/ |

New coaches, players make debuts as preseason begins

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Preseason action will be in full swing over the next few weeks as teams get the opportunity to measure themselves — strengths, weaknesses, individual matchups — against opposing teams.

And that’s where coaches will have their first real chance to evaluate what adjustments to make before the league’s ninth season tips off in early October.

As is the norm in the bj-league, with a high turnover of coaches and players, each season is a real rebuilding project for most teams. Stability in terms of personnel is quite rare, and so the first full week of preseason play will begin the evaluation process.

Coaches will begin paying particular attention to several things, including:

■ Team defense and individual defensive adjustments.

■ Team offense and how efficient players are in creating scoring chances for their teammates.

■ Turnovers — an acceptable number or a worrisome amount.

■ In-game substitutions — which combinations are working well and which ones aren’t.

■ Hustle and desire — who’s playing with a sense of urgency and an all-out drive and who’s going through the motions.

Those are all important indicators for coaches as they assemble their team’s practice priorities in the countdown to season openers.

The Kyoto Hannaryz participated in the first preseason game featuring a bj-league team this summer, losing 84-52 to the NBL’s Hyogo Storks on Aug. 11.

On Saturday, preseason action returns. The new-look Shimane Susanoo Magic, led by new coach Vlasios Vlaikidis and featuring high-scoring forward Thomas Kennedy, take on the visiting Takamatsu Five Arrows, who are guided by third-year bench boss Kenzo Maeda, in a 7 p.m. contest.

Also Saturday, the Ryukyu Golden Kings, with longtime assistant Tsutomu Isa making his debut as the head coach, play host to the Iwate Big Bulls, who are led by popular ex-Ryukyu coach Dai Oketani in another 7 p.m. game.

On Sunday afternoon at 2, Ryukyu, vying for its third championship this season, a number that would equal the Osaka Evessa’s league record, plays a rematch against Iwate. League legends Jeff Newton and Anthony McHenry are back in Okinawa for their sixth seasons with the Golden Kings, while veteran point guard Tsubasa Yonamine, who first played under Oketani in Oita and then with the Kings, reunites with the coach at Iwate this season.

Meanwhile, the Sendai 89ers will usher in the Shuto Kawachi era, with the rookie head coach (commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi’s son) directing the team against German ProA squad Oettinger Rockets on Sunday in a 3 p.m. showdown.

The Hannaryz, hoping to reach the Final Four for a third straight season under Honoo Hamaguchi, are back on the court on Tuesday at 7 p.m. with their second non-league preseason game, this time against the NBL’s Link Tochigi Brex, former NBA point guard Yuta Tabuse’s squad.

Next Wednesday, the Niigata Albirex BB, now guided by another new coach, Fujitaka Hiraoka, begin their preseason against the visiting 89ers.

Can the Albirex punch a ticket to the Final Four for a second straight season?

This exhibition won’t provide a lot of answers, but it’s a start, minus the league’s reigning rebounding king, Chris Holm, who joined Kyoto.

On Sept. 14, beginning his second season at the helm, Bob Nash leads the Toyama Grouses, coming off the best season in team history, against Taiwanese League club Pure Youth Construction at 2 p.m.

Also on the 14th, the Saitama Broncos, playing in Takatoshi Ishibashi’s debut as head coach, take on the visiting Tokyo Cinq Reves, a second-year franchise. Neither team made the playoffs last season; the Broncos’ streak of non-winning, non-playoff seasons stretches back to the league’s inaugural season, 2005-06, the most dubious mark in league history.

Shifting to Kansai, the bj Challenge Cup features four teams: Shiga Lakestars, Bambitious Nara, Osaka Evessa and Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix on Sept. 14-15, hosted by the Lakestars.

All four teams have head coaches who have been with their respective clubs for less than a year. For the Phoenix, Tomoya Higashino took over in early March, and is the longest-tenured coach in this two-day tournament.

New Shiga coach Chris Boettcher takes his team into its preseason opener on Sept. 14 at 1:30 p.m. against Nara, an expansion franchise led by former Miyazaki and Ryukyu sideline supervisor Koto Toyama. The Evessa, now run by first-year coach Shunsuke Todo, face Hamamatsu at 5 p.m.

The losing teams meet at noon on Sept. 15, followed by the championship match at 3:30.

Also on Sept. 15, Niigata plays host to Saitama, while the Akita Northern Happinets, entering their third season under Kazuo Nakamura, meet the defending champion Yokohama B-Corsairs.

The Happinets and B-Corsairs are scheduled to square off again on Sept. 16, giving new Yokohama coach Michael Katsuhisa his first test with a revamped roster, but minus the Big Three — and ex-Yokohama star Draelon Burns now suits up for Akita — that carried the team to the champion. (Coach Reggie Geary departed after the title conquest and returned to Japan as head coach of the Chiba Jets, who defected to the NBL after two seasons.)

The Gunma Crane Thunders, beginning their second season and first full campaign with Ryan Blackwell as coach, meet the visiting 89ers on Sept. 16, and Saitama faces Niigata again at 2:30 p.m.

Feedback: Got a story idea about the bj-league? Send an email to edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp