Basketball / BJ-League | BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Kyoto brings back All-Star forward Warren

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

With a veteran-dominated roster responding to the arrival of a new head coach, the Rizing Fukuoka found a way to salvage their topsy-turvy 2013-14 season after the All-Star break and earn a trip to the playoffs.

But the Rizing, who were the league’s championship runnerup squad two seasons ago, will have a new-look roster as bench boss James Duncan begins his first full campaign at the helm in October.

Power forward Reggie Warren, one of the league’s most productive front court players and an integral part of the Rizing’s rise to title contender under ex-coach Atsushi Kanazawa, has rejoined the Kyoto Hannaryz, his employer in 2010-11. The deal was made official on Monday.

Last season, the 33-year-old Warren was named to the league’s Best Five Team for the second time — he also earned the accolade while with the Takamatsu Five Arrows in the 2007-08 season — and averaged 16.0 points and was the league’s fourth-leading rebounder (11.5).

Guard Akitomo Takeno, a fixture on five playoff-bound Rizing teams in two stints with the club, signed with the Akita Northern Happinets last week, and longtime teammates Jun Nakanishi and Masahiro Kano, both guards, have moved on to the Iwate Big Bulls and Shiga Lakestars, respectively.

As of press time on Thursday, it’s unclear if the team intends to re-sign center Julius Ashby, another major contributor who played in the championship game in May 2013 against the Yokohama B-Corsairs, or eight-time All-Star guard Cohey Aoki, a Fukuoka native.

Warren told The Japan Times on Tuesday he expected a roster overhaul when he departed for the United States after his season ended. “I never got an offer (from Fukuoka),” Warren wrote in an email.

“I knew when I left it was going to be a lot of changes with that organization and that coach made it known before we left that there would be a lot of changes. It’s kind of sad to me to see management and Coach Duncan destroy what we built over there, but hey, what can we do? It’s part of the business.”

Kyoto’s three straight trips to the Final Four did not produce the team’s first title, but with coach Honoo Hamaguchi returning for a fourth season in charge there are high expectations once again for the Kansai club. It’s an alluring market for incoming players, too.

As Warren put it: “With them being a great organization and with a great coach guiding them in the right direction year after year, that made the decision for me.”

He added: “I want to win a championship and I feel strongly that Coach Honoo wants the same. I really think that they have been missing just that one piece to accomplish just that. I hope that I am the piece to the puzzle to get that team over the hump and finish the job. . .”

In addition to the aforementioned roster losses, the Rizing recently signed 35-year-old guard Hajime Ono, who was last seen competing for the NBL’s Kumamoto Volters. He appeared in 48 games last season and averaged 8.4 points, shooting 46 percent from the field and 44 percent from 3-point range.

One league insider believes Ono was a smart pickup for Fukuoka.

“He’s one of the best pure shooters in all of Japan and teams in the NBL had interest in him but he got a good offer from Fukuoka and James Duncan won him over,” the source said.

Osaka update: After one solid season with the Shinshu Brave Warriors, guard Shota Konno is back with the Evessa.

Osaka acquired Konno for an undisclosed amount of cash in a trade announced this week.

Konno, 29, suited up for his hometown team from 2007-13.

Last season, he averaged a career-high 11.5 points (fourth-best total on the club) in 51 games for Shinshu, handing out 133 assists and picking up 74 steals. He shot 78.4 percent at the free-throw line.

Building blocks: The expansion Fukushima Firebonds this week finalized contracts with guards Akihiro Onaga and Masaya Karimata and forward Takumi Masuko.

Onaga, 27, last played for the NBL’s Tsukuba Robots, seeing limited action (17 games, 5.2 minutes per contest) for the club. He hails from Okinawa Prefecture.

The 26-year-old Karimata played for the bj-league champion Ryuykyu Golden Kings last season.

The 23-year-old Masuko is from Saitama Prefecture.

89ers acquisition: Sendai has added veteran guard Kejuan Johnson to its roster, the team announced this week. The 29-year-old Long Beach State product has played on pro teams in Germany, Hungary, Argentina, Kosovo and Mozambique.

After finishing his college career in 2007, the 193-cm backcourt performer has suited up for three German teams.

Fellow Long Beach State alum Lucious Harris, his uncle, was an NBA guard from 1993-2005 for the Mavericks, Sixers, Nets, and Cavaliers, including a pair of back-to-back Finals with New Jersey.

Opportunity in Las Vegas: Former Saitama Broncos head coach Natalie Nakase, who worked in the video production department for the Los Angeles Clippers the past two seasons, has returned to the sideline.

Nakase was named an assistant coach for the Clippers’ Las Vegas Summer League team.

The Summer League begins on Friday. Brendan O’Connor is Los Angeles’ head coach for the Vegas team, with five assistants on his staff.

A former UCLA point guard, Nakase worked under ex-NBA bench boss Bob Hill on the Tokyo Apache’s coaching staff in the 2010-11 bj-league season, then was promoted to sideline supervisor for the Broncos early the next season. She didn’t return for another season at Saitama.

Nakase has said on several occasions it’s her future goal to work in the NBA as a coach. Summer League duties give her additional experience and an updated resume.

Returning to the Grouses: Big man Sam Willard, who was No. 2 in the league in rebounds (12.5 per game) in 2013-14 and scored 11.8 ppg, is set to play for Toyama again next season.

The team reported the decision this week on its website.

Did you know?: Forward Jo Kurino, the No. 1 draft pick in bj-league history in 2005, has joined the Hiroshima Dragonflies, an NBL expansion club. He played for the NBL’s Kumamoto Volters last season. …

The view from Dallas: Guard Yuki Togashi, who starred for the Akita Northern Happinets the past two seasons, participated in a three-day tryout camp with the Dallas Mavericks that wrapped up on Wednesday.

The Mavericks looked at potential additions for their Las Vegas Summer League team and possible acquisitions for the upcoming season.

The 20-year-old Togashi wasn’t named to the Mavs roster for the Summer League. But Mavs assistant coach Kaleb Canales, the head coach for the team’s Summer League squad, said the Niigata Prefecture native has noticeable basketball talent, according to sports reporter Eddie Sefko.

Sefko, who covers the Mavs for the Dallas Morning News, tweeted: “. . . His strength is his speed,” summer coach Kaleb Canales said.

In another tweet, Sefko wrote: “More from Canales on the 5-8 (167 cm) Togashi: ‘it’s going to be interesting to see him get into the paint, drive and kick in a game situation.’ “

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