The preseason began in earnest for the league’s 10th season on Wednesday. But this time with a twist.
The reigning champion Ryukyu Golden Kings played host to the NBL powerhouse Toyota Alvark in the first of two scheduled exhibition games in a three-day span in Okinawa City.
Toyota eked out an 80-78 win before an announced crowd of 3,140, with Jeff Gibbs securing an offensive rebounding and scoring on a putback with 0.9 seconds remaining to provide the winning basket.
The Golden Kings trailed 59-55 entering the fourth quarter, and it was tied 78-78 in the final minute.
The Alvark took a 37-28 advantage into the locker room at halftime.
“It was a preseason game but I think both teams played well especially at the end of the game when the score changed back and forth two, three times,” Toyota coach Don Beck told The Japan Times. “I was happy with my veteran players and of course we were happy to win.
“The most positive thing was the atmosphere that surrounded the game. Great production on the part of the Okinawa management, tremendous fan support and just a great place to play for myself and the team.”
Ryukyu coach Tsutomu Isa said Toyota’s height advance proved to make a difference. He added that the Kings would work to fix the things that went wrong in the Wednesday game for Friday’s rematch.
Gibbs scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, Shohei Kikuchi had 17 points and Philip Ricci poured in 16 for Toyota, which had a 45-9 regular-season mark in 2013-14.
Ryuichi Kishimoto paced the Golden Kings with 21 points, including four 3-pointers. Anthony McHenry had 14 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots. Draelon Burns scored 13 points and Naoto Kosuge had 11 for Ryukyu, which had a 43-9 record last season.
Both teams grabbed 38 rebounds.
Fresh faces abound: The Tokyo Cinq Reves, a third-year franchise seeking its first winning season, will feature a new nucleus of import players for the 2014-15 campaign. The team went 13-39 last season.
In the backcourt, the Cinq Reves have locked up 29-year-old veteran Ron Hale, who played from 2011-13 for Abejas de Guanajuato in the Mexican League.
Hale attended Clarke University, an NAIA school.
The team also acquired the services of swingman Jemal Farmer, a University of Arkansas alum. Farmer, 25, played for Oulun NMKY in the top-tier Finnish League in 2013-14. He contributed 21.7 points and 7.1 rebounds a game.
Forward Michael Hart, a Northern Illinois product, is another newcomer. He’s played in Germany, Bulgaria and, most recently, Estonia during his pro career.
Center Will Foster, who attended Gonzaga University, has finalized an agreement to play for Tokyo. The 226-cm pivotman has bounced around the D-League, having stints with the Idaho Stampede, Rio Grande Valley Vipers and Maine.
Tagged for Tohoku: Big man Tyran “Ty” Walker, a Wake Forest product, brings NBA Development League experience and a 213-cm frame to the Akita Northern Happinets frontcourt. His signing was announced recently.
“I am very excited to join this organization and I am ready to have a great season with the team,” the 25-year-old Walker said in a statement.
Since wrapping up his college career in 2012, Walker has played in various leagues, including in Poland and France. He’s also participated in workouts for several NBA teams, according to published reports.
In 2012, Walker made his first professional foray in Asia. He appeared in three games for the Hong Kong Bulls, a team in China’s NBL, averaging 16 points, 16 rebounds and 4.7 blocks.
Update on . . . Jeral Davis: The 216-cm center, who spent the past four seasons with the Shimane Susanoo Magic, remains a free agent. The gifted shot blocker’s season was cut short last due to a hip injury (he missed the final three months) and he has been busy preparing for the upcoming season.
The Talladega State (Alabama) alum told The Japan Times he expects to be available to play in November.
New addition: The Gunma Crane Thunders have added 30-year-old guard Marcus Morrison to their roster. The move was announced on Tuesday.
A former Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix player, Morrison has spent the past few years competing for teams in Indonesia, Chile and Mexico, with his last overseas stint with the Tijuana Zonkeys in Mexico last season. He’s a Middle Tennessee State alum.
Returning to the sideline: Former Osaka Evessa and Crane Thunders head coach Ryan Blackwell has been hired to lead the American Basketball Association’s Syracuse ShockWave, an expansion team slated to begin play in November.
Blackwell, who played his final three collegiate seasons at Syracuse University, had been working at the IMG Academy in Florida since being fired by Gunma in December.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but I think it’s exciting just to be back in Syracuse,” Blackwell was quoted as saying in a Syracuse.com article. “I obviously have a lot of ties to the area going back to high school and college. It’s something new and exciting.”
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IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5