hatano, a stellar low-post player; and Sendai guard Kenichi Takahashi.
The bj-league does not have specific plans to provide financial aid to the Sendai 89ers now, though it is an option. The league’s primary fundraising efforts — widespread in towns and communities across Japan by all 16 bj-league clubs — are focused on getting needed supplies and money for the Tohoku region as a whole.
“I’m afraid that we do not have any concrete announcement that we can release as of now,” bj-league spokesman Akihiro Ejima said in a Tuesday telephone interview. “We are right now discussing all those things.”
A news conference was planned for Thursday in Sendai to address the 89ers situation.
“We are in a crisis situation,” club representative Teruhisa Nakamura was quoted as saying by Kyodo News. “We are going to try and secure funds by May so we can play next season. We want to continue as a club whichever way we can but we are not in a position right now to ask for cooperation for next year.”
The league expects the 89ers, Broncos and Apache to play next season, adding a return to normalcy for a nation coping with its biggest crisis in a generation.
In addition, the expansion Iwate Big Bulls, one of four new teams to join the league next fall, have not changed their plans concerning their inaugural season.
“We have talked with them too, and they are supposed to come into the league as scheduled,” Ejima said. “The thing is, the prefecture was damaged on the coast, but (Morioka) is located inland and it was completely fine, they said. They even asked us if they should start (fundraising).”
As for the season’s remaining regular-season games for the other 13 clubs, Ejima said the schedule will have some revisions, with new games being added to replace spots that Saitama, Sendai and Tokyo were supposed to play.
This season’s playoff format may be altered. The original plan in place called for 10 playoff clubs, four from the East and six from the West. But only four of the East’s seven playoff squads are still playing, so there’s speculation that the league may opt to reduce the number of playoff squads in the East, or possibly have a round-robin-style tournament this year with all teams entered into a single draw.
“We are going to have the playoffs,” Ejima said. “The issue is how we determine who advances to it, though.”
As in the past five seasons, the upcoming Final Four is planned to be held again at Ariake Colosseum, originally slated for May 21-22.
Quick update: Sendai star Mike Bell is now gearing up to resume his season, having first taken a trip back home to North Carolina to visit his mother. He will play next in Qatar.
In an interview with The News & Observer, a Raleigh, N.C., newspaper, he said he’s comfortable moving on to another team and culture.
“I have really enjoyed living in different places,” Bell told the publication. “My mother put me in different environments when I was growing up, almost like she was grooming me for something like this. I feel like I can get along with different people in different places.”
Upcoming games: This week’s schedule sees East clubs return to competition after a two-week break due to the 9.0-magnitude Sendai earthquake. The six-series docket is as follows: Ryukyu vs. Toyama, Hamamatsu vs. Akita, Shiga vs. Kyoto, Osaka vs. Oita, Takamatsu vs. Shimane and Fukuoka vs. Miyazaki. Niigata has the weekend off, giving rookie Willie Veasley, who helped Butler reach the NCAA tournament title game last April, a chance to visit his family in the United States.
Around the league: The eight games held last weekend served as fundraisers for the Japanese Red Cross. The league raised ¥3,018,730 for victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. . . .
Broncos point guard Kenny Satterfield, a former NBA floor leader, told The Japan Times on Wednesday evening that he’s flying back to the United States on Thursday.
When he gets back to his New York City home, Satterfield said he’ll weigh his options about playing elsewhere in the coming months, adding he’ll have to “wait and see.” Satterfield leads the bj-league in assists (6.7), while averaging 19.9 points in 37 games.
Satterfield’s teammates Bruce Brown, George Leach, Gordon Klaiber and Bobby Nash, along with head coach Bob Nash, were making plans to return to the United States this week, too, the elder Nash said on Tuesday.
But a league source said Klaiber, who played for the IBL champion Albany Legends last summer with Satterfield, is poised to join Kyoto after the Hannaryz lost 2009-10 bj-league MVP Wendell White earlier in the week. White chose to return to the U.S. Klaiber, a veteran forward, averaged 11.8 points in 38 games for Saitama.
Meanwhile, fans of the Apache, Broncos and 89ers are now stuck with a dilemma: wait until next season to root for their favorite team or choose to support another bj-league team for now.
One rabid Saitama supporter, known to the team’s hardcore boosters as the Broncos Masked Man, who shows up at every game with the same green T-shirt and mask, said in an e-mail to The Japan Times he’s done following the bj-league this season because he only cheers for Saitama. Other fans, of course, will begin paying closer attention to other teams. . . .
Hamamatsu’s leading scorers Wayne Arnold (17.4 ppg) and Jermaine Dixon (17.0) won’t play this weekend against the Happinets. Both are visiting their families in the U.S., Arnold said. . .
Tokyo Apache power forward Jeremy Tyler, who scored 24 points in his final game of the season on March 10 against the Northern Happinets, is now projected as the 28th overall pick (Boston Celtics) in the 2011 NBA Draft, according to nbadraft.net. The latest projections were posted online on March 17.
What’s happening in Toyama?: Guard/forward Haakim Johnson is taking a trip to the U.S., but will finish out the season with the club. Teammates Matthew Kyle and Brian Harper, on the other hand, have parted with the Grouses and have left the team, according to a news release issued by the team.
Harper, an All-Star forward, leads the team with 18.6 points per game (sixth-best in the league) and is the league’s No. 8 rebounder (10.1). He played in 36 games.
Catching up with . . . Luke Zeller: The former Shiga Lakestars center is playing for the NBA Development League’s Bakersfield Jam this season.
In 45 games (32 starts), Zeller is averaging 6.8 points and 4.5 rebounds and playing 23.8 minutes per game. He had a season-high 15 points on Feb. 26 Catching up with . . . Josh Bostic: The ex-Kyoto Hannaryz forward is having a solid season in the D-League. In 44 games (20 starts), he’s averaging 12.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists for the New Mexico Thunderbirds. He scored a season-high 30 points on Jan. 2.
Quotable: “People seem encouraged to help in dealing with the aftermath of the disaster. Our team and other pro teams in Akita city have conducted fundraisers and the people of the city have given tremendous support. I have met a couple of people from the city of Sendai where the disaster struck, due to their relocation in Akita. They are very thankful for our support in helping out the cause.” — Happinets forward Will Graves addresses the team’s primary focus after the twin natural disasters in an interview with HoopsHype.com
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.
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