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Gunma’s Keller alleges pattern of malfeasance by Miyazaki

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

The Miyazaki Shining Suns, who have a league-worst 5-31 record, and the Eastern Conference-leading Yokohama B-Corsairs (25-9) are on shaky financial ground, multiple sources claim in recent comments to The Japan Times.

In the words of one source who spoke on condition of anonymity, “Both Miyazaki and Yokohama are a financial mess. . . . Miyazaki might be easier to save, and Yokohama might have to fold.”

After the Final Four last May, this newspaper reported that the B-Corsairs’ financial losses during their inaugural season were $1 million. B-Corsairs spokesman Takao Ando did not respond to requests for specific comments, but did say “he is aware” of the team’s financial problems. It it is known that the team, which often stages home games in far-flung locales throughout Kanagawa Prefecture, has been actively seeking investors. (In addition, a Yokohama team official said that all salary payments have been made on time this season.)

The Shining Suns, a third-year franchise, have plummeted to the cellar in the Western Conference after 22-30 season in 2011-12. They went 13-37 in 2010-11, the first of two seasons that Koto Toyama, now the Ryukyu Golden Kings’ bench boss, was the head coach.

The B-Corsairs have shown stability in their on-court product. Major changes to the roster have not been a constant problem.

The Shining Suns, on the other hand, have failed to secure the services of their import players — a common issue that plagued the team last season, too. Donald Little, Dominique Keller, Marshall Brown and Larriques “Rico” Cunningham, all of whom were listed in the league guide book at the start of the season in October, are gone.

Keller now plays for Gunma; Brown suits up for Akita. Little and Cunningham have left Japan. (What’s more, none of the team’s mports from last season returned, and the franchise’s original captain Taishiro Shimizu, a hometown favorite, joined the Oita HeatDevils in the offseason.)

Ricky Woods, one of the most prolific scorers in league history, played 19 games (19.1 points per game; last game as a Shining Suns on Feb. 3) for the squad this season before requesting his release; he abruptly joined the Tokyo Cinq Reves and has been in the rotation for four games at press time.

The revolving door policy for foreigners is by design, said Keller, who’s averaging 16.8 points in 18 games since joining the Crane Thunders after scoring at a 21.3 ppg clip in 18 games for Miyazaki.

How so?

Team president Shunsaku Kamada is operating a fraudulent business, Keller told The Japan Times.

“Ever since I stepped in Japan, it was nothing but lies from the president,” Keller said. “Our power and water wasn’t running for two days when we got there. He never once came or sent someone to fix it. It was missionary American Mr. Tom who helped us. He was not affiliated with the program in anyway. My heat wasn’t working for two weeks in November and I was telling them every day it was freezing. Nothing ever happened. I had to wait for Mr. Tom to get back in town for him to help me on his own.

“(Kamada) lied so many times and was so unprofessional. It resulted in the situation that they are in now.”

As of 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Miyazaki’s roster featured only two imports — center Abdullahi Kuso (15 games, 15.1 ppg) and post player Thomas Fairley (30 games, 7.3 ppg) — but the league standard is four per club.

This, of course, puts the Suns, losers of 17 of their last 20 games, at a big competitive disadvantage before games even begin. What’s more, coach Junichiro Hongo left the team last month and Kimitoshi Sano assumed sideline supervisor duties.

With Kamada running the team, the Shining Suns have been a complete disaster, Keller insisted, saying dishonesty has been a chief trait of the president’s business operations.

“All four imports who where there when I was there — Brown, Little, Cunningham, Woods — and myself all asked to leave on their own because of the mistreatment (from Kamada) and his decisions,” Keller said. “It also resulted in (a) sponsor quitting and the head coach. They still owe me money that they never paid when I left, a whole month (in salary).

“All he (Kamada) is concerned with is being in charge but not carrying the responsibilities it takes to be in charge,” added Keller. “I feel bad for the players because they deserve better then what he is doing to them, the Japanese players also. I’m glad I got out when I did. I wish someone would step in from the league (office). The same thing happened last year, everyone tells me. As long as he is in charge, these same problems will continue to occur.”

Reached by telephone on Wednesday, Shining Suns public relations director Hiroshi Osako declined to comment on the aforementioned allegations.

Last April, The Japan Times reported that Kamada told versatile forward O’Neal “Trey” Mims he could go away if he didn’t accept the way the team operated, Mims said.

Mims said he received late salary payments in both February and March, and that didn’t appear to concern team officials.

“The president told me if I didn’t like it, I can go home,” Mims said.

Fast forward to recent days, and high-flying Cunningham, the All-Star Slam Dunk Contest champion, endured a similar situation. But he will no longer excite the masses with his above-the-rim antics He, too, has bolted from Miyazaki due to broken promises.

“No, he didn’t get paid all his money, so he told them the contract was breached too many times and needs to come home,” a person familiar with the situation said.

“The team wants him to stay, but by the contract (rules) he doesn’t have to because they broke it. … I am only focused on getting Rico home and his money the president has stolen,” the source added.

“Now the team is broke and doesn’t want to pay his way home. Also, the president has taken the (Slam Dunk Contest) prize money and doesn’t want to give it up because the team had no money.”

Cunningham confirmed on Wednesday that the team only paid for his flight from Narita airport to LAX (Los Angeles) International Airport. The rest of his lengthy journey was his bill to pay, and arranged with practically zero assistance from his ex-employer. (It is a standard contractual obligation for bj-league teams to provide a ticket to the player’s hometown at the end of the season.)

