Five-time All-Star Cohey Aoki hasn’t played a bj-league game since March 10, the day before the Great East Japan Earthquake, when the Tokyo Apache and Akita Northern Happinets squared off at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2.
On that day, then-19-year-old Apache Jeremy Tyler, now a Golden State Warriors player, made his only start of the season.
The Apache are no longer part of the league’s immediate plans. Quietly and without a public announcement, their team website and logo disappeared from the league’s home page a few days ago.
Aoki, on the other hand, remains a visible figure, and should be a part of its success in the coming seasons. He’s still a highly prized free agent at press time, and each of the league’s 19 general managers would have a hard time convincing their teams’ boosters that Aoki wouldn’t be a welcome addition.
The four expansion teams — Chiba Jets, Iwate Big Bulls, Shinshu Brave Warriors and Yokohama B-Corsairs — can all benefit from having a proven clutch player with widespread popularity on their roster during their inaugural season. The league’s other 15 clubs can, too.
Don’t forget that former Tokyo coach Bob Hill, whose decades-long career includes time as the sideline supervisor of the New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs and Seattle SuperSonics, has noted that Aoki’s shooting accuracy is comparable to Ray Allen’s and Reggie Miller’s.
Meanwhile, gutsy shooting guard Masashi Joho, whose talents have helped the Osaka Evessa, Tokyo Apache and Shiga Lakestars all compete in the playoffs, is another Japanese standout without a job lined up for 2011-12.
Joho was more than a solid role player, he was a playmaker for those three teams, including two Evessa title-winning clubs and two Apache championship runnerup squads.
Understandably, it takes time for GMs to sort out contracts and juggle the amount of money available for imports and Japanese players. But it’s wise for players of Aoki and Joho’s caliber to be signed quickly, giving their new teams (or maybe one team will be bold to sign both of them) a chance to create an offseason promotional buzz in the local communities and drum up added media interest.
Time is ticking away — being wasted. Team tryouts, training camps and exhibition games are on the horizon.
Aoki and Joho are two of the biggest stars in league history and give fans joy by watching them on the court. They deserve contracts that recognize their contributions to the league’s growth, having worked tirelessly in the spotlight since 2005.
Or as one hoop observer stated in a recent email, “There’s no logical reason for them to be on the sideline looking in as others get a chance to shine.”
Recent moves: Michael Parker’s departure from the Rizing Fukuoka to the Shimane Susanoo Magic meant that the Kyushu-based club needed to find additional offense.
The Rizing found a capable veteran to help fill the void left by the three-time defending scoring champion. Forward Carlos Dixon, who averaged 15.9 points in 45 games with the Ryukyu Golden Kings last season, will play for Fukuoka this season.
“I am looking forward to life in Fukuoka,” Dixon said. “I will do everything that I can to help the team win a championship. I am still hurt about losing in the championship this past season and anything less than a championship would be a disappointment.
“I will give it my all and work hard to achieve the ultimate goal.”
In other news, the Oita HeatDevils announced guard Matt Lottich, a Stanford product, will return to the team for a third season. Osaka has revealed plans to bring back center Wayne Marshall for a second season.
Around the league: Former NBA center Lance Allred, who played three games for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2007-08 season, is in talks with the Kyoto Hannaryz and is expected to sign a contract, sources have told The Japan Times.
The NBA’s first legally deaf player, Allred, 30, began his college career at Utah before moving on to Weber State.
Allred has played in the NBA Development League, Italy and, most recently, for the Otago Nuggets in New Zealand. He has also penned an autobiography, “Longshot: The Adventures of a Deaf Fundamentalist Mormon Kid and His Journey to the NBA.” …
According to a league insider, Chiba will sign veteran center George Leach, who has played for Takamatsu, Ryukyu, Saitama and Niigata, though the deal has not yet been announced. . . . Former Apache translator Geoffrey Katsuhisa has been hired as Jets coach Eric Gardow’s assistant and the team’s assistant GM. …
Asia-basket.com reported Thursday that the Rizing have signed guard/forward Kevin Palmer. The 198-cm product of Texas A&M-Corpus-Christi played 50 games (18 starts) for the NBA Development League’s Austin Toros last season, averaging 12.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 1.3 assists and 0.6 blocks. He was released by the Washington Wizards in training camp last October after appearing in one preseason game. …
The Jets are poised to be the first bj-league team to participate in the annual Emperor’s Cup (All-Japan Basketball Championships) in January, according to Thursday’s Yomiuri Shimbun.
Japan Basketball officials had requested that the bj-league send a team to the tournament. With 19 teams in the league in 2011-12, there is a scheduling imbalance, and the Jets have a big break in the winter (their last game of 2011 is on Christmas Eve, followed by their next contest on Jan. 20).
Do you have a story idea about the bj-league? Send an email to email@example.com