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Expansion to 20 teams set for 2011-12 season


In a swift announcement that will have major repercussions for the future of the sport, bj-league commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi revealed Thursday the bj-league’s plans for the 2011-12 season.

Kawachi said four expansion franchises — based in Iwate, Chiba, Nagano and Kanagawa prefectures — have been awarded, raising the number of teams to 20, or 12 more than the current number of squads in the rival JBL.

This announcement seems to support the notion that the so-called merger talks between the leagues and the Japan Basketball Association, the sport’s governing body, in 2012 or 2013 are nothing but lip service, a far-fetched fantasy.

The bj-league, which began play in the fall of 2005 with six teams, now has more teams than Nippon Professional Baseball (12 clubs) and the J. League first division (18 clubs).

(This season, three expansion teams will play their first season in the bj-league: the Miyazaki Shining Suns, the Shimane Susanoo Magic and the Akita Northern Happinets.)

A Kagoshima Prefecture-based prospective team and a non-identified group were also finalists for expansion clubs for 2011-12. The bj-league had 10 applicants before it was trimmed down to six finalists.

The bj-league, now featuring ex-NBA head coach Bob Hill (Tokyo Apache) and three ex-NBA players (Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf of the Kyoto Hannaryz, Kenny Satterfield of the Saitama Broncos and Robert Swift of Tokyo), has quietly expanded the sport’s market and opened the door for dozens of Japanese players to land jobs as pro players, too.

Plethora of signings: Another week, another new crop of signings for bj-league teams. That’s the current state of affairs in the constantly changing circuit.

In other words, nothing stays the same, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

As of Thursday afternoon, 12 foreign player signings this week are now officially in the books for the 2010-11 season, which tips off in mid-October.

Of those 12 import players, only three of them played in the bj-league last season: center Dzaflo Larkai and guard Wayne Arnold (Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix) and center Terrance Farley (Takamatsu Five Arrows).

Larkai, you may recall, shot a jaw-dropping 70 percent from the field last season in 22 regular-season games. His size, strength and skills helped the Phoenix win the league championship. The 203-cm, English-born Larkai attended Division II Bellarmine (Ky.) College.

Arnold, who averaged 14.6 points per game and shot a league-best 40 percent from 3-point range in 25 games, provided major productivity from the off-guard position. The 26-year-old gives Hamamatsu a proven scorer in the backcourt.

In other announced deals this week, the Phoenix signed 203-cm forward Ray Nixon and 200-cm forward Justin Bowen.

Nixon, who turns 26 on Sept. 10, played college ball at Wisconsin and has suited up for pro teams in Germany, France and Finland.

Bowen, an Illinois-Chicago product, played in 131 NBA Development League games over the past four seasons, averaging 10.6 points and 5.2 rebounds. He’s also played in Australia and South Korea.

The Sendai 89ers, meanwhile, reached contractual terms with guard Mac Hopson. The 184-cm performer ended his college career in the Idaho Vandals backcourt. The Portland native played at North Idaho College and Washington State before transferring to Idaho.

The Shiga Lakestars have added big man Mike Mueller, 25, who played on Winona (Minn.) State’s 2006 and 2008 NCAA Division II national championship squads.

Mueller participated in a recent free-agent camp in Las Vegas and averaged 9.7 points and 11.3 rebounds in three games, according to a Winona State athletics press release.

Shiga also signed former Georgetown (Ky.) College forward Lamar Rice, who averaged 12.3 points and 5.3 rebounds last seasons in 41 games for the JBL’s Hitachi Sunrockers. He’s also played in Switzerland, Luxembourg and Costa Rica, as well as in the D-League (2006-07).

The Kyoto Hannaryz, busy preparing for their second season, brought in veteran center Michael Fey and power forward/center Kibwe Trim, a native of Trinidad and Tobago.

Frey, 27, has earned paychecks in China, Poland, the United Arab Emirates and the D-League after a college career at UCLA. The 213-cm center averaged 12.8 points and 6.4 rebounds in 50 games for the Los Angeles D-Fenders, the Lakers affiliate, in the 2009-10 D-League season.

(The D-Fenders will be inactive this season, but are reportedly planning to return to the D-League for the 2011-12 campaign.)

The 208-cm Trim has also played in the D-League and in France, Romania and Venezuela after his college days at Sacred Heart (Conn.).

Joining former Louisville center Farley on Takamatsu’s roster for the upcoming season are forwards Ryan Mueller and Emanuel Willis.

Mueller, 25, has previously played pro ball in Denmark. The 203-cm athlete went to D-III Carroll (Wis.) University.

The 205-cm Willis, a Houston Baptist University product, has a knack for blocking shots, and the 25-year-old’s pro career has included stops in Denmark and Germany.