After four months of nonstop offseason activity, bj-league teams have started playing preseason exhibition games.

The action began Sept. 11 and continues through Oct. 3.

On Wednesday, the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix played in the Asian Basketball Association Club Championship, now in its fourth season, in Haining, China. Smart Gilas Pilipinas defeated the Phoenix 88-72 in the tournament’s opening round.

On Saturday, the host Shiga Lakestars topped Hamamatsu 93-86, with newcomer Lamar Rice scoring a game-high 23 points and Yu Okada pouring in 16 points in his Shiga debut, while Mikey Marshall and Masashi Joho added 15 apiece.

The visiting Rizing Fukuoka edged the expansion Shimane Susanoo Magic 88-83 in veteran coach Zeljko Pavlicevic’s preseason debut with Shimane.

This holiday weekend’s action includes the following matchups: expansion Miyazaki Shining Suns vs. Rizing Fukuoka on Saturday and Sunday; Toyama Grouses vs. expansion Akita Northern Happinets on Sunday; and Sendai 89ers vs. Niigata Albirex BB and Saitama Broncos vs. Tokyo Apache on Monday.

The Broncos are set to meet the 89ers on Sept. 23 and the Kyoto Hannaryz and the Osaka Evessa, playing their first game under new coach and former bj-league standout Ryan Blackwell, will square off on the same day. The Albirex and Toyama Grouses are scheduled to face off on Sept. 26.

Catching up with . . . Kevin Steenberge: The high-flying big man has played for the Ryukyu Golden Kings and Toyama, and now he can add a different type of accomplishment to his resume: He just climbed Mount Fuji for a worthwhile cause.

The Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch reported on Steenberge’s activity on Aug. 29. The story’s headline: “Ex-Spider climbing Mount Fuji for former manager.”

Steenberge, who played college ball for the Richmond Spiders, climbed Japan’s most famous mountain on Sept. 3.

The Virginia newspaper explained the reason for the climb, citing Steenberge’s desire to help honor the former team manager.

“Woolley was a Spiders basketball manager when Steenberge played (2003-06), though Woolley suffered from Nephrotic Syndrome, which resulted in damaged kidneys, and, eventually, their removal. Woolley’s age was typical for a college student, but he looked much younger and was 5-foot (152 cm), 110 pounds (49.8 kg). UR’s players and coaches found inspiration in Woolley, who died in October 2007,” the paper reported.

“The Dan Woolley Educational Fund was created to provide financial assistance to managers of Spiders teams. Steenberge, who plays professionally in Japan, wanted to raise awareness of the fund, and determined that the 2.3-mile (3.7-km) hike to Mount Fuji’s summit in Woolley’s name could result in pledges.”

The feel-good story goes states that at press time Steenberge had received $5,270 from 41 donors for the climb, and a Facebook page was set up to help coordinate and promote those efforts.

In an e-mail sent to The Japan Times from Indonesia over the weekend, Steenberge reflected on this admirable project.

“As far as the fund is concerned, it was amazing to have a chance to do something for the memory of a great friend,” he wrote. “Often, people don’t realize how important managers and those out of the spotlight are to a team and its success. Dan was a vital part of our success at Richmond and his fund keeps his memory alive and also helps the managers with their financial needs.”

Asked how challenging the climb was and if he felt prepared to do it, Steenberge responded with the following remarks:

“I’m not sure anything can really prepare you for climbing a mountain and I really don’t know if basketball helped at all. I know it did teach me that I can go further and dig deeper all the time and I needed that climbing Fuji. I was amazed by how difficult a task it was but thankful that I had a reason to be there.”

So where will Steenberge play ball this season?

That remains to be seen, but he doesn’t expect to be back in Japan.

“At this point I have no plans to be in the bj-league this season,” Steenberge wrote. “I had a blast in Okinawa, loved the place, loved the fans, loved the players but the team made no offer to keep me so after how hard I worked getting nothing turned me off to the league as a whole for now.”

Takushi update: Two-time Best Five point guard Naoto Takushi, a talented floor leader, is without a contract for the 2010-11 season, and it’s unclear which team he will play for.

If he does play in the bj-league this season, he could be on his third team in three seasons after playing two seasons ago for Ryukyu and last season for Kyoto in its inaugural season. His reputation as a divisive force in the locker room and on the court can’t help his cause.

“Kyoto has been trying for the past couple of months to find someone to take Naoto Takushi,” a league source said. “Saitama is the latest team that has thought about signing him. (It) sounds like management wants him, but coach (Bob) Nash is worried that he will destroy good team chemistry that they are developing. Plus, his salary from last season is too high for most teams.”

The source added: “He was on the list of possible free agents. He may only have himself to blame for taking his name off the list and allowing Kyoto to protect him without having a contract already in place for the 2010-11 season.”

Chiba name competition: Do you want to participate in the expansion Chiba franchise’s name-the-team activity?

Maybe your idea will be chosen.

From Aug. 26 to Sept. 20, fans can send in their suggestions to the team, which will begin play next season.

Send a postcard to Chiba Professional Basketball Preparatory Office, Nishifuna Narushima Building, 4th Floor, 4-19-3 Funabashi, Chiba Pref., 273-0031, and include your team name idea, as well your name, mailing address and e-mail address.

This information can also be sent via the Internet (papipo.jp/chiba-basketball2/) or in an e-mail to info@chiba-basketball.com.

Akita transaction: The Happinets have signed NBA Development League veteran Anthony Coleman to a contract for the upcoming season.

A Long Beach State product who played his freshman and sophomore seasons at Xavier University, the 210-cm forward averaged 7.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots in nine games for the Los Angeles D-Fenders last season. He was released in January after sustaining an injury.

Prior to his stint with the D-Fenders, Coleman, who turns 28 on Oct. 6, had played two previous seasons for the D-League’s Bakersfield Jam, as well as in Germany. In addition, he suited up for the Milwaukee Bucks’ summer league squad in 2007.

Closing commentary: Allen Iverson is likely headed to China to play for a pro team in the world’s most populous nation this season, joining Stephon Marbury as high-profile NBA veterans who’ve essentially worn out their welcome in the world’s top basketball league.

This will create a buzz in China and generate additional income for the league at home and abroad in merchandise sales and untold coverage in the mass media.

Call it free publicity.

The bj-league could create a sure-fire way of gaining a larger following and much-needed major media exposure by offering him a deal he can’t refuse: a lucrative contract (paid by the league office) and a spot on one of its 16 teams this season.

It’s this reporter’s belief that Iverson, a former No. 1 overall draft pick, would be a wise investment for the bj-league.

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Do you have a story idea about the bj-league? Contact reporter Ed Odeven at edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp

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