Kudos to the Ryukyu Golden Kings for taking a big step forward, partnering with Radio Okinawa (864 AM) to offer live broadcasts of the team’s 12 remaining home games this season.

Ryutaro Miyata will handle the play-by-play duties. He’ll be joined by a to-be-named analyst to provide the far-flung Okinawa Prefecture’s fans details on the championship-contending club, now in its fourth season and with one title and a Final Four appearance already in the books.

According to a news release issued Tuesday, Ryukyu is the first team in bj-league’s history to commit to radio broadcasts of home games. (Ideally, for the fans, of course, the station will opt to carry all of the team’s home games on the air next season.)

This can only enhance the team’s fan base and further educate the public about Golden Kings standouts Jeff Newton, Anthony McHenry, David Palmer (the injured ex-league MVP), Tsubasa Yonamine, Shigeyuki Kinjo and Naoto Kosuge, their teammates and the entire organization.

Ryukyu spokesman Kensaku Tominaga told The Japan Times on Tuesday that Radio Okinawa’s game broadcast signal won’t be available outside of Okinawa, nor will it be available on the Internet.

In the future, though, all bj-league teams have the option of doing what countless sports teams around the world do: establish broadcasting partnerships with local stations and also have live radio streams on the Internet for all games, home and away.

For starters, this is a step in the right direction.

Team transactions: Also this week, Fukuoka released big man Jartavious Henderson, possibly the worst free-throw shooter in league history (38.6 percent; 39-for-101), and re-signed former Ryukyu forward Abdullahi Kuso, who played in 26 games for the Okinawa-based club this season and averaged 8.7 points.

Henderson averaged 9.7 points in 30 games with the Rizing.

The Tokyo Apache, meanwhile, have filled the roster spot formerly held by power forward Kendall Dartez.

Former University of Iowa guard Justin Johnson, known for his long-range shooting skills, has finalized a contract to play for the team. The deal was made official on Wednesday.

The 198-cm Johnson has previously played in the NBA Development League (Sioux Falls Skyforce), Romania (CS Municipal Bucuresti) and China (Jiangsu).

Johnson posted averages of 17.7 points and 8.6 rebounds last season for the Chinese club.

“Justin will open things up for our bigs, clear driving lanes for Byron (Eaton), and ease the pressure on our outside shooters by having another threat out there,” Apache coach Bob Hill said.

Added Tokyo general manager Conor Neu: “We believe we strengthened our perimeter game with this addition of Justin Johnson and he will give us an even better balance as a team heading into the playoff race.”

Upcoming games: This weekend’s slate of games begins with the Takamatsu-Sendai showdown in Shikoku on Friday. On Saturday, the following six series begin: Shimane vs. Kyoto, Toyama vs. Fukuoka, Hamamatsu vs. Oita, Osaka vs. Niigata, Miyazaki vs. Shiga and Ryukyu vs. Saitama.

Tokyo plays host to Akita on Feb. 15 and 16 at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2.

Weekly accolade: Miyazaki guard Taishiro Shimizu is this week’s recipient of the Lawson/Ponta Player of the Week award, the league announced on Tuesday.

Shimizu had a 17-point, six-rebound effort in a series-opening, two-point loss to Oita last Saturday. A day later, Shimizu scored 23 points, including a 6-for-9 performance from 3-point range, and dished out five assists in a 14-point Shining Suns triumph.

Fantastic five: The latest league rankings, compiled by The Japan Times, are as follows:

1. Hamamatsu Higashimikawa (27-3) is the undisputed top team until proven otherwise. The Phoenix put together 10-game winning streaks like other people make toast in the morning.

2. Osaka and Shiga (identical 19-11 records), led by first-year head coaches Ryan Blackwell and Takatoshi Ishibashi, respectively, sit atop the Western Conference standings and appear headed for a terrific race for the regular-season conference crown.

A collection of stars on both teams works well with role players who understand their duties, and fill voids by currently injured leaders Lynn Washington of the Evessa and Mikey Marshall of the Lakestars.

3. Sendai (17-11) has been a solid No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference for the entire season. A selfless attitude, inspired by longtime coach Honoo Hamaguchi keeps the team in contention every year.

4. Ryukyu (18-12) is a team built to play deep into the postseason, with a strong nucleus of players and a bench boss in Dai Oketani, who demands that his players focus on defense and rebounding every game.

5. Tokyo (14-10) is evolving into one of the league’s top scoring teams, with increased productivity from Jumpei Nakama, Cohey Aoki and Kensuke Tanaka helping boost the team’s play.

Closing commentary: Finding ways to reduce expenses is a key objective for all bj-league teams and the league office. Everyone understands that.

But there are probably better things to save a few hundred thousand yen per season on than cutting back on teams’ travel rosters.

Case in point: Bringing only eight players (the league minimum) to road games, as has been the case on numerous occasions for several teams, gives a team fewer options to win games, and it presents a bad image on TV and at the arena. It appears, well, amateurish.

Or as one league insider told The Japan Times: “It looks awful to see an empty bench down at the other end. (It’s) certainly not an image of professional basketball.”

“I realize teams have to save money and cut costs, but eight players is ridiculous. Even 10 seem rather pathetic. The NBDL and CBA do 10, but everyone knows they are just minor league teams and not really serious basketball.

“The NBA has 15 spots and 12 can suit up for games. Of course the bj-league isn’t there, but eight players is so far away that it doesn’t seem professional.

“And we are going to expand? More teams with eight players. That will bring out the fans.”

The last statement — a timely observation laced with appropriate sarcasm — highlighted these valid points: There’s increasing uneasiness about the league’s expansion plans, and the league’s big wigs appear to be unleashing a new wave of problems before solving any of their current problems.

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