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Evessa greats commemorate team’s 10th anniversary

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

As the Osaka Evessa make preparations for their 10th season, they’ve started commemorating the franchise’s rich history. They were, after all, the first champion in league history, winning the 2005-06 title.

They captured the next two championships under former bench boss Kensaku Tennichi. Their three-peat is an impressive feat in any era.

Now working as college coaches, Lynn Washington (San Jose City College assistant) and Matt Lottich (Valparaiso University assistant) were superstars on those championship teams, and they fondly recall the Evessa’s winning ways.

Looking back on the Evessa’s sustained era of excellence (seven straight playoff appearances and six consecutive Final Fours from year one) under Tennichi that continued under his replacement, Ryan Blackwell, in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, Lottich painted a revealing portrait in words about his glorious time with the Evessa.

“It’s amazing how fast time flies but I am excited for the organization that has reached its 10th birthday,” said Lottich, a former Stanford University point guard who played for the Oita HeatDevils from 2009-12, in a detailed statement posted on the team’s website. I have very fond memories of my time with Osaka. . . .

“The Evessa welcomed me with open arms, gave me support to train and become the best player that I could be and immediately made me feel welcome in a situation that could have been difficult.”

He added: “During my time with the team, we won three championships in three years. No team has had a three-peat since. The thing that was very special and unique about those early teams is the blending we had with our Japanese and American players. We were truly a team that had many different pieces that blended very well together.”

Lottich, who averaged 20.2 points per game in the team’s third title season, praised the fans’ support while he played for Osaka.

“No other team had as strong, loud and loyal a fan base as our team had,” Lottich said.

Washington, the Indiana University alum who was forced to retire in 2012 after a remarkable pro career overseas, was the team’s fiery leader, a trait he shared with his legendary college coach, Bob Knight. The two-time regular-season MVP and two-time All-Star Game MVP also had a knack for hitting big shots in crunch time, which he recalled in statements about the team’s dramatic playoff series triumph over the Shiga Lakestars in 2011, which sent the Evessa to their sixth straight Final Four.

With time winding down in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, “we were playing against the Shiga Lakestars when (ex-Evessa guard and 2013-14 regular-season MVP Masashi) Joho made a big 3-point shot to put them ahead by one point,” Washington said.

That set the scene for an unforgettable finish, with Evessa point guard Nile Murry setting up the offense.

“. . .And as I went up the sideline he gave it back and I saw Joho coming over to the help side defensively,” Washington recalled. “I knew the referee was not going to call an offensive foul so I drove and jumped to the side for an off-balance jump shot and the ball went in off of the glass for the win with no time left.

“As I heard the crowd erupt, I jumped on the scorer’s table and threw my fist in the air like so many before me — Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan — and knew at that time we would go back to Ariake (Colosseum for the Final Four). Shiga’s spirits were broken and our boosters knew it. . ..”

Though he’s no longer leading Osaka to victory after victory, Washington delivered a message to his ex-team, which has missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, suggesting what it must do to regain its former greatness.

“You have come into a great situation in that you can build on what has been one of the most successful teams in bj-league history,” said Washington, who was known as “The General” during his time in Osaka.

“Wear that uniform with pride and give 110 percent at all times and the Evessa will be champions once again,” he added.

Comments from ex-Evessa players Murry and Blackwell are also posted in both English and Japanese on the team’s website, along with many more Japanese players’ comments and Tennichi’s (in Japanese).

Revamped HeatDevils: Oita has locked up three new foreign players for their 10th season in the league.

Point guard Demetri McCamey headlines the list. As a junior at the University of Illinois, he led the Big Ten Conference in assists (7.0 per game) in 2009-10.

The 191-cm McCamey’s pro career has taken him to Turkey (Mersin BB), Israel (Hapoel Jerusalem), the NBA Development League (splitting time in 2012-13 with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Erie Bay Hawks and Fort Wayne Mad Ants) and, most recently, in Australia (Cairns Taipans of the top-flight NBL). In 28 games with Carins, McCamey contributed 11.6 points and 2.9 assists.

The HeatDevils’ new center is Todd O’Brien, a University of Alabama at Birmingham product.

Last season, the 213-cm O’Brien played in the France ProB league. In 26 games, he averaged 10.5 points and 5.8 rebounds for Hermine Nantes Atlantique, according to asia-basket.com.

Oita, coming off seven consecutive non-playoff seasons, also added power forward Kellen Thornton, who suited up for the NBA Development League’s Idaho Stampede last season.

Thornton, played 25 games (seven starts) for the Stampede, posting averages of 7.8 points and 4.9 rebounds. He attended Illinois State before transferring to Tennessee State for his final two college seasons.

Moving north: Forward Travele Jones, who averaged 15.9 points in 50 games for the Sendai 89ers last season, has joined the Aomori Wat’s for the upcoming season.

The Wat’s announced the move on Monday.

The 203-cm Jones played college ball at Texas Southern.

Another move: Power forward Joey Werner, who helped the Kyoto Hannaryz reach the Final Four last season, is taking his well-polished low-post game to the Toyama Grouses.

Toyama, the reigning Eastern Conference regular-season champion, is revamping its roster after the loss of all-league (Best Five team) forward Ira Brown, who has joined the NBL’s Hitachi Sunrockers.

Werner, a Wisconsin-La Crose alum, scored 10.5 ppg and hauled in 7.4 rpg for the Hannaryz. He came to Japan for the 2012-13 season and was a strong frontcourt presence for the Chiba Jets.

Did you know?: Former Washington Wizards swingman Edwin Ubiles, who led Kyoto in scoring (15.8 ppg) last season, has finalized a contract to play for Maccabi Ashdod in the Israeli League for the upcoming season.

New season, new team: Well-traveled guard Takanori Goya, who played for Osaka last season, has joined the NBL’s Wakayama Trians.

The No. 1 pick in the 2006 bj-league draft, Goya bounced around the bj-league since then. He suited up for the Toyama Grouses, Rizing Fukuoka, Osaka (two stints), Tokyo Apache and Shinshu Brave Warriors.

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