It’s only been a few days since the acquisition become official, but Cohey Aoki’s impact is already being measured by those on the Osaka Evessa. And he hasn’t even participated in a preseason or regular-season contest.
The poised, clutch performer’s acquisition has been the league’s big news during the dog days of summer.
Evessa coach Ryan Blackwell, preparing to begin his second season at the helm, understands clearly the benefit of having Aoki in an Evessa uniform after the longtime Tokyo Apache star’s team pulled out of the league.
“We are excited to have Cohey,” Blackwell told The Japan Times on Wednesday. “He’s one of the most proven players -Japanese or import — in the league. He’s a great scorer who can create shots for himself and his teammates, as well as knock down shots from the perimeter.”
Aoki’s popularity is a big selling point for Osaka and the rest of the bj-league, too. When he’s in uniform for a game, fans have an added incentive to show up at arena.
Now, the Evessa, vying for their first championship (fourth overall) since Jeff Newton joined the Ryukyu Golden Kings for the 2008-09 campaign, look for Aoki to be a tone-setter along with two-time MVP Lynn Washington. Playing with passion and a healthy dose of swagger, Aoki has earned the respect of his peers.
“His confidence and mental toughness will be big for our players, especially the younger Japanese ones,” Blackwell said. “He always seems in control and doesn’t get rattled no matter what. Hopefully they will learn a lot from him.”
Washington wholeheartedly endorses the Aoki move.
“I was pleased with the front office signing of Aoki,” Washington said. “Best Japanese scorer in the bj-league. On paper, this might be the best team to come through Osaka.”
Meanwhile, smooth-shooting lefty Billy Knight, a capable scorer and all-around player for Osaka last season, remains unsigned, available to complete a deal with any of the league’s teams.
Looking ahead: Preseason action tips off on Sept. 3 as the expansion Chiba Jets play host to the Akita Northern Happinets.
On Sept. 10, the Miyazaki Shining Suns take on the visiting Happinets.
Four games will be held on Sept. 17: Shimane Susanoo Magic vs. Ryukyu Golden Kings, Iwate Big Bulls vs. Niigata Albirex BB, Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix vs. Shinshu Brave Warriors and Saitama Broncos vs. Chiba.
Two games are on tap on Sept. 19: Akita vs. Iwate and Saitama vs. Sendai 89ers.
On Sept. 23, the Rizing Fukuoka entertain Miyazaki. A day later, Shimane plays host to the Takamatsu Five Arrows. The two-game Ryukyu-Hamamatsu exhibition series is slated for Sept. 24-25 in Okinawa, while Niigata will meet visiting Sendai on Sept. 25.
The Albirex play host to the Happinets on Oct. 2.
The regular season begins on Oct. 8.