As the summer marches on and the start of training camp gets closer and closer, it appears that the defending champion Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix will not have a roster resembling the one that captured the title in May.
Star guard Nile Murry, the playoff MVP and Phoenix hero throughout the team’s memorable run to the championship, has not been offered a contract for the 2016-17 season, The Japan Times has learned.
What’s more, as of Friday afternoon, frontcourt standouts Mo Charlo, Jermaine Green and Olu Ashaolu have also not received contract renewals.
Nearly two months have passed since the team captured its third title.
For the Phoenix, is there any sense of urgency to retain key parts of the team’s roster mentioned above?
Is Hamamatsu management intent on making change for change’s sake?
Is their pressure from ownership to make budget cuts for the lame-duck season, the bj-league’s 11th and final one before the FIBA-mandated launch of the integrated (NBL, NBDL and bj-league), three-tier JPBL, set to start in October 2016?
Is the team still basking in the afterglow of its title and slow to get back to business?
Phoenix coach Tomoya Higashino did not respond to an email about the issue.
A quick reminder: Ashaolu nailed the game-winning shot against the Akita Northern Happinets in the title match. Charlo supplied 14 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in the title tilt. And Green was a solid contributor on Hamamatsu’s first bj-league title-winning team in 2009-10, too.
Of course, the shape of all teams’ rosters is being adjusted by the league’s reduction in imports (from four to three) for next season.
Vegas visit: Among the 24 bj-league teams, only six have dispatched their head coaches to Las Vegas, the summer hotbed of hoops, where the NBA Summer League is taking place along with other tryouts, pickup games and scouting opportunities for overseas players.
In recent days, a longtime basketball insider, who traveled to the casino-filled city, told The Japan Times that the Sendai 89ers (Shuto Kawachi), Shimane Susanoo Magic (Michael Katsuhisa), Shiga Lakestars (Koto Toyama), Fukushima Firebonds (Hiroki Fujita), Hamamatsu (Higashino) and Osaka Evessa (Dai Oketani) have had coaches on the scene.
For the Evessa, Oketani, the new bench boss, and advisory coach Bill Cartwright, former Chicago Bulls and Osaka mentor, have met up in the Nevada city to plot strategy for the team.
Perhaps the 18 teams not represented in Las Vegas symbolizes the league-in-limbo reality before the new circuit gets underway in 15 months.
Evessa update: Osaka has started retooling its roster for Oketani. The team recently announced it has brought back standout forward Lawrence “Trend” Blackledge, who played the last three seasons for Oketani at Iwate.
The Marquette University product appeared in 64 games for the Evessa during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons before being acquired by Hamamatsu. He was the league’s third-leading shot blocker (1.9 per game) in 2014-15.
New opportunity: Former Osaka and Gunma Crane Thunders coach Ryan Blackwell has taken the reins as the boys varsity coach at Liverpool (New York) High, near Syracuse, where he played college ball.
The school made the announcement last week.
Blackwell, 38, has also taught the game at IMG Sports Academy in Florida.
Before turning to coaching, the former forward played pro ball for 10 years with stops in Portugal, Uruguay, England and France, as well as stints with the Sendai 89ers and Evessa.
Within the past year, Blackwell has expanded his resume, gaining experience as a commentator on Syracuse game telecasts.
“What impressed me was his commitment to this position, that this was not beneath him in any way,” Liverpool athletic director Ari Liberman told The Post-Standard, a Syracuse newspaper.
“Taking into account all the experiences he’s had at Syracuse and overseas and in Florida, this was something that intrigued him. He’s very cerebral guy that loves kids. That’s what attracted him to us and me to him.
“This is a unique town specific to SU sports and specific to basketball. He brought a lot to the table that will benefit the school district.”
Last year, Blackwell was hired to lead the Syracuse ShockWave, a new outfit for the American Basketball Association, but the team failed to launch operations.
Rumor mill: Former Oita HeatDevils and Rizing Fukuoka bench boss Tadaharu Ogawa is poised to be named the Rizing’s coach for the 2016-17 season, a league source told The Japan Times this week.
As of press time, Joe Bryant has not received a contract renewal by the Rizing.
He was a midseason replacement for Fukuoka last season, and the Rizing finished with the second-worst record (13-39) in the 10-team West.
Shimizu update: Popular guard Taishiro Shimizu, who has been a floor leader for the Saitama Broncos, Miyazaki Shining Suns and Oita HeatDevils, has joined the Rizing, it was announced this week.
Shimizu, a six-time All-Star, has played in the upstart circuit since its inception in 2005.
On the move . .. again: Guard Takanori Goya, the oft-injured, No. 1 overall pick in the bj-league’s 2006 draft, is returning to the Toyama Grouses.
Goya, who turns 32 next month, played for the Grouses from 2006-08. Since then, he’s been a journeyman, having stints with Osaka (twice), Fukuoka, Tokyo Apache and Shinshu Brave Warriors. Last season, he saw action in 12 of 54 games for the NBL’s Wakayama Trians, averaging 3.8 points.
More Toyama moves: The Grouses have brought back big man Sam Willard, a dynamic rebounder, for a third season. Joining Willard in the frontcourt for next season is 209-cm veteran Angel Garcia, who was with the club in the 2012-13 campaign.
Garcia, a University of Memphis product, has plied his craft for teams in Mexico and Puerto Rico since his last game in Japan.
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