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Turkish Airlines becomes top sponsor

by

Staff Writer

In a move that could have a profound impact on the professional basketball landscape in Japan, Turkish Airlines has agreed to become the title sponsor for the bj-league.

The league, entering its 10th season, announced the blockbuster agreement, a contract for two seasons, on Thursday afternoon.

The bj-league also unveiled a new official logo that includes Turkish Airlines as a major component of it.

Turkish Airlines is the title sponsor for the Euroleague, with a deal in place until 2020.

Soccer icon Lionel Messi and NBA superstar Kobe Bryant are the airline’s most visible endorsers, the two starring in a commercial together.

The airline has sponsored the English Premier League’s Manchester United and FC Barcelona in recent years.

Turkish Airlines has gained prestige throughout the world in recent years, as evidenced by being named “Europe’s best airline” in Skytrax Passenger Choice Awards for the past four years.

Turkish Airlines becomes by far the biggest company to become affiliated with a league featuring teams in 22 of Japan’s 47 prefectures.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed as of press time.

Despite its struggles to gain sustained major media coverage within Japan, the airline’s title sponsorship could be a catalyst to boost the bj-league’s brand name and recognition on a global scale.

Former Japan national team head coach Zeljko Pavlicevic, who has led the bj-league’s Shimane Susanoo Magic and NBL’s Wakayama Trians, has stated during numerous interviews that the growth and sustainability of the bj-league are tied to its ability to land major sponsors.

Upon hearing about the deal, Pavlicevic told The Japan Times that “it’s a big step . . . and great news for the bj-league.”

The season tips off on Oct. 4.

Cartwright’s new challenge: Former Chicago Bulls and Osaka Evessa head coach Bill Cartwright on Wednesday was named the Mexico national team’s head coach.

The announcement was made in Mexico City.

Cartwright guided the Evessa during the second half of the 2012-13 bj-league season and orchestrated an impressive turnaround. He took over a 5-19 team that had already had two head coaches that season and led the Evessa to 17 wins in their final 28 games. (He was 51-100 as the Bulls head coach from 2001-03.)

His name was linked to a possible assistant coaching position with the New York Knicks for the coming season. Cartwright, 57, played 16, seasons in the NBA, including under current Knicks president Phil Jackson on the Bulls dynasty in the 1990s, winning three championship rings as a player and two more as an assistant on Jackson’s staff. He also worked as an assistant coach for the New Jersey Nets and Phoenix Suns.

Cartwright takes over a Mexican team that placed 14th at the recent FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain. It was the nation’s first trip to worlds in 40 years. He replaces Spaniard mentor Sergio Valdeolmillos.

Speaking at the news conference, Cartwright said, “We will integrate a team with good fundamentals (and) find the way to play to have a winning team. I will enjoy this challenge…”

He called it a “project for Mexico.”

Cartwright’s first big task will be preparing the host squad for the Central American and Caribbean Games, which will be held in Veracruz, Mexico, in November. In July 2015, the Pan American Games will take place in Toronto.

The 216-cm Cartwright cautioned that there’s no magic formula to build Mexico into a basketball powerhouse.

“. . .Nothing is fast, it will be a work in progress,” he said at the news conference.

He said he “likes the challenge” that lies ahead for him and the players.

“I’m here for a purpose and that is to do well in every game,” added Cartwright, the No. 3 overall pick in the 1979 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks out of the University of San Francisco.

“Basketball has been a challenge in my life and I was fortunate to have good coaches in my career,” he commented at the news conference. “One of the common things with all of them is that they taught me the basics and that’s how the best players are forged, so I want to implement that with the Mexican team…”

He added: “We will start looking for suitable players to learn these lessons and (we) can have a good team. (We need) young people with spirit and desire to represent Mexico. I’m willing to accept the challenge and find those talents.”

Now in the Middle East: Guard/forward John “Helicopter” Humphrey, who played the past three seasons for the Saitama Broncos and won his third and fourth scoring titles in 2012-13 and 2013-14, has joined the Iraq Premier League’s Nift Al-Janoub.

Humphrey, a fan favorite with exciting highlight-reel dunks year after year, averaged 23.9 points per game last season for Saitama, which went 5-47 and is rebuilding under new coach Kazuaki Shimoji.

Former Akita Northern Happinets guard Mychal Kearse played for the Iraqi squad Al Karkh last season.

Humphrey’s new club, which is based in Baghdad is owned by an oil company. Nift Al-Janoub competed in the second division last season and was promoted after winning the championship.

Humphrey, 34, starred for the now-defunct Tokyo Apache and was the circuit’s top scorer in its first two seasons (2005-06 and 2006-07), then helped the Apache earned championship runnerup finishes the next two seasons under then-coach Joe Bryant. He returned to Japan in 2011 to play for Saitama.

“It’s always good to do what you love and get paid for it. And I truly love the game,” Humphrey wrote in an email to The Japan Times from Egypt, where his team is having its preseason training camp.

Asked if the ongoing violence and wars in Iraq and Syria have brought him fear or anxiety, Humphrey responded by writing, “No, I am not worried. I had other offers, (but) I prayed about it. I talked to my family and decided to give the Middle East a try.

“It feels weird, Japan is all I know. I thought I would retire there, I love Japan.”

Did the Broncos seek to bring Humphrey back?

