Basketball / BJ-League | BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Grouses remain in transition as preseason looms

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Less than two weeks before the league’s preseason schedule tips off, the Toyama Grouses roster doesn’t resemble the one that soared to great heights last season.

What’s more, league sources have told The Japan Times that star forward Ira Brown will not return to the Grouses after three banner seasons. Instead, the Gonzaga University alum, will ply his craft for the rival NBL’s Hitachi Sunrockers, the sources confirmed. (Translation: a bigger paycheck.)

As of press time on Thursday, Brown’s move to Hitachi had not been officially announced yet.

Brown was unavailable for comment.

The Grouses also haven’t re-signed forwards Josh Gross and Djibril Thiam, who also helped the Hokuriku-based club reach the Final Four for the first time in May. Center Sam Willard is the lone foreigner who remains from Toyama’s 2013-14 end-of-season roster.

Last season, the Grouses set a franchise record with 42 wins and won the Eastern Conference regular-season title in coach Bob Nash’s second season in charge. Brown was named to the bj-league’s Best Five team and averaged 16.8 points and 10.0 rebounds with 81 steals and 52 blocks. He was fifth in the league in minutes played (1,780). Guard Masashi Joho scored 17.4 ppg and also earned Best Five accolades and the league’s regular-season MVP honors.

When contacted by The Japan Times earlier this week, Nash, a former NBA forward and ex-University of Hawaii head coach, declined to comment about the team’s new-look roster and the challenges his team will face to maintain its place as one of the league’s premier teams.

As a one-two punch, Joho and Brown were as effective and efficient as any combination in the league. Without Brown’s impressive skill set,

Nash will likely need to make changes to the way the team runs its offense and defense.

The Grouses made significant improvement in each of Brown’s three seasons with Toyama. Take a look at the won-loss records: 25-27 in 2011-12, 35-17 in 2012-13 and 42-10 in 2013-14. His overall command of the game at both ends of the floor played a major part in transforming Toyama into an elite franchise.

Before Brown and Joho joined the Grouses, for ex-coach Kazuaki Shimoji’s lone full season at the helm (2011-12), they were a perennial doormat franchise, with a 61-171 record and zero playoff appearances in five seasons.

The preseason tips off on Sept. 3 when the reigning champion Ryukyu Golden Kings take on the NBL’s Toyota Alvark in the first of two scheduled exhibition games between the squads in Okinawa.

New addition: The Takamatsu Five Arrows have signed swingman Justin Watts, who played on the University of North Carolina’s 2009 NCAA championship-winning squad, for the upcoming season.

Takamatsu announced the deal on Wednesday.

Watts completed his college career in 2012.

The UNC website described Watts this way on his biography page before his senior season: “(He) is an exceptional offensive rebounder for his size and has earned playing time with his leadership and defensive prowess.”

In 2013, he played for the Rockhampton Rockets in Australia’s Queensland Basketball League, appearing in 18 games and averaging 22.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists. Last season, the 196-cm standout suited up for Mineros de Caborca in the Mexican League and averaged 24.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.5 steals in 17 games.

The 24-year-old Watts said in a statement that he’s looking forward to continuing his pro career in Japan and hopes to contribute to a title.

Hank Poteat, Watts’ cousin, was an NFL cornerback for the Steelers, Buccaneers, Patriots, Jets and Browns from 2000-09.

Firebonds update: The Fukushima Firebonds have acquired forward Terrance Shannon, and the move gives the expansion franchise a full complement of four foreign players.

The one-year deal became official on Wednesday, and the announcement was posted on the team website.

Shannon wrapped up his college career at Virginia Commonwealth University as a fifth-year senior in the spring. He transferred to VCU after attending Florida State University from 2009-13. The NCAA granted him a medical redshirt year for the 2011-12 season after he sustained a season-ending dislocated left shoulder in the Seminoles’ seventh game.

While at FSU, Shannon appeared in 72 games (five starts) and averaged 13.1 minutes and 5.2 points, but was bothered by knee and neck injuries, according to published reports.

He played in 20 games for VCU in 2013-14 and averaged 2.9 ppg. He quit the team in mid-February, with several online news accounts describing it as due to personal reasons.

From his days with the Seminoles, he also brings valuable NCAA Tournament experience to his new team.

The Firebonds previously signed guard Lewis Clinch, center James Hughes and forward Nick Thompson.

Finding his niche in France: Former Saitama Broncos forward John Flowers will play his third season in France in 2014-15. He spent the past two seasons in the ProB League, and now is moving up to the top-tier ProA circuit with promoted squad JL Bourg, with whom he captured the ProB title last season.

“Being out in France has definitely opened up my eyes to different cultures and different things that you learn from different people,” Flowers, a former University of West Virginia standout and Maryland native, was quoted as saying by Southern Maryland Newspapers in a feature story this week.

“I learned a language and the different traditions that are over there. It’s fun playing basketball over there, and I love it. The fans are great.”

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