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Namizato involvement casts cloud over Golden Kings’ win

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Ryukyu Golden Kings’ 2011-12 championship memorabilia are now proudly displayed throughout Okinawa, what with the team dethroning the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix in Sunday’s title game. At the same time, the long summer of discontent has already arrived.

And it’s not even June 1 yet.

There are growing voices of disgust over the appearance, dissenters argue, that there isn’t a level playing field. Or how, it appears, the league has enabled teams to get around normal procedures to pick up players.

This season’s prime example: Ryukyu point guard Narito Namizato, who played sparingly for the Link Tochigi Brex of the rival JBL before jumping ship and signing with the Golden Kings several weeks after the league’s annual draft in June.

League guidelines state that Japanese players are required to participate in tryouts with the league before the draft, and if they are not drafted, can still take part in individual team tryouts in order to secure a spot with a team.

Namizato’s move to the Golden Kings didn’t follow the above procedures, nor did former Shimane Susanoo Magic guard Takumi Ishizaki’s departure in the summer of 2010 from the JBL’s Toshiba Brave Thunders to play for the expansion club.

“He was a late entry, like Ishizaki,” a source with a pulse on the league’s daily operations told The Japan Times, “so all teams had an equal chance to bid. But in the draft he would have been the No. 1 pick (of an) expansion team.

“That late most teams have Japanese rosters and budgets set,” he added. “Namizato is from Okinawa. Not only did they probably know he would enter late, he was probably advised to do so to avoid the draft. Just as Ishizaki worked the system to play for (Susanoo Magic coach) Zeljko (Pavlicevic).”

Of course, there have been complaints for years that the league’s general governance is weak, that each team operates as an individual entity, does what it wants, rather than part of a professional league. The league doesn’t enforces standard, critics have said repeatedly.

“The unanswered question is how did Okinawa and Namizato circumvent the rules,” the source noted. “By all normal channels he should have been toiling away in Iwate or Nagano rather than being a major contributor to a championship team, (one) that had just been to the finals the year before.”

“It’s a huge loophole that was exploited by these two teams,” he continued. “I do understand the league wanting to add these two very talented players from the JBL, but by skipping the draft process that everyone else has to go through they were basically free agents who got to choose their own teams.”

Guard Masashi Obuchi’s move to the Osaka Evessa in 2010, after a banner stint (22 games plus the playoffs) with the Golden Kings, also raised a few eyebrows.

“He was a late pickup by Okinawa, which was huge because that was the year (2009-10) that (Shigeyuki) Kinjo got hurt,” the source said. “But since he wasn’t obtained in the draft, he had to go back in the draft pool for the following season.

“But, of course, Obuchi doesn’t show up at any of the tryouts, he doesn’t show up at the draft, and the word is out that he’s going to try to play in the U.S. So Osaka smartly picks him with a late draft pick — talent-wise he might have been the No. 1 pick, and sure enough, by the time the season rolls around he’s in Osaka.

“It certainly seems in all these examples the players are cheating the system. Whether the teams are cheating the system by telling the players not to be involved in the draft process, I don’t know, but just having inside information about what the players want to do is bad enough, and that seems like a real possibility considering the relationships involved.”

Golden Kings president/general manager Tatsuro Kimura did not respond to multiple email requests seeking comment for this story.

League spokesman Akihiro Ejima, however, issued, a statement saying these are “special cases” and that “every team had a chance to bid.”

In his view, the aforementioned cases do not seem to give any team a specific advantage.

Ejima admitted each team takes a risk when it drafts or signs players, like Ishizaki, Obuchi and Namizato, with designs on going overseas to play ball.

Meanwhile, a longtime league insider claims that when center Jeff Newton left the Osaka Evessa after the team’s 2007-08 championship team, their third in as many seasons, and moved on the Golden Kings, the Okinawa-based club had rapidly finalized the deal before the Evessa’s contract negotiations with Newton concluded. He called this a clear-cut violation of league rules that was never investigated.

“The Namizato case is special treatment, too,” a league insider said Monday. “(It’s) like the Yomiuri Giants way . . . so I declare this is a non-pro private league.”

Does it matter that the appearance of preferential treatment is given to some teams?

“I don’t know,” the source said. “But everyone doesn’t want the right thing, even fans. It’s time for the whole industry to go to hell.”

Burrell’s future: Yokohama B-Corsairs forward Justin Burrell, the bj-league’s 2011-12 regular-season MVP as a rookie, has his sights set on playing in the NBA in the future, he said during interviews in recent weeks. Playing a starring role for the B-Corsairs, Burrell has elevated his stock in the eyes of talent evaluators one year after leaving St. John’s as the Big East’s Sixth Man of the Year.

