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Ryukyu Golden Kings won’t re-sign league icon Newton

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Big man Jeff Newton, who has played on a bj-league record six championship teams, will not be back with the Ryukyu Golden Kings for the 2014-15 season, his longtime agent Wallace Prather told The Japan Times on Friday.

Newton spent the past six seasons in a Golden Kings uniform and alongside forward Anthony McHenry helped the franchise establish a sustained level of excellence that no team in the upstart circuit’s history has been able to match. Ryukyu captured its third title in May, adding to the pair it won in the 2008-09 and 2011-12 campaigns.

“He will not return to Okinawa,” Prather told this newspaper. “I am in touch with a couple teams in the bj-league and Jeff is open to (joining) other teams.”

Prather, who said he’s been the league legend’s only agent during his nine seasons in Japan, declined to provide specifics, saying, “I cannot tell you who I have offers from.”

He added: “The Kings just said no and did not tell me why. I am surprised at that.”

The Iwate Big Bulls would be among the expected teams chasing after Newton, who won two titles while playing for ex-Ryukyu coach Dai Oketani, who has been the Iwate bench boss since 2012.

As the starting center for the Osaka Evessa from 2005-08, Newton, a Georgia native, was a part of three championship teams. His shot-blocking skills, defensive instincts, rebounding tenacity and all-around fundamentals, not unlike the overall impact of future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs, have given two franchises a rock-solid foundation to build around.

The 33-year-old Indiana University alum has participated in eight of nine bj-league Final Fours. In those nine regular seasons, Osaka and Ryukyu had a combined won-loss record of 323-111. What’s more, the Kings have gone 232-78 since Newton’s departure from Osaka signaled a titanic shift of power in the league.

Though he was sidelined in the spring of 2013 after undergoing knee surgery (to repair his left meniscus) and missed eight games, Newton played in all 52 regular-season contests this past season.

Prather insists that Newton is healthy, that his knee is a non-factor. “His knee is perfect,” the agent of Perennial Sports & Entertainment said. “I am discussing with two teams, but I am open to other teams if they contact me.

“I cannot speak on salary. Jeff wants that to remain private. He prefers to play on good team. He wants to produce and reach a seventh championship.”

On a powerhouse team with a deep bench and a high-powered offense that won a league-record 43 games this past season, Newton was not needed to play major minutes or score a lot of points as the Kings steamrolled past foes in victory after victory in Tsutomu Isa’s first season at the helm.

Newton’s leadership contributions and fundamental knowledge of the team’s playbook and opposing teams’ personnel was significant, though.

Watching the Golden Kings in action, it was clear he brought a steady confidence to the team and a fierce determination — and never-wavering expectations — to win.

Newton averaged 4.2 points and 6.4 rebounds. The team limited his minutes to 22 per game. He shot 41.1 percent from the field (78-for-190), made 31 blocks and 27 steals.

As of Friday afternoon, fellow big man Kibwe Trim, 30 had not re-signed with Ryukyu. He averaged 10.9 points and 8.8 rebounds in 52 games, and shot 58 percent from the field.

Newton’s 50-point game against the Evessa at Ariake Colosseum in the Western Conference final on May 16, 2009, a day before the Kings captured their first championship, remains the most iconic single-game individual performance in league history.

Mavs give Togashi a shot

The Dallas Mavericks on Thursday added guard Yuki Togashi to their NBA Summer League team.

Togashi starred for the Akita Northern Happinets the past two seasons.

Mavs spokesman Scott Melton told The Japan Times that Togashi replaced guard Chris Smith, who was originally listed on the roster.

The 20-year-old was the All-Star Game MVP in January, and was named to the Best Five Team in May after leading the league in assists (7.9). Including the playoffs, Togashi dished out 446 assists with 144 turnovers. He scored 30 points in the title game on May 25 against Ryukyu.

The Mavs face the New York Knicks in their Summer League opener on Friday in Las Vegas. The league ends on July 21.