Grassroots efforts play a pivotal role in helping a sport grow and develop a vital presence in a society.

Saitama Broncos forward Isaac Sojourner understands this concept. The bj-league’s international office top brass are taking major steps to lay the groundwork for the sport’s growth in Japan, too.

Sojo’s Foundation, which was previously based in Shikoku when he played for the Takamatsu Five Arrows, is teaming up with the Saitama Broncos to provide an opportunity for students to attend the team’s home games for free.

The promotional event begins this weekend for the Broncos’ series against the Five Arrows. It continues for Saitama’s final four home games of the 2008-09 season — April 4-5 (ticket request deadline: April 1) against the Toyama Grouses and April 11-12 (deadline: April 8) against the Sendai 89ers.

Sojo’s Foundation is offering free tickets for a group of six to 10 students per game. Students are encouraged to write a small essay explaining why they want to attend the game and express why they enjoy basketball games. They are also asked to submit a photo of themselves and a chaperone (if applicable) to Sojo’s Foundation.

For further information contact: sojosfoundation@yahoo.com.

Sojourner, you may recall, was the Japan Basketball League MVP in 2003, when he previously played for the Broncos.

In an April 2008 interview with The Japan Times, he described his goals for Sojo’s Foundation. “I just want to educate the Japanese youth about basketball, through interaction with basketball,” he stated.

Meanwhile, the bj-league’s international headquarters, based in Austin, Texas, has been busy gearing up for a slew of activities, starting on March 31.

The Fukuoka Horizon boys team and the Fukuoka Takami SuperExpress girls squad, winners of the bj-league Cup Tournament in December, will travel to Texas. The trip will include a visit to a San Antonio Spurs game and the opportunity to meet the state’s governor, Rick Perry.

Garcia Middle School, the Austin city champion in boys and girls basketball, will host the Fukuoka teams. In addition, the Fukuoka squads will both play basketball games against two local junior high squads, Garcia and Hayes Junior High School.

Starvisiontv.com will produce a documentary on the visit to Texas, and the Web site will feature a live video stream throughout their stay in Texas. Think of it as a chance to see the finished product before it’s officially finished.

Sojourner’s work and the bj-league’s efforts are two examples of planting the seeds for the sport’s growth, spreading the joy of the game locally and internationally.

Weekend schedule: Up next are the following two-game series: Saitama (16-24) vs. Takamatsu (27-13), the Sendai 89ers (21-19) vs. the Oita HeatDevils (7-33), the Osaka Evessa (27-13) vs. the Niigata Albirex BB (18-22), the Shiga Lakestars (15-25) vs. the Toyama Grouses (10-30), the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (28-12) vs. the Ryukyu Golden Kings (31-9), the Rizing Fukuoka (17-23) vs. the Tokyo Apache (25-15).

Smart player: Tokyo Apache coach Joe Bryant was recently asked what impact forward Dameion Baker, who’s averaging 12.4 ppg since he rejoined the Apache in February, makes when he’s on the floor. The coach responded by saying, “Baker understands how to play basketball. He communicates with the players on the court, and he’s kind of a coach on the floor because he talks to all the players and tells them where they should be, where they shouldn’t be.”

The 31-year-old Baker’s versatility is also helpful, according to Bryant.

“You can play him at center, you can play him at power forward and you can play him at the three (small forward),” Bryant said.

Baker’s versatility will be useful down the stretch as the Apache announced Thursday that power forward Nick Davis will be sidelined for three weeks with a fractured left elbow.

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