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Ryukyu strong bet for return to final

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

During the six seasons in which franchise cornerstones Jeff Newton and Anthony McHenry have teamed up to lead the Ryukyu Golden Kings to extraordinary success, the Okinawan powerhouse is the undisputed model franchise for the bj-league.

Consider the following: 1. The Golden Kings are 91 games over .500 in the past three regular seasons alone, including 85-19 in the past two campaigns. 2. A missed Final Four appearance last May is, more or less, viewed as a disastrous occurrence within the organization, not a fluke.

The two-time champion Golden Kings marched through the regular season in spectacular form, going 24-2 at home and drawing a league-best 3,219 average attendance.

It’s more than a week until Ryukyu faces the Kyoto Hannaryz in the Western Conference final at Ariake Colosseum. And the Kings’ 3-1 regular-season mark against the Hannaryz won’t be the No.1 factor.

Both teams have good size, good depth, versatility and athleticism.

The Hannaryz have the one player on either team who’s competed in the NBA, athletic swingman Edwin Ubiles, who had a short stint with the Washington Wizards in 2012.

The Kings made a wise move signing Draelon Burns, who carried the Yokohama B-Corsairs to a title last season before getting injured in a summer pickup game in Milwaukee and then having his contract with the Akita Northern Happinets terminated.

Burns makes the game look easy and flat-out dominates for vast stretches of court time, and is among the most dynamic impact players in league history.

In short, Ubiles and Burns may become the game within the game, determining if Kyoto reaches the title tilt for the first time ever or if Ryukyu returns to a familiar — and expected — place.

Kyoto conjecture: Three of four teams in next weekend’s Final Four did not compete in the championship showcase last May at Ariake Colosseum.

But the Hannaryz are making it an annual tradition — three consecutive trips to the Final Four.

While the nucleus of the team has changed dramatically over that span, coach Honoo Hamaguchi has found a way to blend veteran talent and newcomers into a successful unit in each of his seasons in charge.

Will Hamaguchi be back on the Kyoto bench for the 2014-15 season?

That intriguing question will probably be answered shortly after the Final Four.

If Hamaguchi does leave the Hannaryz, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Kyoto pursues Iwate Big Bulls bench boss Dai Oketani, a two-time bj-league title winner and Kyoto native, to replace him.

New addition: Jeremy Tyler, the former Tokyo Apache big man who completed his third NBA season last month, is the proud father of a little boy named Jeremy Jr.

Tyler’s son was born three months prematurely in January. He was in the hospital until mid-April.

Will Tyler be in the rebuilding Knicks’ plans for 2014-15?

That remains to be seen.

Catching up with . . . Casey Hill: After guiding the NBA Development League’s Santa Cruz Warriors to the D-League Finals in his first season as head coach, Casey Hill, ex-Apache assistant, said he expects to be back leading Santa Cruz again next season.

That isn’t to say, however, that things couldn’t change.

In an email to The Japan Times, Casey Hill admitted “there could be some opportunities that come up in the NBA. Ya’never know.”

His father, Bob, was a longtime NBA head coach and mentored him while working as the now-defunct Apache bench boss. Bob Hill played an important role in Casey’s development as a coach, too.

The younger Hill served as an assistant for two seasons with the D-League franchise in 2011-12, when it was called the Dakota Wizards, and in 2012-13, its first in California.

Grouses talk: Toyama posted a written message from coach Bob Nash on its website on Monday, a day after the Grouses advanced to the Final Four for the first time in franchise history.

The letter was addressed to “sponsors, boosters, cheerleaders, volunteers and loyal fans” in English and Japanese.

In part, he wrote: “On behalf of the players and coaching staff we wish to thank you for your support all season long! This has been an amazing journey together and one that after eight seasons in the (bj-league) you all so deserve. Your attendance at our games both home and away, your encouraging words, your loud cheering and your kind and generous spirit are so appreciated. Our success is due in large measure to the support you have given the Toyama Grouses and we are grateful beyond words.

“The margin between winning and losing is so small and only a few teams will get to experience this moment. So we thank you for this moment that will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on each one of us. . . .”

Fukushima search: The expansion Fukushima Firebonds may consider hiring Ryuzo Anzai as the first head coach in franchise history, a basketball insider told The Japan Times.

A team spokesman was unavailable for comment. Repeated attempts to contact the team’s office staff by phone were unsuccessful.

The 33-year-old Anzai, a former Saitama Broncos and Link Tochigi Brex guard, retired in 2013. The Fukushima Prefecture native served as a Brex assistant coach this season.

The Firebonds enter the bj-league in the 2014-15 season.

National team representatives: Akita guard Yuki Togashi and Hamamatsu big man Atsuya Ota have been named to the Japan men’s national team, the Japan Basketball Association revealed on Wednesday.

Togashi, 20, was the second-youngest player picked. (Forward Yuta Watanabe, who’s entering George Washington University this fall, is the youngest at 19.)

Twenty-six players were chosen to compete for spots in the upcoming FIBA Asia Cup in July, William Jones Cup in August and Asian Games in September. Kenji Hasegawa was selected as the new head coach last month.

Former Shimane star Takumi Ishizaki, who played for MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg of the Bundesliga Basketball League during the 2013-14 season, was also named to Japan’s squad.

Lakestars wrap-up: With their season ending in a 10-minute tiebreaker against Kyoto on Sunday in the Western Conference semifinals, Shiga players and coaching staff can ponder a number of what-ifs during the off-season.

Coach Chris Boettcher, meanwhile offered a few thoughts on the team’s final series of the season.

“Tough games today,” he wrote in an email to The Japan Times late Sunday night. “Kyoto shot the ball so well and we had open looks that just didn’t go down today. The team fought hard, but was just one of those days. They got to the free throw line more than us and that was a big difference too. We finished the season strong, but just came up short in the final game.”

Management change: Toshiya Osaki has been named the new Shimane Susanoo Magic president, the team announced earlier this week.

Daisuke Akaike had served in that role for the team’s first four seasons.

Returning to Takamatsu: Kenzo Maeda has secured a one-year deal to coach the Five Arrows for a fourth season, the team has announced.

Takamatsu posted a 23-29 record in Maeda’s third season at the helm, finishing in seventh place.

In 2011-12, the Five Arrows went 2-50 in Maeda’s first season in charge, setting a single-season league record for fewest wins and most defeats. They posted a 20-32 record the next season.

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