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Sale of Apache not on fast track; HeatDevils to play on


Staff Writer

Technically, it’s too early to say the Tokyo Apache are defunct.

The bj-league franchise hasn’t folded. But there are no key dates on the team’s calendar — practices and games are out of the picture.

The team pulled the plug on the final two months of the 2010-11 season after the March 11 earthquake and called off the 2011-12 season in early June.

Evolution Capital Management, which purchased the Apache in June 2010, is weighing its options for the team’s future existence.

Team president Chris Hetherington said the Apache are moving forward cautiously as the team’s future, including a potential sale, is still uncertain.

“There isn’t a significant update at the moment,” Hetherington told The Japan Times on Sunday. “We are in discussions with a few interested parties but it is still in the due diligence period. We are working closely with the league to make sure we find the right party that will give a three-year commitment. I expect a decision to be made with regard to the 2012-2013 season by August.”

Sources familiar with the situation said that potential owners, including a group featuring American expatriates Todd Wiley and Dan Weiss and team marketing executive Sean Kameoka, are looking to lure wealthy investors to help them put together a successful purchase bid.

In the meantime, the team is still trying to maintain a profile.

“We still have our staff working hard and concentrating on camps and community events,” Hetherington said.

HeatDevils update: Team officials announced Monday that the Oita HeatDevils now have enough additional funds from sponsors and fans to help offset its budgetary woes for one more season. And so the HeatDevils will be one of nine Western Conference teams for the coming season.

Ten Eastern Conference teams, excluding Tokyo, but including the four new expansion clubs — Yokohama B-Corsairs, Chiba Jets, Iwate Big Bulls and Shinshu Brave Warriors — will play 52-game regular seasons.

The HeatDevils, who have missed the playoffs for four consecutive seasons, must hire a new coach. The team also appears to be putting itself in position to be one of the league’s non-playoff teams. Again.

During Monday’s news conference in Beppu, Oita Prefecture, the team unveiled its budget plans for next season, stating that it plans to sign nine players (six Japanese, three imports) at the outset. What remains unclear, however, is if the Oita front office will commit to spending enough cash (¥110 million is what the team lists as a projected budget, ¥15 million below its estimated amount earlier this month) to be competitive.

For Oita, this is a cautionary tale: The low-budget Takamatsu Five Arrows won a combined 23 games over the past two seasons, which destroyed their chances of cultivating a bigger fan base.

“That is a very unsettling situation,” one source told The Japan Times on Monday evening, commenting on the HeatDevils. “I would hate to be there and already be set up to fail.”

Niigata names coach: Former bj-league and JBL forward Matt Garrison has been named the second coach in Niigata Albirex BB history.

The team made the news official on Monday, ending speculation that had been building for the past few weeks.

Garrison, a two-time bj-league 3-Point Shootout winner during All-Star weekend, brings a fresh approach to the Albirex, who were led by Masaya Hirose from 2000 until the Final Four in May.

Other former bj-league players-turned coaches include Tadaharu Ogawa (currently at Rizing Fukuoka; previously the Oita bench boss) and Ryan Blackwell (Osaka Evessa).

Garrison, who suited up for the Albirex and Five Arrows before retiring in 2009, began his college career at Montana State before a knee injury ended his time at the Division I school. He then developed into an NAIA All-American at Biola University, a Southern California school that former Shiga Lakestars and Akita Northern Happinets coach Bob Pierce also attended.

In recent years, Garrison, who turns 38 on July 5, has built up his coaching portfolio and worked at a number of camps and clinics, including Kobe Bryant’s Basketball Academy, LeBron James’s King James Academy, Michael Jordan’s Flight School. He served as the head junior varsity coach and assistant varsity coach at JSerra Catholic School in San Juan Capistrano California for the past two years, while also working as a player agent for the bj-league.

According to his coaching bio on the JSerra website, Garrison played basketball in 18 countries, including Austria, Australia and Lebanon.

Yokohama talk: Hirose appears to be among the leading candidates to be the first coach in B-Corsairs history.

“I actually haven’t heard anything regarding the Yokohama team lately so I don’t know who they’re planning to hire to be their head coach,” a well-connected source said. “I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if Hirose is hired.”

Hirose is one of the bj-league coaches that I mentioned who still keeps in touch and talks with JBL coaches/staff regularly. He always approaches JBL people at the NBA Summer League in Las (Vegas) and chats with them. I’m actually surprised that he didn’t try to acquire more JBL castoffs during his time at Niigata.”

Another source said Hirose has interviewed for two head coaching jobs with bj-league teams in recent weeks.

For the B-Corsairs, a decision is expected to be announced during a Sunday news conference at a Yokohama hotel.

Around the league: Longtime Apache guard Darin Satoshi Maki offered his perspective on the significance of forward/center Jeremy Tyler’s move to the NBA last week as the No. 39 pick in the 2011 draft, describing it as a key development.

“It says a lot about the league’s name growing in pro basketball circles,” Maki wrote in a email from Paris, where he was playing for the Rising Suns in the Quai 54 streetball tournament over the weekend. “You are getting bigger names and better players wanting to come here and play. For a player to make a pit stop here before the NBA is great, but if we sustain that kind of influx of talent, then we can start talking about the bj-league being a premier league.” …

A source believes popular backcourt standout Cohey Aoki, the five-time All-Star for Tokyo, may move on to the JBL’s Hokkaido franchise, thus ending his six-season run with the Apache. (The 30-year-old Senshu University product a free agent.)

“Aoki has always been friendly with Nihon University people in the JBL and (team executive) Takehiko Orimo is the most visible and most decorated Nihon University player in Japanese basketball,” the source pointed out. “Also, Hokkaido lost both of their point guards this off-season, so I can see Aoki joining Hokkaido…” …

Veteran floor leader Matt Lottich, who starred on the Evessa’s three title-winning teams and played the past two seasons for Oita, is busy passing on his knowledge of sports and competition to the next generation, boys and girls ages 6 to 16. Where? The eighth annual Matt Lottich Life Skills Basketball Camp in northern California. Weekly sessions, Monday through Friday lasting one week per camp, began on June 20 and continue through July 22.

Lottich attended Stanford before embarking on a pro career.

Here’s the camp’s website: http://www.mllscamp.com/

Do you have a story idea about the bj-league? Send an email to edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp