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NBA veteran Swift to bolster Apache frontcourt


Just over a month before preseason action begins in earnest, the Tokyo Apache continue to make moves and reshape their roster for the 2010-11 season.

Center Robert Swift, whose NBA career includes 97 games and a pair of right knee surgeries, has accepted a contract offer for the upcoming season, the team announced on Monday. He will be reunited with new Apache coach Bob Hill, who coached the Seattle SuperSonics from January 2006 to April 2007.

A 216-cm, 122-kg big man, Swift was the No. 12 pick in the 2004 NBA Draft. Seattle selected a player who skipped college, but had committed to USC. He was considered one of the nation’s top five high school senior centers during his final prep season, when he played at Bakersfield (Calif.) High School and averaged 18.8 points, 15.9 rebounds and 6.2 blocks per game. He played the previous three seasons at Garces Memorial (Calif.) High School.

Swift played two games for the NBA Development League’s Bakersfield Jam last season, but quit the team for personal reasons, according to online reports.

His career appears to be at a crossroads now, just four months shy of his 25th birthday. And he is Hill’s latest reclamation project, joining fellow prep-to-pros phenom Jeremy Tyler, the teenager who made headlines last summer when he opted to leave San Diego High School before his senior season and join Maccabi Haifa of the Israeli League, on the Apache squad.

The heavily tattooed Swift played 16 games during his rookie season in the NBA averaging 4.5 minutes, 0.9 points, 0.4 rebounds and 0.4 blocks per contest.

In his second season, in 2005-06, he gained increased playing time (47 games, 20 starts, 21.0 minutes) and became a more productive player, as evidenced by his 6.4 points and 5.6 rebounds.

A torn anterior cruciate ligament in a preseason game forced him to miss the entire 2006-07 season. He missed 70 games the next season due to another knee injury, this time the lateral meniscus.

The Sonics franchise relocated and became known as the Oklahoma City Thunder, and in the 2008-09 campaign Swift appeared in 26 games. He didn’t receive an NBA contract for the next season and found himself in the D-League for a short stint.

His NBA career averages are 15.5 minutes per game, 4.3 points and 3.9 rebounds.

“Swift is an NBA veteran with great footwork and leaping ability,” Tokyo general manager Conor Neu said in a statement. “He will be a dominant inside presence for the Apache this season. His grandmother is Japanese and he is very excited to experience all Japan has to offer.”

Swift joins Kyoto Hannaryz guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf as active bj-league players who have been in the NBA.

The Apache also added former Oklahoma State point guard Byron Eaton to their roster on Monday.

The 180-cm Eaton, who started at the point in all four of his college seasons, played his final OSU game in 2009. He became the Cowboys’ career leader in steals as a junior.

He was on the D-League’s Tulsa 66ers roster to start the 2009-10 season, but was released on Dec. 1 after only two games. He, too, is now looking to resurrect his career.

Eaton attended Lincoln High School in Dallas. He played on the same varsity squad as future NBA All-Star forward Chris Bosh.

“Byron is an incredible passer and competitor,” said Neu of Eaton, who averaged 14.3 points and 5.7 assists during his senior season at OSU. “He is a floor leader and he knows how to win.”

With Eaton on the roster now, it appears veteran point guard Rasheed Sparks, whose steady play helped Tokyo make a late push for the playoffs in the spring, is out of the picture.

News and notes: Veteran forward Kazuhiro Shoji, who suited up for the Takamatsu Five Arrows last season, has been traded to the expansion Akita Northern Happinets.

The 36-year-old Shoji, who participated in the 2008-09 All-Star Game 3-Point Shootout in Beppu, Oita Prefecture, played for the Saitama Broncos before joining the Five Arrows.

Elsewhere, the Shiga Lakestars, coming off their first playoff appearance, said power forward Gary Hamilton, who led the league in rebounding (14.3 per game) last season, will return to the team for a second season. In addition, the ex-University of Miami Hurricane exhibited his versatility by leading the team in assists, steals and blocks — a superb accomplishment in any league.

The Lakestars also finalized a deal with guard/forward Mikey Marshall, who joined the team in March and helped propel the squad into the playoffs. Shiga won 11 of its final 16 games to close out the regular season, and Marshall averaged 19.6 points in that span.

Marshall, who played for coaching legend Bob Knight at Texas Tech, is one of the most polished players in bj-league history. Blessed with terrific court vision and a calm demeanor, he was a fan favorite while playing for the Oita HeatDevils and Osaka Evessa in past seasons.

The expansion Shimane Susanoo Magic signed guard/forward Shohei Nakama and guard Koki Yabuuchi.

Nakama, a Hiroshima native, attended Osaka University of Commerce.

Yabuuchi went to Osaka University of Health and Sports Sciences.