The Yokohama B-Corsairs accomplished great things as an expansion franchise last season, defying the odds by reaching the Final Four.
Power forward Justin Burrell received the regular-season MVP award, starting all 52 games and averaging 18.7 points and 9.8 rebounds.
Reggie Geary earned the 2011-12 Coach of the Year award for molding the team into a championship contender that played hard-nosed defense, unselfish, disciplined basketball and rattled off nine straight victories entering the playoffs.
Like most teams in the bj-league, the B-Corsairs will blend in several new faces with returning players for the coming season.
Burrell is now playing in France, while former Wake Forest center Chas McFarland has not returned to Yokohama. Two big pieces to the puzzle are gone for Geary’s squad. And defensive stopper Marcus Simmons will play in the NBA Development League this season.
Geary, a former NBA guard, will challenge his players to develop mental toughness to sustain them throughout the long 52-game season.
Entering the team’s second season, which begins on Saturday against the new-look Saitama Broncos, “I’m definitely feeling more comfortable knowing my players better, having spent a year with the majority of them,” Geary said in a Monday phone interview.
“With the new format (alternating quarters that allow two and three imports) and new players, there are always challenges and this year is no different. We have our challenges to overcome.”
While many teams will begin the season with five imports, the B-Corsairs will rely on four from the get-go: guard Draelon Burns, one of the top mid-season acquisitions of any teams last season, forward Thomas Kennedy, who played for the Iwate Big Bulls last season, and center Paul Butorac, who endured a 2-50 campaign for the Takamatsu Five Arrows. Butorac has previously played for the Niigata Albirex BB and Akita Northern Happinets, so he brings valuable experience about the league to his new team.
The B-Corsairs don’t want to dwell on the past. The upcoming season is their focus.
“We don’t talk about last year too much,” Geary said. “I do bring it up on occasion, (mentioning) that team from day one, worked and got better, day in and day out.
“We came back with confidence. . . . The bar’s been set high.”
“We want Thomas Kennedy to write his own page in Yokohama B-Corsairs history. We want Paul Butorac to write his own page in Yokohama B-corsairs history.”
Competing in the recent ABA Championship in Taiwan against a trio of top squads from the host nation, China and South Korea, the B-Corsairs gave Geary a good measuring stick that his team “showed good toughness in those four games.”
Yokohama, however, suffered four defeats against teams with bigger strong frontcourts. “But I still want to see how this team is going to respond in the last five minutes in the game on the road,” Geary said.
That toughness was one of the B-Corsairs’ endearing qualities last season. The players thrived under pressure situations, with Burrell serving as the tone-setter.
Besides Burrell, team captain Masayuki Kabaya provided solid leadership in the backcourt and guards Kenji Yamada, Taketo Aoki, Minoru Kimura and Satoshi Hisayama stepped in and made their presence felt as well.
In the frontcourt, much-improved big man Pape Faye Mour, a Senegalese native who played college ball in Japan, will begin the season in the starting lineup and Butorac will come off the bench, Geary said. Small forward Takeshi Hotta is also in the mix for minutes up front.
Upcoming games: 18 of 21 teams are in action this weekend; the 2-0 Ryukyu Golden Kings, Niigata Albirex BB (0-2) and Kyoto Hannaryz (0-2) have a bye week. Here’s the Saturday-Sunday schedule: Akita vs. Toyama, Sendai vs. Iwate, Gunma vs. Shinshu, Saitama vs. Yokohama, Chiba vs. Tokyo, Hamamatsu vs. Oita, Osaka vs. Takamatsu, Shimane vs. Fukuoka, Miyazaki vs. Shiga.
New addition: The Phoenix have signed 200-cm forward Adrian Thomas (University of Miami, Florida, product), according to published reports. Thomas played for the D-League’s Bakersfield Jam last season, averaging 7.1 points per game. He competed in the NBA Summer Leagues in Orlando, Florida, and Las Vegas for the Miami Heat.
Notable contributions: Iwate’s Lawrence Blackledge blocked 16 shots last weekend against Niigata, including 10 in Sunday’s series finale, and teammate Kenichi Takahashi had a pair of 20-point games in his first series in a Big Bulls uniform. Phoenix swingman Kevin Galloway, a Texas Southern product, had two terrific games against Sendai. He filled the stat sheet with 16 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists in the opener and had 20 points, 17 rebounds and four assist a day later while essentially playing the power-point position.
The last word: “Lawrence Blackledge athletically is the best athlete in the league,” Geary said.