Basketball / BJ-League

Kyoto's Palmer brings end to long career in Japan

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Kyoto Hannaryz forward David Palmer on Monday revealed that he’s decided to retire — effective immediately. He said he made up his mind in early November, citing injuries and various physical ailments as factors that led to this decision.

Palmer told The Japan Times in a phone interview that he notified Hannaryz management several weeks ago, giving it a chance to begin looking for a player to replace him on the roster.

Kyoto (15-3), riding a current eight-game winning streak, is tied with defending champion Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix for the best record in the 12-team Western Conference.

The 201-cm Palmer ended his career with two memorable performances. He scored a season-high 30 points and grabbed 19 rebounds the Hannaryz’s 95-93 triple-overtime road triumph over the Fukushima Firebonds on Saturday. A day later, he again led the team in scoring, putting 28 points on the board and hauling in 14 boards in a 62-61 win.

“I’m happy with the way it ended,” said Palmer, who was named the league’s Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP on Tuesday. “The triple-overtime game was obviously exhausting, but it was a fun game to be a part of. … It was exciting and fun. And then the next night, it goes down to the wire again, and I was able to make those kind of big free throws at the end for me to finish my career on a high note with the team like that.

“It was really special. Everybody was really happy for me.”

An appropriate finish for a guy who’s played on winning teams throughout his long career in Japan.

Despite their success in their first 18 games, the Hannaryz now face the formidable in-season challenge of replacing both Palmer and former NBA forward Larry Owens, the team’s leading scorer (15.9 ppg) who recently suffered a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, which was announced on Friday. (Kyoto had a league-record 44-win campaign last season.)

Palmer’s surprising announcement brings an end to his distinguished career in Japan. Palmer, who turns 34 next month, was one of the best pure shooters in bj-league history. He was one of the original stars on the Osaka Evessa dynasty, which began with the league’s inception in 2005.

He starred on the Evessa’s title-winning teams during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, earning the league MVP honor in the league’s second season, averaging 17.4 points in 40 games (19 starts).

Palmer returned to Japan in 2009 to play for the Evessa, then went to the Ryukyu Golden Kings for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, earning his third title in May 2012 with the Okinawa club. After that, Palmer spent nearly 3½ seasons with the Hannaryz.

An American River College and Southern Utah University product, Palmer began his pro career in 2004 with BK Prostejov of the Czech League and was the All-Star Game MVP in his lone season in Europe before joining the Evessa. Then with two titles on his resume he moved on to the NBA Development League for the 2007-08 season, suiting up for the Dakota Wizards (7.9 points in 37 games), then returned to the pro game — and Japan — after a one-season hiatus.

He appeared in 354 regular-season games in the bj-league, averaging double figures every season and appearing in eight Final Fours.

Before this season started, “I was totally committed to being here for the season,” Palmer said by phone from Kyoto, but citing lingering injury and health issues, “it was just making it a lot more difficult to go through the everyday focus of getting ready to play the game. It was becoming a real challenge. . . . My body just wasn’t recovering well enough to really make me comfortable with continuing to play.”

Even so, Palmer averaged 13.1 points in 18 games for Kyoto, including 58.9 percent shooting from inside the arc and 89.7 percent at the free-throw line this season.

“I think the results were OK,” Palmer commented when asked about his performance this season, “but I didn’t feel so great, my body didn’t feel so great the times that I was playing. I still think I can compete at a high level, but I think it’s more of the recovery and the handling of the stress, like my body and mind weren’t able to handle that workload anymore.”

Palmer, who resides near Sacramento, California with his wife and three children, said he has no immediate plans, but admitted he wouldn’t rule out a career in another capacity in basketball. (He majored in physical education at Southern Utah.)

“I would really like to coach, but that’s going to be some time away,” Palmer predicted.

How did the Hannaryz front office react to Palmer’s retirement plans?

Palmer described it as shocking to team management. “(But) they were all supportive and understanding, really,” he added.

“I wish they already had some replacement players here,” he went on, noting Owens’ injury, “but that’s not the case. … I’m sure they would like it if I could stay and play a little longer but I don’t think I can do it.”

Though it would be natural for Kyoto bench boss Honoo Hamaguchi to plead with Palmer to change his mind, the latter said his coach showed empathy.

Palmer described Hamaguchi as “an amazing player’s coach.”

“When I spoke to him, he completely understood me,” he stated, adding that Hamaguchi reminded him “you have to take care of yourself, your body and do what’s best for you; life is very long after basketball. He said all of the right things, all of those things to me. . . . I’ll be friends with Honoo forever. There’s no bad blood or anything like that at all.”

Regarding the rest of the Hannaryz’s season, Palmer predicts the team will be in the hunt — they have made four straight trips to the Final Four under Hamaguchi — to be a factor in the playoffs next spring.

“I think that they should be OK,” he said. “The culture is in place, so I think that’s the most important thing. Honoo’s done a great job of creating a fighting and competitive culture here where guys play together and play hard.”

Looking back on his overall experience in the bj-league, Palmer said the past few weeks were a special time for him. “My teammates have just been so awesome,” he added.” They’ve really been supportive of my decision. … This whole process of finishing up has gone much better and smoother than I thought it could have.”