Can Burrell reach the NBA?

That’s a possibility, hoop experts told The Japan Times.

“Well, he had a great year and showed he could do so many things that probably were in doubt based on his stats at St. John’s,” said Sendai 89ers coach Bob Pierce, a former Asia-based scout for the Cleveland Cavaliers. “Given a chance with the right team, he probably could make it.

“Don’t forget that if there hadn’t been an NBA lockout last fall he probably would have been in an NBA training camp, and if he didn’t make a roster then, they would have asked him to play in the NBDL (NBA Development League) so they could keep an eye on him.”

Just as former Tokyo Apache post player Jeremy Tyler’s late-season success with the Golden State Warriors was a success story for the bj-league, Burrell’s ascension to the world’s premier basketball league would generate positive publicity for the bj-league.

“I hope he gets the chance to compete for a spot on an NBA roster for 2012-13,” Pierce said. “But whether he makes it to the NBA or not, with his personality and skill set, he will have a long and productive professional career somewhere.”

NBA director of scouting Ryan Blake offered this assessment of Burrell: “Tough question, especially since I haven’t seen him play this year. I am sure he will get some invitations to camps.”

Final Four confidential: Here are some league-related nuggets that The Japan Times picked up during several interviews during a busy weekend of basketball at Ariake Colosseum and in the immediate aftermath:

* Indeed, the stakes are high, with winning titles the only acceptable result for some franchises.

There were whispers on Sunday that Hamamatsu coach Ryuji Kawai, in his first season on the job, was issued an ultimatum — directly or indirectly.

“I don’t know if Kawai was told this or not . . . but the Hamamatsu president was talking about firing Kawai if he lost the championship game, and this supposedly happened before the game today,” a well-connected source told this newspaper. “Again, I don’t know if he made that statement to Kawai, but he (the Hamamatsu president) apparently said it to someone he knows well.

“Now that’s pressure, win the championship in your first season as head coach or get fired. Ouch. Unrealistic on many levels.”

* Longtime referee Jon Liggins will be living in Spain for the next two years. It’s unclear if he’ll return to the bj-league after that.

“We’ve been able to replace players and coaches,” said one coach, “but never good referees. Not good news.”

* After being eliminated by the B-Corsairs in the conference semifinals, Akita Northern Happinets coach Kazuo Nakamura has been restless, anxious to get back to work.

“The season is over in Akita,” a source blurted out on the eve of the championship contest. “No, wait; they just had a two-hour practice with four players.

“Practice is scheduled for this coming Monday. After the Fan Appreciation Day at the end of the month, two weeks off, and then practice for the rest of the summer.”

* Speaking of Akita, word has reached this reporter that Happinets center Yoshimune Sano’s season came to a grinding halt due to a stress fracture in his pelvis.

“That’s almost impossible to do,” a basketball insider pointed out, “unless you are forced to practice long hours, through pain, and not allowed to take time off to rest.”

* Foreign-player quotas could change as early as next season.

Currently, teams generally sign five imports, and that number may be officially reduced to a maximum of four, predicted a well-embedded mole.

Why? It’d be a cost-cutting measure.

In addition, the league may reduce the number of imports allowed on the floor in the first and third quarters to two, according to the insider. Current rules state that three imports can be on the court in the first, third and fourth quarters. (Allowing a maximum of two imports to play during half of the game could have a dramatic impact on the quality of play in a league that has had continuous expansion every year since 2005.)

* The Niigata Albirex advanced to the second round of the playoffs under first-year coach Matt Garrison, but the entire season was a roller-coaster ride for Garrison on and off the court, working with assistant coach Fujitaka Hiraoka.

One Albirex insider described it this way: “Well, the assistant coach didn’t make it easy for Matt, from what I hear. If Matt does come back, he needs a new assistant. Not someone who is going to undermine and badmouth him throughout the season. (This season was) just an absolute mess.

“No wonder the Japanese Albirex players seemed distracted toward the end of the season. Matt was telling them to do one thing and the assistant was demanding they do another. He was even subbing in players without checking with Matt first. How can you expect Albirex to function as a team when you have the assistant gunning for the coach’s job?

“Just another reason why I am leaning more toward supporting other teams. The assistant coach supposedly quit on the team three times this season, and Matt had to go out of his way to get him back. Why? Because the GM told him to keep the peace with the assistant at any cost for the sake of the team. I really can’t believe this. Crazy, huh?”


Do you have a story idea about the bj-league? Send an email to edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp