Before a single shot is taken in the season’s first game, every team knows the following:
You’ve got to start somewhere, and for the Tokyo Apache that somewhere happens to be suburban Dallas, where they begin an eight-day preseason training camp on Friday.
New coach Bob Hill, the first ex-NBA bench boss to lead a bj-league club, will direct the team’s workouts at the Integrated Athletic Development complex in Carrollton, Texas.
For Hill and the new-look roster, featuring ex-NBA center Robert Swift, teen standout Jeremy Tyler, longtime bj-league star Cohey Aoki, steady veteran Jumpei Nakama and returning fan favorite Darin Satoshi Maki, among others, the camp will provide a good setting for the team to form an identity and build a foundation.
“I expect the players to come back mentally and physically prepared and working as a cohesive group under the tutelage of Coach Bob Hill,” said Apache president Chris Hetherington, a former NFL fullback.
The sprawling IAD campus features six basketball courts, a 80-meter track and an indoor turf field. The Apache’s on-court workouts — twice-daily sessions for seven days — as well as speed and conditioning drills will test the players’ mental and physical endurance.
“Outside of the basketball and team aspect of this training camp, I am excited for the players and staff to be involved in something like this,” Apache general manager Conor Neu said. “Working in this facility and (with) staff at IAD will be a unique and rewarding experience for everyone.”
He added: “Being the first time we are together as a team, this is an important step for us to establish chemistry and bond. The players and staff will spend a lot of time together and we believe that this experience will help us become a stronger team.”
The Apache will train through next Thursday and return to Japan on Sept. 11, only nine days before their preseason opener against the Saitama Broncos in Hannou, Saitama Prefecture.
In related team news, Tokyo will play all 24 home games at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2 this season. It’s unclear at press time whether the team will play 28 road games or have two neutral-site contests.
Regardless, having one home facility is an upgrade over last season’s multivenue fiasco.
“We are very excited to provide a true home arena for our fans,” said Hetherington in a statement. “Having all our home games in this one arena is important to the Apache, providing a consistent and organized professional basketball entertainment experience.”
Opening the door: By signing point guard Takumi Ishizaki, the expansion Shimane Susanoo Magic will command extra media attention all season.
Ishizaki, a former Toshiba Brave Thunders player, will be the first active Japan national team member to suit up for a bj-league team.
“He will be a leader of this team,” Shimane coach Zeljko Pavlicevic said in a Tuesday phone conversation. “He’s one of the best players on the national team and I am very proud and very happy because he is one of our players.”
Pavlicevic described him as a “leader on the court,” citing his strong work ethic, will to win and attention to details.
“There are only a small number of players that can really be leaders,” the coach added.
The Ishizaki deal was completed over the weekend, with the league releasing a statement that Ishizaki’s situation is a “special case” and that all teams were given a chance to make a bid for him. Shimane made the highest bid, believed to be between ¥8 million and ¥11 million, including a signing bonus, though the figure was undisclosed and several teams had already filled their rosters and outlined their budgets for the upcoming season.
After the season, the Fukui Prefecture native will enter the bj-league draft. (Previously, Japanese players were required to take part in league tryouts before being eligible for the draft or team tryouts to be offered a contract.)
Because Ishizaki is a national team player, some people believe it would have been insulting to demand that he take part in a league tryout. Instead, this handling of the situation indicates a built-in respect for Ishizaki.
“That is the biggest step for him to make it to the bj-league, because they now have a national team guy,” said someone with knowledge of the situation. “That is very important for the bj-league.”
Fukuoka signing: The Rizing have finalized a deal with center Jartavious Henderson, 23, for the upcoming season.
The 203-cm forward attended the University of Memphis, which enjoyed sustained success during his college career from 2006-10. The Tigers went 128-20 during that span. The 125-kg Henderson was primarily a backup big man at Memphis.
According to online reports, Henderson participated in the Milwaukee Bucks’ pre-draft workouts this year and also took part in the Korean Basketball League’s pre-draft camp in Las Vegas.
Newest 89er: Tommy Swanson, a 208-cm power forward, will play for the Sendai 89ers this season.
Swanson, 26, attended Baylor University before embarking on a pro career that has included stops in the NBA Development League, the British Basketball League and the French League.
In the works: The Ryukyu Golden Kings are expected to announce the signing of forward Abdullahi Kuso and guard/forward Carlos Dixon in the coming days, a league insider said over the weekend.
Kuso, who was born in Nigeria, finished his college career at Gonzaga. He first attended Tallahassee (Fla.) Community College. The 26-year-old played in the Ukrainian League in the 2008-09 season, averaging 11.6 points in 23 games.
Dixon is a Virginia Tech product (2000-05).
Online update: The Takamatsu Five Arrows’ website, www.takamatsu-fivearrows.com, is fully functional again after being on hiatus during the off-season.
Bureaucratic necessity: With much pomp and circumstance, the Japan Basketball Association in May finally gave bj-league teams the OK to register their players for the national association, ending a five-year struggle/stalemate to be recognized.
And then there’s the second step: paperwork and registration fees, which some may consider institutionalized extortion.
“I know all teams have been told to register their players with the JBA,” a league source said. “I wonder how many have done so. I know there are costs involved, and most bj-league teams seem to wonder if it’s worth it, i.e., what do we get out of it (and the answer is basically we get nothing)?
“But supposedly registration would open the door to bj-league players having the chance to try out for the national team.”
Closing commentary: With the league expanding to 20 teams for the 2011-12 season, it’s inexcusable that there’s not a full-time foreign player liaison in the league office. And it defies common sense.
This season, each team will have an estimated four or five import players on their opening day rosters.
Do the math.
That’s roughly 60-something players from overseas, and teams shouldn’t be expected to handle everything. Most teams’ staffs are short-handed to begin with.
Furthermore, the league’s players — Japanese and foreigners — ought to seriously consider forming a union before the next season begins.
Things are changing so quickly around the league and the players should have a collective voice about their future — about salary structure, future pensions, profit-sharing (down the road), etc. They have as much at stake here as owners, sponsors and league executives.
Some players, however, are skeptical that a union will have any chance of succeeding. And if they try, they believe they’d face severe consequences — basically being banished from the league, facing a form of collusion, e.g. nobody would offer them a new contract.
“Well, we will see about the union,” said one player who requested anonymity. ” I mean which players will actually stick their necks out to jump-start it? Getting blackballed is serious, and some players don’t even care.
“I think a majority of these Japanese players are stupid. They do not think long term about their lives. They just want to be basketball players, and I understand that.
“I was like that once when I was young, but again, they need to get educated. How? A union is a great start.”
Players from each team could write a formal letter, or sign a petition, and present it to Toshimitsu Kawachi, the league’s commissioner, essentially announcing at the All-Star Game in Osaka or the 2010-11 Final Four at Ariake Colosseum — when the media spotlight is at its brightest — that they demand the right to form a union.
It would be a wise move.
Got a story idea about the bj-league? Contact Ed Odeven at firstname.lastname@example.org