The expansion Kanazawa Samuraiz made cerebral backcourt leader Tsubasa Yonamine their first veteran acquisition, reuniting him with his former Oita HeatDevils backcourt mate Yukinori Suzuki, the team’s new coach.
Yonamine, 32, spent the past two seasons with the Iwate Big Bulls. He brings a wealth of playoff experience to the first-year franchise, which announced the move on Wednesday afternoon.
The Okinawa native has played in four Final Fours and won a championship during the 2011-12 season with the Ryukyu Golden Kings, for whom he played from 2009-13.
Yonamine made his bj-league debut in 2006 and played for the Kyushu-based franchise until 2009, then moved on to Ryukyu, teaming up with his ex-Oita coach Dai Oketani, who brought him to Iwate a year after taking the helm up north. Oketani has now shifted his base of operations to the Western Conference, moving on to the Osaka Evessa, close to his hometown of Kyoto.
By signing Yonamine, the Samuraiz will benefit from his nine seasons of competing in the league.
What’s more, with the game on the line (or at any other moment in time) Yonamine is one of the best decision makers in league history. Case in point: He had 157 assists and 39 turnovers last season, helping the Big Bulls triumph in 41 of 52 regular-season contests. In nine seasons, Yonamine has chalked up 1,577 assists against 509 turnovers.
On Thursday, the Samuraiz added another ex-Iwate guard, Masato Tsukino, who averaged 7.7 points in 52 games in 2014-15.
Staying put: The Fukushima Firebonds have renewed guard Masaya Karimata’s contract for one season.
The deal, announced this week, keeps the fan favorite in the team’s purple uniform as he builds off a breakthrough season that concluded with the expansion club’s trip to the playoffs.
In 52 games, Karimata averaged 15.1 points and 4.4 assists (fifth-best average) in the league.
Rebuilding mode: For Iwate, a trio of Japanese guards — the aforementioned Yonamine and Tsukino and Jun Nakanishi — have expired contracts.
In addition, quality veterans Lawrence Blackledge, Scootie Randall, Wayne Arnold and Abdullahi Kuso all proved their worth again last season.
After several conversations with league insiders, all signs indicate that the team’s 2015-16 roster, which will be directed by incoming coach Geoffrey Katsuhisa, will look nothing like it did under Oketani.
Don’t be surprised if several of the Big Bulls players make their move to Osaka to play for Oketani.
New Big Bull: Tatsunori Fujie, a key member of the Toyama Grouses’ frontcourt rotation, has reached a deal to play for Iwate.
The 184-cm forward averaged 9.8 points and 3.9 assists, No. 10 in the league in the latter department, this past season. He scored 9.9 ppg in 2013-14.
Moving to Saitama: Guard Mitsuhiro Kamezaki has left the Grouses to play for the Saitama Broncos.
Saitama announced the move on Wednesday. Kamezaki, 29, spent three seasons with Toyama. He averaged 1.0 points in 38 games last season.
Toyama talk: Masashi Joho, one of the league’s enduring stars, is returning for a fifth season with the club, it was announced this week.
The dynamic guard became the first Japanese in league to win the regular-season MVP award, doing so for the 2013-14 campaign.
The Grouses have also secured the services of veteran point guard Kensuke Tanaka, who played for the now-defunct Tokyo Apache (2009-11) and bj-league/NBL’s Chiba Jets (2011-15).
Season schedule: The league released its 2015-16 season schedule on Thursday.
The opening weekend’s games are slated for Oct. 2-4, with a pair of series set to begin on that Friday — Tokyo Cinq Reves vs. Niigata Albirex BB and expansion club Hiroshima Lightning vs. Ryukyu Golden Kings.
The two expansion teams, meanwhile, have both been placed in the Western Conference, meaning the league will have two 12-team conferences for its planned final season before the launch of the JPBL in the fall of 2016.
All told, the 24 teams are scheduled to play 624 regular-season contests.
Forming ties with Philippine Basketball Association: Tatsuya Abe, the bj-league’s executive director, traveled to the Philippines recently to hold talks with PBA officials, with basketball leaders in both nations seeking to establish stronger connections.
Business World, a Manila-based publication, reported that “the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) welcomes the idea of forging a partnership with the Japanese professional league in putting up a series of tune-up games during the off-season.”
On Sunday, Abe said the PBA has made a favorable impression on him.
“The level of competition has become higher,” Abe was quoted as saying in the article. “Very intense games and exciting.”