While playing for perennial winning franchises, Palmer said he was blessed to be led by coaches he respected, including Kensaku Tennichi (Osaka), Dai Oketani (Ryukyu) and Hamaguchi.

“I kind of feel that we all just played to win,” Palmer noted. “You’re so lucky when you’re able to be in a professional situation where everybody is really just playing to win and not playing for their own stats, or money or job security or whatever. We were all just playing to win and that makes a big difference.”

Jeff Newton, retired Osaka and Ryukyu big man and the league’s winningest player (six titles), recognized Palmer was a potent force for powerhouse teams.

“On the court he was one of those unguardable guys,” Newton said. “You can’t stop him once he’s got it going. His work ethic is crazy. He’s a real leader on and off the court. That’s why he’s been successful everywhere he’s played. DP is the kind of guy that’s gonna find success with whatever it is he plans to do after basketball. I wish him nothing but the best and I’m honored that I got to call him a teammate and a friend.”

* * *

Keith Richardson, a Ryukyu assistant coach since 2007, reflected on Palmer’s successful career in Japan and his time with the Golden Kings.

His biggest memory of Palmer?

“I guess if I had to pick out one thing it would be David’s work ethic,” Richardson told The Japan Times. “He was the first in the gym and the last out every day at practice. He worked on a lot of situational shooting and that was why he was always ready at game time. He didn’t just shoot to shoot, he shot with a purpose.

“I learned a lot from him as a player and as a person,” Richardson stated. “He was a team player through and through. He picked up the little things very fast and you never had to tell him anything twice. I am very surprised by his retirement but I am sure he has a good reason why he is walking away from the game.”

He added: “I certainly do see him being a coach someday. His knowledge of the game of basketball and his ability to teach his skills to others will make him a hot commodity within the basketball world if he chooses to do so.”

Richardson and others have praised Palmer for his classic shooting form and textbook fundamentals.

Ryan Blackwell, Palmer’s former Evessa teammate, who later coached against him when he patrolled the sidelined for Osaka and the Gunma Crane Thunders said in an email that Palmer commanded respect throughout the league.

Blackwell called Palmer “one of the best teammates I’ve ever had.”

He was “a great person who was all about the team,” said Blackwell, who’s coaching the Liverpool (New York) High boys team, which is near his alma mater, Syracuse University . “A blue-collar guy who always understood his role, played hard, did the little things, gave 100 percent every time. The epitome of a true professional.

“He took care of his body, ate right, got enough sleep, was always on time and did whatever the coach asked of him. He is a great shooter who could create matchup problems when bigger guys had to guard him by stretching the floor. … A smart player. I could definitely see him being a coach someday.”

Hannaryz big man Kevin Kotzur, in his second season with the club, said Palmer made a profound impact for Kyoto.

“Even though I have been his teammate for the last year and some change, I can say that he has been one of the best teammates that I have had,” Kotzur told this newspaper. “His shooting ability and basketball IQ have led him to one of the best careers ever here in the bj-league.

“David seems to always be calm and collected in all situations and was willing always to sacrifice for his team first. Off the court, David is one of the most genuine guys around and would always be around to help even if it seemed like he didn’t have time. I have learned a lot from him and I want to thank and applaud him on a glorious career.”

Beyond Palmer’s on-court presence, dedication to his craft and unselfish play, he also made a lasting impression with his teammates off the court.

Just ask Newton.

“One of the most genuinely great people I’ve ever known,” were the words he used to describe Palmer. “A real class act.

” Off the court DP introduced me to things I never in a million years I would have tried. In Thailand we went rafting through the jungle, rode elephants, rode scooters all over the island. (He) took me snorkeling in Hawaii, just to name a few.”

* * *

Did you know?: Years ago, Palmer listed Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird as his favorite athlete. . . . Palmer’s teams (Osaka, Ryukyu and Kyoto) had a combined 289-109 won-loss record (72.6 percent) during the regular season winning percentage during his seasons with those clubs.

A model of consistency: Palmer’s season-by-season scoring averages:

■17.6 (2005-06, Osaka, 34 games)

■17.4 (2006-07, Osaka, 40 games)

■14.4 (2009-10, Osaka, 46 games)

■13.5 (2010-11, Ryukyu, 32 games)

■11.9 (2011-12, Ryukyu, 38 games)

■14.0 (2012-13, Kyoto, 46 games)

■14.1 (2013-14, Kyoto, 48 games)

■12.4 (2014-15, Kyoto, 52 games)

■13.1 (2015-16, Kyoto, 18 games)

Entering this season, he had career shooting totals of 39.9 percent on 2-pointers (575 of 1,442), 46.7 on 3s (1,094 of 2,343) and 82.1 on free throws (896 of 1,091).

Palmer made 191 starts in his 354 regular-season games.

The last word: “Winning those first two titles in Osaka really meant a lot to me and a lot to my career just for the growth and development part of it. When you are young, I was only in my second and third years as a pro, and when you get a taste of winning, I think that really sets the tone for the rest of my career: that winning it can be really fun and that can be really the most important thing as a pro. . .” — Palmer

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