Talk about a great start.

Ed Odeven

The Toyama Grouses recorded their first victory last Saturday, beating the Saitama Broncos 102-88. On the road. In their first-ever bj-league game.

That’s impressive.

Congratulations are in order for head coach Masato Fukushima and his squad.

New acquisition Jerod Ward, a 206-cm forward/center, made an immediate impact for Toyama, scoring 33 points and clearing 13 rebounds in the contest.

Fellow American Nile Murry joined the 30-point club, too, scoring a cool 30, knocking down four 3-pointers and sinking 10 of 12 foul shots.

Guard Takanori Goya, the league’s No. 1 draft pick from Okinawa, had a solid debut as well, pouring in 15 points.

The Grouses provided a glimpse of what they hope to accomplish this season in the ballgame. They made 13 steals and played an up-tempo game, sticking to a run, run and keep running approach.

In the rematch on Sunday, the Broncos returned the favor, topping Toyama 104-82.

Power forward Gordon James had a spectacular game, scoring 25 on 10-for-13 shooting and dominating on the boards (17 big rebounds).

News photoSTRONG START: Evessa small forward Kazuya Hatano goes up for layup in Saturday’s season-opening, 94-70 win over the Tokyo Apache at Ariake Colosseum. Hatano scored 16 points in the game and added eight more in Osaka’s 100-98 victory on Sunday.

Ex-NBA player David Benoit, returning from an Achilles injury, didn’t play in the opener for Saitama. He suited up for the second game and was on the court for four minutes. He didn’t score, missing both of his 3-point shot attempts. He had one rebound.

Ward put 30 points on the board in Sunday’s game.

Teammate Andrew Feeley, an American, followed up on his 31-point performance Saturday with 23 more points a day later. ( (The big story on Sunday, though, was rebounding. Saitama held a 53-32 edge on the glass after holding a five-rebound edge in the opener.

Saitama’s Marcus Toney-El and teammate Kosuke Shimizu also had double-digit scoring efforts in both games.

The Osaka Evessa, the defending league champs, cruised through the opening weekend of play with two victories.

It started with Saturday’s 94-70 win over the Tokyo Apache at Ariake Colosseum before a league-record crowd of 9,170 fans.

Balanced scoring carried Osaka in the first contest, with six players netting double-digit totals led by reigning MVP Lynn Washington’s 17.

In Sunday’s game, Osaka outscored Joe Bryant’s Apache squad 31-11 in the final frame en route to a 100-98 win.

Matt Lottich (36 points) and Jeff Newton (33 points and 20 rebounds) stole the spotlight.

Veteran Taketo Aoki had the kind of game that can exude confident in his younger teammates, putting a team-best 27 points on the board for Tokyo.

ONGOING: The bj-league completed two-game home series Thursday with the Sendai 89ers and Oita HeatDevils hosting the Niigata Albirex and the league’s other expansion team, the Takamatsu Five Arrows, respectively.

UP NEXT: The first full weekend of games tips off Saturday with Sendai at Niigata (2 p.m.), Saitama at Toyama (6:30), Oita at Osaka (7) and Tokyo at Takamatsu (3).

Sunday’s game times are as follows: Sendai-Niigata, 1; Toyama-Saitama, 1:30; Osaka-Oita, 3; and Takamatsu-Tokyo, 2.

OVERSEAS HOOPSTERS: By now you know Yuta Tabuse was the first Japanese-born player to appear in an NBA game.

Tabuse aims to return to the NBA. He’s chasing that dream by playing for the Bakersfield Jam of the NBA Developmental League.

But did you know that several other Japanese hoopsters are playing overseas as collegiate and professional players?

The team is in the midst of preseason training.

Here’s a quick rundown on some of the names to follow in Hoop Scoop throughout the season:

Ryuto Arakaki, a sophomore guard from Okinawa Nishihara High School, is preparing for his junior season at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. He averaged 1.6 assists per game in 2005-06.

Tokyo native Jun Iwata, a 188-cm guard, is vying for a spot on the Atlanta Vision, an American Basketball Association team.

Zentetsu “Zen” Kanai, an Osaka University grad, spent the summer months getting in tip-top shape by playing in the world-renown Rucker Basketball League in New York City. The guard is now listed on the Harrisburg (Pa.) Horizon roster, a team in the minor-league Eastern Basketball Alliance.

Sharpshooter K.J. Matsui begins his second season at Columbia University on Sunday against perennial national-title contender Duke in something dubbed the College Basketball Experience Classic in Durham, N.C.

Matsui, who hails from Tokyo, led the Lions with 41 3-pointers last season. He is believed to be the first Japanese player to earn a basketball scholarship to a Division I university.

Daisuke Muramatsu, who grew up in Ibaraki, is a sophomore guard at Santa Monica (Calif.) Community College. He chronicles his basketball career and his admiration for Michael Jordan on MySpace.com.

Takaaki Shioya, a 168-cm sophomore guard from Tokyo, plays for Erskine College, a private school in South Carolina with an enrollment of 600 and a student-to-teacher ratio of 13:1.

(Indeed, Shioya will get attention on and off the court.)

The team’s nickname is Flying Fleet and plays in the Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference.

AND1 MIX TAPE TOUR IN JAPAN: The always entertaining antics of these skilled ballers will be on display in Japan in the coming days.

The first stop on the Japanese tour takes the squad to Kobe World Memorial Hall on Saturday for a 7 p.m. show. The players head to Tokyo for a Nov. 16 stop at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

To best describe what exactly separates AND 1 style from your typical “structured” game of hoops, these words on AND 1’s Web site give a brief primer:

“The ball is still the ball. The hoop is still the hoop. Everything in between is up to you.”

These players — nicknames, of course, are required to be an AND 1 baller — are scheduled to appear in Japan for AND 1: Yuichiro (Samurai) Morishita, Anthony (Half-Man, Half Amazing) Heyward, Walivy (Main Event) Dixon, Jamar (The Pharmacist) Davis), Dennis (Spyda) Chism, Aaron (AO) Owens, Grayson Scott (The Professor) Boucher, Kenny (Bad Santa) Brunner, Taurian (Air Up There) Fontenette, Ryan (Special EFX) Williams, Tony (Go Get It) Jones, Andre (Silk) Poole and Jerome (Circus) Holman.

For more information, visit www.and1.co.jp/

BACK AGAIN: The Sendai 89ers have re-signed forward Mamadou Diouf, the bj-league announced on Wednesday.

The former University of Delaware Blue Hen, Diouf is a native of Senegal and played for the team during the FIBA World Championship.

Diouf, 28, was cut by the 89ers during the team’s inaugural season. He is 195-cm and 100-kg.

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