“I go to Atlanta from here and that’s not my final destination,” Cunningham told The Japan Times while in transit at LAX. “I have to ride a van to Chattanooga (Tennessee). I was told and showed that I had a flight to go home (between) Feb. 21-24, but the president told the staff not to tell me.” But apparently someone within the Miyazaki organization felt compelled to help Cunningham.

Toyama forward Brandon Cole played for the Shining Suns during the team’s inaugural season and said he received proper treatment from the organization at the time.

“Honestly, I guess I was lucky to be there in their first season of operation, because not one time did I have any issue with my payments at all, not to mention they treated me fairly well, supplied me with all the shoes, accessories, meals, team merchandise, etc. that I needed,” Cole said. “And they took care of the hospital bill for my son’s birth in Miyazaki as well.

“I have heard rumblings that since I left Miyazaki, things have went in an unreal downward spiral with the organization, with late payments and nonpayments to players and not providing some of the same comforts I experienced in my first season there, and that is extremely unfortunate.

“I never once had a late payment or a nonpayment at all, not even a day late ever, and they actually paid me early on two occasions. The main reason I came back to Japan this season was due to how pleasant and professional my experience was two seasons ago in Miyazaki. It’s a shame that things have apparently turned for the worst.”

Pay attention: One source with a firm grasp of league operations insists the bj-league needs to do a much better job keeping tabs of what’s taking place on the court, and find ways to reduce injuries.

In a recent email to The Japan Times, he wrote, “Draelon Burns was kneed by (Iwate All-Star big man Dillion) Sneed at the beginning of game one this past weekend. After watching the play and seeing the tape, it probably would have been a flagrant 1 or 2 by NBA standards.”

Regarding Sneed, the source added, “That’s three weeks in a row he’s hurt someone (Chiba’s) Marquin Chandler — broken nose; (teammate) Lawrence Blackledge — broken wrist when opposing player was pushed into him while in air, and now Draelon — upper leg contusion.”

Burns, Yokohama’s leading scorer at 19.4 ppg, sat out the series finale last weekend against the Big Bulls.

Upcoming games: This week’s Saturday-Sunday schedule is as follows: Akita vs. Shimane, Shinshu vs. Shiga, Gunma vs. Fukuoka, Tokyo vs. Chiba, Osaka vs. Saitama, Takamatsu vs. Iwate, Oita vs. Niigata, Miyazaki vs. Toyama and Ryukyu vs. Yokohama.

In the paint: In European ball, here’s an update on some former bj-league standouts. Playing for Generali Okapi Aalstar in the Belgian League, guard Derek Raivio, formerly of Shinshu, is averaging 16.1 points, 3.4 assists and 1.1 steals in 16 games, according to statistics posted on euro-basket.com, and his teammate Lee Cummard, an ex-Kyoto playmaker, is contributing 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists in three games for his new team. For Leuven, another squad in Belgium, ex-Sendai star Johnny Dukes has averages of 6.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.0 steals in 16 games.

In the Greek A1 League, ex-Fukuoka swingman Kevin Palmer of KAOD Dramas is the club’s second-leading scorer (12.6 ppg) and top rebounder (8.8 rpg) and is first in steals (2.5 per game) through 18 contests.

In the French ProB League, 2011-12 bj-league MVP Justin Burrell, the former B-Corsairs forward, is averaging 12.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in 24 games for Champagne Chalons-Reims.

In the German ProA League, backcourt dynamo Takumi Ishizaki, who starred for Shimane in the 2010-11 campaign, is BV Chemnitz 99′s leading scorer (13.4 ppg) and No. 2 passer (3.1 assists) while showing impressive shooting form from beyond the arc (41.7 percent, 48-for-115) and overall range (49.2 percent from the field).

Entertaining listen: Australian Adam Ryan, a longtime NBA enthusiast, recently spoke to former Tokyo Apache and NBA bench boss Bob Hill during a wide-ranging interview. Among the topics Hill talks about are his memories of working as coach of the Knicks, Pacers, Spurs and SuperSonics, as well as the Apache.

Here’s a link to listen to the podcast: inallairness.com/air014-bob-hill/

Coach Cartwright speaks out: In his chat with reporters last Saturday, former Chicago Bulls coach Bill Cartwright, who has guided the Osaka Evessa to a 5-5 mark in his first 10 games in charge, acknowledged, “We are going to continue to struggle until we can find someone who can score for us at the end of the game.”

Meticulous in his preparation for the job, Cartwright explained how he wants his team to perform this way: “Everything we do is rehearsed, we’ve already talked about it. So when they play on the floor, that’s what I want to see, exactly how we practiced, and I’m not happy when it doesn’t happen.”

On his team’s fourth-quarter shortcomings, including three defeats by four or less points during his brief time at the helm: “Our guys are fighting, but now’s the time to take a step. They must understand clearly that we can play a lot better than this. … Losing this many close games is unacceptable.”

League accolades: Saitama Broncos guard Yuki Kitamuki was awarded the Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP accolade for his efforts against the Sendai 89ers last Thursday and Friday.

Kitamuki had nine points, seven assists, five rebounds and two steals in the series opener in 40 minutes, followed by 30 points (8-for-12 on 3-pointers) with nine assists in the rematch.

The February MVP honor goes to Shimane All-Star forward Michael Parker, who has helped the Susanoo Magic rise to second place in the West through Sunday. Parker averaged 18 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 1.9 blocks while shooting 60.7 percent on 2-point attempts in February, and Shimane posted a 7-1 record in the month.