The 11th and final bj-league season gets underway on Friday night, signaling an end to several months of massive changes within the league.
Meanwhile, three proud franchises — the reigning champion Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix, Osaka Evessa and Ryukyu Golden Kings — have a shot at breaking the deadlock for most titles (three) before the book is closed on this colorful chapter in Japanese basketball history.
The Evessa haven’t won a title since league legends and frontcourt stars Jeff Newton and Lynn Washington, now both retired, teamed up to guide the club to a three-peat from 2005-08.
The Golden Kings have never repeated as champs, but have had a near-decade of dominance since going 10-34 in their inaugural season in 2007-08, with titles in the 2008-09, 2011-12 and 2013-14 seasons.
Hamamatsu grabbed back-to-back championships in 2009-10 and 2010-11 and returned to the top in May as coach Tomoya Higashino’s master plan came to fruition.
The Phoenix retooled their roster over the offseason, adding power forward Reggie Warren and scoring ace Terrance Woodbury, among others. So, in short, it’s a new-look team. But it remains to be seen if the loss of tone-setting veterans Mo Charlo, Jermaine Green, Nile Murry and Olu Ashaolu will drop the team from title contention.
Coaching changes: A massive overhaul of the league’s coaching ranks took place since the Final Four wrapped up in May.
Returning teams with new bench bosses for the upcoming season are as follows: Aomori Wat’s (Nobunaga Sato), Bambitious Nara (Kohei Eto), Gunma Crane Thunders (Hirokazu Nema), Iwate Big Bulls (Geoffrey Katsuhisa), Niigata Albirex BB (Kazuo Nakamura), Oita Ehima HeatDevils (Tomoyuki Umeda), Osaka Evessa (Dai Oketani), Rizing Fukuoka (Tomohiro Moriyama), Saitama Broncos (Ryutaro Onodera), Shimane Susanoo Magic (Michael Katsuhisa), Shinshu Brave Warriors (Koju Munakata), Takamatsu Five Arrows (Nobuyoshi Ito), Tokyo Cinq Reves (Hirosumi Tomatsu) and Yokohama B-Corsairs (Taketo Aoki).
Also, two expansion teams — Hiroshima Lightning (Joe Navarro) and Kanazawa Samuraiz (Yukinori Suzuki) — are led by men who enter the mix with clubs competing in this league for the first time.
Who’s going where: For the B. League, the Japan Basketball Association’s new 45-team, three-tier circuit combining the NBL, NBDL and bj-league under one umbrella set to launch during the 2016-17 campaign, 23 of 24 bj-league clubs have been assigned to either the first, second or third division.
The lone exception? The Hiroshima Lightning, who made the jump from the bj-Challenge League, a developmental circuit that featured just two clubs for its 2014-15 debut.
The franchise’s future beyond the final bj-league season remains unclear at this time.
Here’s the breakdown:
*First division: Akita, Hamamatsu, Kyoto, Niigata, Osaka, Ryukyu, Sendai, Shiga, Toyama and Yokohama.
*Second division: Aomori, Fukushima, Gunma, Iwate, Nara, Oita, Shimane, Shinshu and Takamatsu.
*Third division: Kanazawa, Fukuoka, Saitama and Tokyo.
Opening week schedule: Tokyo faces visiting Niigata and Hiroshima plays host to Ryukyu in a pair of two-game series that tip off on Friday. The rest of the weekend action begins on Saturday, with the following matchups: Aomori vs. Sendai, Akita vs. Saitama, Toyama vs. Iwate, Gunma vs. Shinshu, Yokohama vs. Fukushima, Kanazawa vs. Kyoto, Hamamatsu vs. Takamatsu, Osaka vs. Shiga, Shimane vs. Nara and Oita vs. Fukuoka.
Tyler update: Former Tokyo Apache big man Jeremy Tyler signed a training camp contract with the Houston Rockets.
Training camp began on Tuesday.
Tyler played for the Chinese Basketball Association’s Shanxi Zhongyu last season. In 41 games, he averaged 22.1 points, 11.2 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks.
After leaving China, Tyler, 24, suited up for the Dallas Mavericks during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. He contributed 11.8 points and 8.3 rebounds in six games.
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