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New challenges for Takeuchi, Okada

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Because of the disparity in the talent pool, the National Basketball League ended up with enormous gaps between the elite teams and weaker teams during its inaugural 2013-14 season.

But Year Two may be a little different. Since the offseason officially began at the end of May, players have scattered, with some notable ones leaving their previous clubs.

The most prominent are probably the departures of Japan national team players, Kosuke Takeuchi and Yusuke Okada. Both veterans left powerhouse Toyota Alvark, who had the second-best record in the league (45-9) last year.

Takeuchi, a 206-cm center/forward, signed with the Hiroshima Dragonflies, who will debut as an expansion team in the 2014-15 campaign.

Takeuchi has always been considered one of the best big Japanese men along with his twin brother Joji of the Hitachi Sunrockers. Since he graduated from Keio University, Kosuke Takeuchi has played for the Aisin SeaHorses and Toyota, two top teams in the NBL, the JBL’s successor.

Playing for a first-year pro club, Takeuchi may not be able to feel the joy of victory as often as he had with his two former clubs, but the 29-year-old seems to thrilled to be entering a new chapter of his basketball career.

“Different from Toyota, which has a winning history, the Dragonflies are a brand-new team,” Takeuchi, who won the JBL MVP awards in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, wrote on his blog. “So I would like to play with a mindset like a rookie.”

Takeuchi, who averaged 10.7 points and 6.8 rebounds for the Alvark last season, was a member of the host nation’s squad for the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan.

As with Takeuchi, the news of Okada’s transfer to another team came as a shocker as well.

The guard/forward signed with the Tsukuba Robots, who last year posted a 10-44 record for the fourth-place team in the NBL’s Western Conference (the club is moving to the Eastern Conference for the coming season).

A solid shooter and tenacious defender, Okada said on his blog that he received offers from multiple clubs and had to carefully think them over because each was so appealing to him.

Okada chose the Robots, who are based in Ibaraki Prefecture, where the 29-year-old player spent three years in high school, because he wanted to give himself another challenge in his hoop career.

Okada said in his blog post that he wanted to see how much influence he could bring to make the new team better while he also wanted to see how much he could grow as a player. Okada will turn 30 in September.

The Aoyama Gakuin University product averaged 7.4 points in 18.9 minutes last year. He ranked fourth in 3-point shooting percentage (41.5 percent).

Donte’ Hill, Tsukuba’s head coach, expressed gratitude about his club acquiring Okada, who serves as the president of the Japan Basketball Players Association. The American told The Japan Times via email that he was excited about Okada’s expected contributions to the team program.

“We believe that he brings some core values on what we look for in a basketball player,” Hill said of Okada. “He’s intelligent, so he is able to understand the game and how valuable practice prepares us to be successful.

“He’s coachable and wants to improve daily as a player. He’s committed to winning and knows that to be able to win then defense is the first tone we set in establishing a winning culture. We talked about that in detail and he appreciated, supported, and embraced the vision.”

Hill expects Okada to be a role model for his other players with his great work ethic.

“Okada is a hard worker and works continually to become an elite player,” Hill said. “Not only is he already a great shooter, but he looks to consistently improve his shooting with extra time in the gym getting more repetition.”

Other notable moves: Among other star players’ moves, a pair of vets who helped guide the Wakayama Trians to a championship runnerup finish in the 2013-14 NBL season have found new workplaces.

The 210-cm big man Fumihiko Aono has joined the Levanga Hokkaido, while point guard Hiroyuki Kinoshita signed with Hitachi.

The Chiba Jets, who earlier in the offseason acquired Rick Rickert from Wakayama, upgraded their roster by signing former Japan national team point guard Fumio Nishimura from Hitachi and forward Justin Burrell, the 2011-12 bj-league MVP while playing for the Yokohama B-Corsairs.

Also, 39-year-old Michael Takahashi has joined Aisin after playing 10 seasons for Toyota.

Aiming for the highest level via Japan: Amath M’Baye, who was with the Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins last season, played for the Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. He averaged 13.0 points and 3.4 rebounds in fives games played.

M’Baye told Clippers.com‘s Eric Patten that his experience in Japan was special because it gave him another dimension to his game.

“I started as a 3 over there,” said M’Baye, who was born in France and played for the University of Oklahoma. “I played 95 percent of my playing time on the wing. There’s no better way to learn a position than playing it. I think it gave me great diversity in my game as in I didn’t forget how to play the 4 (power forward) and now I can play the 3.

“I think it’s something that the Clippers are looking for, especially with players like Matt Barnes, who play the stretch 4 and play the 3 and stuff like that. I think that’s the model I can fit in and so far it’s been good. I know there are a lot of things I still need to improve on, but I think I’m taking the right steps in the right direction”

The 206-cm M’Baye led Mitsubishi with 18.6 points and 8.3 rebounds last year.