“No,” was Humphrey’s answer. “I only heard from the Broncos twice all summer, and it was about giving my awards to my agent. They wanted to go a different direction. I can understand that. I just don’t like the way they went about it.”

Humphrey urged fans to follow his season in Iraq via his Facebook page (Noble John Humphrey) and Instagram account (Helicopter 33).

“Please stay in touch,” he wrote, addressing the fans. “I truly appreciate all the fans that supported me over the seven years (in Japan). I plan on returning — if not playing, then maybe coaching, when I retire.”

The Iraqi regular season stats on Oct. 17.

Back in Southern California: The Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday have added 23-year-old Jeremy Tyler, a former Apache big man, to their training camp roster.

He was cut by the Sacramento Kings earlier this month.

Tyler, a San Diego native, was with the New York Knicks last season before being dealt to Sacramento. He’s also played for the Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors.

The Lakers now have 18 players for training camp, according to a team press release issued on Wednesday.

Promotional activity: The Sendai 89ers stood on the pitch before Tuesday’s Vegalta Sendai home match against J. League Kashima Antlers.

Eleven players and second-year bench boss Shuto Kawachi gave the local fans a chance to see this year’s team together just a week before their home opener (Oct. 4 against the visiting Iwate Big Bulls) at Xebio Arena.

Forward Sotaro Kaneko, the 89ers captain, greeted the crowd, the Kahoku Shimpo reported.

New home: Veteran forward Gyno Pomare has landed a job on his fifth bj-league team, the Aomori Wat’s, it was announced on Tuesday.

The 203-cm Pomare played for Iwate last season and was the league’s fifth-best shot blocker (1.7 per game). The 28-year-old, a University of San Diego product, has also suited up for the Kyoto Hannaryz, Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix and Sendai in past seasons.

Paying his dues: Akita has hired former Sacramento Kings video coordinator Joe Cook as an assistant coach. He started working on first-year head coach Makoto Hasegawa’s staff earlier this month.

The 29-year-old Cook last season served as an assistant coach and video coordinator for the NBL Canada squad Brampton (Ontario) A’s, who completed their inaugural campaign in the spring. Before he moved to Canada, Cook’s work for the Kings was a step-by-step climb up the career ladder.

On his LinkedIn page, Cook described his journey in the NBA this way: “I worked for the Kings in a multitude of positions during my six seasons with the team. Including ticket sales intern, ticket seller, locker room attendant, assistant video coordinator, and eventually the head video coordinator.”

He was Sacramento’s head video coordinator for two seasons (2011-13).

He also worked as an assistant coach in 2008-09 for Cabrillo College, a two-year school, in Aptos, California.

In a news release posted on the A’s website earlier this month, Brampton head coach/general manager David Magley looked back on Cook’s one-season stint with the team, calling it a successful experience for his assistant.

“One of the core objectives of our corporate vision is to assist in the development of the total person and player, it is no different with a coach,” Magley was quoted as saying. “Joe brought a wealth of basketball knowledge and even more passion for the game. The goal of the A’s for Joe was to give him practical experience on the court. We accomplished this by making Joe the main source of skill development as well as the lead assistant for game planning and in game management.”

“Joe will be sorely missed as our guys are all very fond of him,” Magley added.

Weekend flashback: In Saturday’s preseason action, Iwate defeated Akita 90-80, Sendai topped Aomori 92-86, the Toyama Grouses beat the Niigata Albirex BB 91-77, the Shiga Lakestars routed the NBL’s Hyogo Storks 100-76, the Tokyo Cinq Reves edged the Saitama Broncos 78-73 and Hamamatsu eked out an 84-80 win over the NBL squad Hitachi Sunrockers.

Here are Sunday’s results: Hamamatsu 93, Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins (NBL) 75; Aomori 84, Akita 81; Iwate 93, Sendai 80; Kyoto Hanaryz 72, Shiga 57; Rizing Fukuoka 64, Shimane Susanoo Magic 42; Osaka 81, Takamatsu Five Arrows 68; and Shinshu 106, Toyota Tsusho Fighting Eagles (NBDL) 101.

On Tuesday, Niigata handed the Gunma Crane Thunders a 95-90 loss and the NBL’s Link Tochigi Brex defeated Akita 81-74.

Susanoo Magic moves: Shimane has parted ways with forward Edward Morris and power forward/center Brandon Hassell, the Western Conference team announced on Wednesday.

Coach Reggie Hanson, beginning his first full season at the helm, said the club was unable to come to contractual agreements for both players. But Morris offered a different theory, citing new 32-year-old general manager Hayato Suematsu as being in a rush to make changes after the team scored 42 points in a loss in its recent preseason game.

“Yeah, I think the lost had a lot to do with it,” Morris told The Japan Times. “Yeah pretty much I think the reason is he is panicking. His reason for letting me go was because of my efforts in practice. He felt like I didn’t practice hard ever in practice. And I showed no leadership on the ‘blue team’ second squad.

“When you have guys with no experience, they tend to jump the gun without exercising patience. It’s embarrassing and I felt disrespected. But I can’t dwell in the past. Moving forward.”

Morris played for the Cinq Reves last season after two seasons with the Brave Warriors.

Hassell spent the 2013-14 season on Eco Orebro, a Swedish League team.

Feedback: Got a story idea about the bj-league? Send an email to edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp