Expansion team awarded to Tokyo

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

A Tokyo-based expansion team will join the bj-league next season, giving the capital city a new franchise after the disappearance of the Tokyo Apache.

The league made the announcement on Friday, two days before its sixth annual All-Star Game, which will be held at Saitama Super Arena, venue for the 2006 FIBA World Basketball Championship final.

The Apache last played a game on March 10, 2011. In the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake, Evolution Capital Management, the Apache’s parent company, pulled the club out of the league for the remainder of the 2011-12 season and cited financial difficulties for its decision to not field a team this season. And, confirming what’s been stated for months by league sources, the Apache filed the necessary paperwork to not play during the 2012-13 campaign, EVO spokesman Richard Chisholm told The Japan Times earlier this week.

But now, the new Tokyo franchise, run by Tokyo Pro Basketball Co., Ltd., will bring the number of teams in the bj-league to 22.

The league has expanded every year since its inception in 2005 with six teams.

League spokesman Akihiro Ejima said Friday that no money changed hands between the EVO and Tokyo Pro Basketball Co., Ltd.

This will be a “completely new club,” Ejima said, stressing it will “have nothing to do with EVO.”

Due to EVO’s unwillingness to keep a team in place, Ejima said the league actively began looking for ownership groups to place a new team in Tokyo.

Meanwhile, the Gunma Crane Thunders and an Aomori Prefecture franchise, which hasn’t decided on a name, are previously announced expansion clubs for the 2012-13 season.

Currently, there are 10 Eastern Conference clubs, including three in Kanto (Chiba Jets, Saitama Broncos and Yokohama B-Corsairs) and nine in the Western Conference.

The new franchise’s purple-themed website (tokyo-probasketball.com/), gives the appearance of the Apache’s former primary colors (purple and gold, though at times the team also donned black and white in various designs).

Hiroyuki Harashima, 50, is the CEO of Tokyo Pro Basketball Co., Ltd. A Waseda University graduate, Harashima has provided financial assistance to juryo wrestler Kimikaze. He is the president of Chofu-based Shiroyama Group Co., Ltd., whose business interests include onsen and spas.

The Apache played home games at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2 during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, and called Ariake Colosseum their home from 2005-09. The new franchise is considering making Musashino, a suburb in western Tokyo, its home base, according to published reports.

In their brief existence, the Apache made two trips to the finals (losing twice) under Joe “Jellybean” Bryant in 2008 and 2009. In 2010, the team made Bob Hill, ex-coach of the Knicks, Pacers, SuperSonics and Spurs, the first former NBA bench boss to coach in the bj-league.

In other league news, the Osaka Evessa have finalized deals with former All-Star forwards Bobby St. Preux and Mike Bell, a source close to the situation told The Japan Times on Friday.

The team has not yet announced the signings.

Bell, a former Oita HeatDevils and Sendai 89ers standout, will give the Evessa (17-5) a major force inside.

Two-time MVP Lynn Washington, who has played for the Evessa since 2005, welcomes the addition of Bell, a top-notch inside scorer and rebounder, to the team’s frontcourt.

Bell is “about the closest thing to (ex-Evessa star and current Ryukyu big man) Jeff (Newton) as you will get in this league,” said Washington, referring to the only four-time title winner in league history.

St. Preux was the 2008-09 All-Star Game MVP. A strong perimeter scorer and relentless defender, the Northern Kentucky product brings a fierce will to win.

Mikey Marshall, however, was at the top of the team’s wish list, a source revealed, but the former Evessa, Oita and Shiga Lakestars guard, has joined a team in the Venezuelan League instead. The Evessa were also reportedly interested in signing ex-Apache guard Byron Eaton, another insider said.