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Japanese players, coaches gaining experience overseas

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

While the temperatures continue to climb, basketball competition, individual and group workouts are a major part of the daily grind for most bj-league players.

The offseason also gives coaches and front-office personnel a chance to evaluate players and reach out to agents near and far as team rosters are pieced together.

The Japan Basketball Academy’s Nippon Tornadoes, for instance, who competed as an international division team in the International Basketball League this summer (posting a 1-12 record), are participating in the Southern California Summer Pro League this month.

The Tornadoes’ roster includes Kyoto Hannaryz draft pick/guard Masaharu Kataoka, who played for the JBL’s Link Tochigi Brex this past season. For the Tornadoes, Kataoka is a highly regarded player.

“Our best player is Masaharu Kataoka,” Tornadoes coach Tatsumi Nishida told The Japan Times via email. “He can shoot, drive, (play) defense — all those things. He is respected by his teammates.”

Post player Daishi Hayakawa, who suited up for the Oita HeatDevils in 2011-12, is also currently sporting a Tornadoes jersey.

Among those with bj-league ties, former Sendai 89ers standout Mac Hopson (Portland Chinooks) and Iwate Big Bulls center Shawn Malloy (Vancouver Volcanoes) played in the IBL in recent weeks.

In addition, veteran Daisuke Tamura of the Osaka Evessa benefited from the experience of playing in the IBL a few summers ago, a bj-league source pointed out. Also, Yokohama B-Corsairs guard Satoshi Hisayama was brought by Nishida to the United States Basketball Academy in Oregon in 2006 to gain more experience.

What’s more, Rizing Fukuoka coach Atsushi Kanazawa, Sendai 89ers bench boss Bob Pierce and new Chiba Jets coach Shinji Tomiyama have been spotted at recent IBL playoff games as well, and Rizing star and rebounding maestro Gary Hamilton is competing in the Drew League in Los Angeles.

The IBL’s run-and-gun style of play and high-scoring action would provide a good challenge for bj-league players, especially youthful Japanese looking to make their mark after playing collegiate basketball. Or perhaps a summer All-Star squad of the league’s elite Japanese players.

Either way, it would be good exposure for the players. Which is why one current coach is a fervent supporter of the bj-league forging a partnership with the Tornadoes.

In fact, he’s stunned an alliance hasn’t already been struck.

“If the bj-league had any brains, they would sponsor this team and send over about 12 players every summer,” the coach stated bluntly.

But it appears the groundwork has been laid for greater participation for bj-league and JBL players in the IBL in the coming years.

In a recent news release, Volcanoes owner Bryan Hunter, an IBL investor, said, “The partnership with Dream 7 (the Nippon Tornadoes ownership group) is a big step towards giving the IBL a truly international presence. With this partnership we have positioned the league as the premier stepping stone for graduating college players to continue playing overseas.”

In related news, guard Jumpei Nakama, who will suit up for the Shiga Lakestars next season, participated in workouts with his former Tokyo Apache coach Bob Hill, the longtime NBA bench boss, in San Antonio, Texas.

Nakama, who spent the past season with the Shimane Susanoo Magic, was reunited in the Lone Star State with ex-Apache assistant Natalie Nakase, who parted ways with the Saitama Broncos after a rocky season as assistant-turned head coach. She assisted in the workouts there.

“He looks real good and worked very hard,” Hill told The Japan Times, offering a brief analysis of Nakama’s week-long training regimen. “It was great to see both he and Natalie again.”

Around the league: A three-day preseason exhibition showcase for the Shiga Lakestars, Kyoto Hannaryz, Osaka Evessa and Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix was announced on Monday. Here’s the schedule: Sept. 15: Kyoto vs. Osaka (1:30 p.m.) and Shiga vs. Hamamatsu (5 p.m.); Sept. 16: Kyoto vs. Hamamatsu (1:30 p.m.) and Shiga vs. Osaka (5 p.m.); Sept. 17: Hamamatsu vs. Osaka (12 p.m.) and Kyoto vs. Shiga (3 p.m.). …

The Takamatsu Five Arrows signed veteran swingman Dexter Lyons to a one-year deal, it was announced earlier this week. Lyons averaged 16.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.0 steals for the Miyazaki Shining Suns last season. He’s one of the bj-league’s top all-around players.

Biting commentary: Recent remarks about the bj-league’s shaky foundation have shed some light on growing criticism from prominent and longtime hoop observers.

“It’s sad how they have handled this league,” said David Benoit, a former NBA player and bj-league player and coach.

“They will never listen to any American professionals about how to run a pro league. It is the Japanese way or no way, (and) it seems like all is falling apart for the bj-league.”

Another critic used a food analogy to describe what he believes is a league that has some style but little substance, quantity but no quality.

“In the bj-league. their way of business is just like a curry rice (shop) in the Tokyo area,” he said. “It’s on a very flat plate and the meal was dished so thin. Only one scoop shows you the dish itself. … I like the Osaka way of serving (curry), served deep in a deep dish.”

In responses to the above analogy, a hoop insider responded by saying, “One bj-league coach said to me, ‘I don’t want to keep expanding just for the sake of having more teams. That’s like going an inch deep and a mile wide. It’s better to be a mile deep and an inch wide.’ “

Still searching: The Toyama Grouses and Miyazaki Shining Suns have not hired head coaches for the 2012-13 season.

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