The Yokohama B-Corsairs are neither terrible nor terrific right now. Simply put, they are a brand new team, and their history begins in earnest on Saturday.
Head coach Reggie Geary leads the expansion B-Corsairs into their opening series, a two-game showdown against the two-time defending champion Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix as the bj-league’s seventh season kicks off.
Saturday’s game begins at 6 p.m. at Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium, followed by Sunday’s rematch at 3 p.m.
Geary, a former NBA guard and NBA Development League head coach, views this weekend series as the ideal initiation into the new-look Eastern Conference, featuring 10 teams and three other expansion clubs (Chiba Jets, Iwate Big Bulls and Shinshu Brave Warriors).
“Obviously, we respect that organization to the utmost,” said Geary, referring to Hamamatsu, during a recent phone interview.
“We are cautiously excited to play them in the opening weekend,” the 38-year-old added. “This is a great opportunity to find out where we are at the beginning of the season.”
“I think that’s how we want to open the season. . .”
Led by a new head coach, Ryuji Kawai, the longtime assistant who took over for two-time title winner Kazuo Nakamura this summer after the veteran bench boss left the Hamamatsu organization to become the Akita Northern Happinets’ new coach, the Phoenix remain a known entity: they’ve never finished below first place in their three seasons in the bj-league.
The B-Corsairs, on the other hand, will need ample time to figure out where they stand in the league’s pecking order.
Blunt and to the point, Geary said he cannot determine yet what the team’s strengths and weaknesses are.
“That’s still to be seen,” he declared.
Sure, the team has had some impressive moments during practice sessions, but Geary admitted looking good in team workouts as opposed to dominating play in a game doesn’t mean much.
“Practices and games are completely different things,” he said, not needing to point out the obvious, but making a larger point about the way he views the team’s inaugural season.
“To say what we do well right now is premature,” he added.
The B-Corsairs didn’t face a league opponent during the preseason, but held a few closed-door scrimmages against opponents the team hasn’t revealed. That was one small part of the preseason evaluation process for Geary and the B-Corsairs staff, including assistant coach Michael Katsuhisa, a former Osaka Evessa player, general manager Naoki Ogawa and team president Kazuo Hirota.
“I think we are getting better at performing longer, executing longer at both ends of the floor,” Geary said.
Now, the B-Corsairs must play 80 minutes — and maybe overtime — on back-to-back days, facing the Phoenix, led by 2010-11 regular-season and playoff MVP Jeffrey Parmer, reigning Sixth Man Award winner Wayne Arnold, a smooth-shooting guard, and cerebral backcourt reserve Masahiro Oguchi, in their first true test.
Yokohama captain Masayuki Kabaya, a shooting guard who has spent time with the Toyama Grouses and, most recently, the JBL’s Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins, brings experience, talent and passion to the team. He’s a respected figure in the locker room.
The roster features guards Minoru Kimura, Kenji Yamada and Satoshi Hisayama and forwards Taketo Aoki and Takeshi Hotta. Other newcomers are former USC swingman Marcus Simmons, former St. John’s forward Justin Burrell and 215-cm center Chas McFarland, who played college ball at Wake Forest in the ultra-competitive Atlantic Coast Conference. Pape Mour Faye, a 24-year-old Senegalese-born forward, attended college at Kanto Gakuin, and guard Giyoh Shey, a 23-year-old Cal State Los Angeles, product, add youthful athleticism to the rotation.
The assembled roster has worked diligently to prepare for the season, Geary said, and his consistent message to his players has been about the importance of the 2011-12 campaign.
“As an expansion team my job, first and foremost, is laying the foundation for success here,” the coach said.
Geary stated that he won’t try to predict the number of wins and losses his team will have in the 52-game season. But, in his mind, this much is certain: “I think it’s going to be an exciting year.”
Among the early impressions he’s gleaned from interactions with players on and off the court since training camp begin in early September, Geary said Kabaya and Aoki have shown leadership qualities, noting the former is “well respected in the Japanese community.”
In addition, Simmons’ defensive tenacity has been noteworthy to date. “We feel he can be one of the top defenders in the league,” said Geary. “The role is a challenge we put out to him.”
Winning streaks and losing streaks will be a major part of the team’s growth this season. But the B-Corsairs coach wants his players to talk their way through their struggles and praise each other for their accomplishments, too.
“It’s a really good group,” Geary said. “Everyone’s getting along great, everyone’s very vocal. Everyone’s constantly working to get together and communicate. . . . Communication has been good and I hope that only continues to get better.”