Preseason action begins in earnest this holiday weekend with four games on Saturday and two more on tap for Monday.
Saturday’s Iwate Big Bulls-Niigata Albirex BB exhibition contest will be the first game of Matt Garrison’s tenure as the new Niigata coach.
Iwate’s Vlasios Vlaikidis will also get to deploy his charges on their home court for the first time against a foe. It’ll be the first game in the expansion Big Bulls history, and only three weeks before their regular-season opener against the Sendai 89ers at home.
The Big Bulls will be back in action against the host Akita Northern Happinets on Monday.
Also on the docket Saturday are these matchups: Shimane Susanoo Magic vs. Ryukyu Golden Kings, Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (Ryuji Kawai’s first game in charge after a long stint as Kazuo Nakamura’s former assistant) vs. Shinshu Brave Warriors (Motofumi Aoki’s debut as Shinshu’s coach) and Saitama Broncos (Dean Murray’s first match in charge for Saitama) vs. Chiba Jets (Eric Gardow’s second game as Chiba’s bench boss).
On Monday, the Broncos play host to the Sendai 89ers, as ex-Akita and Shiga Lakestars coach Bob Pierce has his first look at his team against a league opponent.
Returning to the new-look Albirex, with former Sendai center Chris Holm in the lineup, Garrison is back with a team he previously starred for — that is, until he closed out his pro career with the Takamatsu Five Arrows in 2009.
Two years later, he’s accepted the challenge of returning from the United States to put his stamp on Niigata, a team that had previously only been led by one coach, Masaya Hirose, in the 21st century.
Besides Garrison, two other former bj-league foreign players, current Osaka Evessa coach Ryan Blackwell and ex-Kyoto Hannaryz and Saitama Broncos bench boss David Benoit, have made the jump to management in this league. Current Rizing Fukuoka coach Tadaharu Ogawa, a former Oita player, and recently retired guard Yukinori Suzuki, who will lead the Oita HeatDevils this season, have also accepted new challenges in the upstart league as mentors.
Merger talk: Nikkan Sports published a small online report on Wednesday talking about a JBA official’s view that there’s an urgency for cooperation and about the timing of getting an agreement hammered out for the JBL and bj-league to merge and create a new league for 2013. For years, there’s been zero evidence of any progress.
The latest report doesn’t shed light on any progress, either.
In fact, it’s business as usual for the bj-league in preparation for the upcoming season.
“The last I heard, the bj-league planned to expand to 22 teams for 2012-13, adding Aomori, Gunma, and Kagoshima,” a league insider told The Japan Times on Thursday.
“Then (expand) to 24 teams in 2013-14 after adding Hiroshima and a new Tokyo team, with Hamamatsu moving to the Western Conference to make it 12 teams in each.
“I don’t know how far along those plans are, but doesn’t sound like they’ve included any JBA/JBL merger plans,” the source added.
“I’ve never seen a single proposal from the JBA that involves them making any changes in how they run things, so I don’t see how they will come up with anything that works for the bj-league. But they could surprise me. (Phoenix center Atsuya) Ota is playing for the national team, so maybe they do see the need to work together. More likely we’ll see that deadline pushed back again and again.”
New signings: The Kyoto Hannaryz have added former BYU guard Lee Cummard to their roster, the Western Conference squad announced earlier this week.
The 201-cm Cummard, a native of Mesa, Arizona, played for the Sacramento Kings’ NBA Summer League team in Las Vegas in 2010.
As a collegiate senior, he listed among the players on the Wooden Award and Naismith Award watch lists. The 26-year-old Cummard spent 22 games with the NBA Development League’s Idaho Flash in 2009-10.
Since then, he’s played for Fos Quest Provence Basket, a pro club in France.
In related news, the Hannaryz and Jermaine Boyette have agreed to the basic terms of a contract for the veteran guard’s services for the 2011-12 campaign.
Boyette, 32, starred at Weber State — he was named the Big Sky Conference MVP in 2003 after scoring a league-best 20.1 points per game — before launching his pro career. He was a three-time All-Big Sky selection.
The 188-cm backcourt player has participated in Rocky Mountain Reveue — a summer league — for the Utah Jazz. He never played a regular-season game for Utah, though. Instead, he’s made a living suiting up for teams in Israel, France, Italy, Poland, and Venezuela.
In other moves, the Happinets signed veteran forward/center Stanley Ocitti, who played under Nakamura in 2008-09 for the Phoenix. The Golden Kings, meanwhile, added Okinawan native Narito Namizato, a 22-year-old guard who played for the JBL’s Link Tochigi Brex last season, appearing in 10 games and averaging 2.1 points.
Looking ahead: The bj-league’s second annual preseason media day will be held on Sept. 26, featuring selected players and the league’s 19 head coaches.
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