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Sendai 89ers to begin play in Xebio Arena next season

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Symbolic of Tohoku’s revitalization after the Great East Japan Earthquake, the Sendai 89ers will begin play in a new basketball gymnasium, Xebio Arena, in Taiha Ward, in October.

The arena’s capacity will be for 6,000 spectators, located near Nagamachi Station. Xebio is a major sporting goods retail company in Japan.

Building a facility primarily — or exclusively — for basketball is a unique concept in Japan. Teams generally play at multi-purpose facilities that are owned and operated by cities or prefectural entities.

This facility will give the 89ers a chance to play a majority — one league source estimated at least 80 percent — of their home games at Xebio Arena. That would be a major step in the right direction in a league where most teams play home games at five or more venues, which takes away the home-court advantage before games even tip off.

NBA Asia personnel, based in Hong Kong, are scheduled to visit Sendai for the 89ers’ season opener in October. This will add to the significance of the arena’s opening and play a role in promoting the event throughout the region.

In a story published by the Kahoku Shimpo this week, 89ers president Teruhisa Nakamura said, “I would like to encourage the people to attend the games (at the new arena). In playing games throughout the prefecture, I would like to expand our fan base.”

Coaching news: Oita HeatDevils bench boss Yukinori Suzuki will return for a second season at the helm in 2012-13, it was announced on Wednesday. Suzuki, a former shooting guard, suited up for Oita from 2005-11, then retired to become the head coach. Oita went 23-29 last season, finishing in seventh place in the Western Conference.

In related news, according to a league source, the Chiba Jets are expected to name former Iwate Big Bulls coach Shinji Tomiyama as their new sideline supervisor, though no official announcement has been made yet by the team if American bench boss Eric Gardow will return for next season. Tomiyama guided Iwate to a 12-14 record after replacing Greek mentor Vlasios Vlaikidis in January.

Meanwhile, despite a 2-50 record last season, the Takamatsu Five Arrows have opted to bring back Kenzo Maeda for a second season as head coach.

Trade: A rare pre-draft trade was completed on Wednesday, sending forward Hayato Kantake to the Kyoto Hannaryz for veteran point guard Haruyuki Ishibashi. Kantake, 25, averaged 5.9 points in 52 games for the Big Bulls last season. Ishibashi, who turns 39 in December, scored 0.8 ppg in 44 contests. The draft will be held next Tuesday in Tokyo.

Hannaryz update: After reaching the Final Four for the first time in franchise history in May, the Hannaryz are looking to make a few changes to their roster. A league insider said the team could make a move to sign key Japanese free agents this summer.

The team’s top candidates include guards Taishiro Shimizu (Miyazaki Shining Suns) and Yu Okada (Shiga Lakestars) and forward Daiki Terashita (Saitama Broncos), according to the source.

Around the league: Jets guard Chris Sasaki is contributing NBA Finals commentary for WOWOW online (in Japanese).

Here’s a link to his most recent commentary: www.wowow.co.jp/sports/nba/columns/cris1206_01.html

Former Cleveland Cavaliers center Lance Allred, who suited up for Kyoto last season, provided this perspective on Ryukyu guard Narito Namizato’s NBA aspirations:

“My thing is almost any pro ball player can make the NBA, because the line separating the 10th to 15th guys on NBA rosters from guys playing overseas, is very thin. But the main thing is luck and timing. Being in the right place at the right time is about 90 percent in making the NBA.

“Your talent and skill and work ethic makes about 10 percent of it, with luck and timing being the rest. So, with someone like Narito, he would have to play in the NBA D-League, where it is a dogfight, because you have no guaranteed contracts and very little pay, so everyone is out for blood.”

He added: “But again, if he lands on the right team, with the right coach, right system and good teammates to support him, he can do it. But . . . so much of it is beyond his control, as it was mine. It really is just luck and timing and the fates leaning your way.”