Basketball / BJ-League | BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

HeatDevils still lacking fan support

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

The Oita Ehime HeatDevils have a new name this season — well, sort of.

Ehime was added to the name, what with the troubled franchise’s new management now based in Ehime Prefecture.

The Western Conference squad, which has been a part of the league since its inception in 2005, has had long-running attendance woes.

In this space, it was reported in the fall of 2011 that Oita had “attracted” crowds of 453 and 516 for a pair of home games. And that was a common occurrence.

It’s only gotten worse.

For a pair of home games last weekend at Oita Prefectural Gymnasium (in a city with a population of around 475,000, according to 2011 figures), the HeatDevils announced attendances of 245 and 388 for a pair of games against the Fukushima Firebonds.

With 12 home games in the books — nearly half of their allotted 26 — the HeatDevils are dead last in attendance in the 24-team circuit, averaging a meager 375 per game, nearly 10 times less than the Ryukyu Golden Kings (3,083, for their 10 home contests).

What’s more, the HeatDevils (6-14) are one of the worst teams in the league, having failed to finish above .500 since the 2006-07 season.

In 2011, rabid hoop fan Tommie McGowan, a regular at Golden Kings games, commented on the problem.

“I don’t understand how the league can be happy when a team is pulling in a whopping 500 fans for a professional basketball game . . . when baseball season is done,” McGowan told The Japan Times at the time. “I have been to some weddings that have close to that amount of people. I have seen terrible backyard bands pull in more people than that.”

The HeatDevils, besieged by debts over the years, have formed several new operating companies, wiped the slate clean of past debts and turned the page, as has been reported by The Japan Times on multiple occasions. At the same time, the club has begged fans to donate money to keep the it afloat.

Former HeatDevils star guard Matt Lottich, who won three titles as a floor leader for the Osaka Evessa, lashed out at the lack of ethics that have been at the center of the troubled franchise’s existence for years, aided and abetted by the bj-league’s board of directors.

“The thing that is perplexing is the ‘bj-league team operating license’ is miraculously able to change hands with none of the former debts being paid by the league,” Lottich, now an assistant coach for Valparaiso University, told The Japan Times in November.

“This is not the practice of every other professional sports league in the world. The Oita franchise needs to fold and the league needs to cut their losses. When we folded in 2012 (and formed as a new company) we were a championship contender and we still couldn’t pay our bills.

“I saw very shady business practice by the team and league.”

The HeatDevils have been relegated to the B. League’s second division for next season. But realistically, their future remains questionable at best for the long haul in the Japan Basketball Association-run circuit, which is set to have 45 teams spread out over three divisions.

Roller-coaster season: From Oct. 11 to Nov. 7, the Gunma Crane Thunders dropped seven of eight games, with losing streaks of four and three games sandwiched around a three-point victory over the Niigata Alibrex BB.

Through Sunday, the Crane Thunders are 11-11 under first-year bench boss Hirokazu Nema.

Forward Thomas Kennedy, a star on the Yokohama B-Corsairs’ 2012-13 championship team, is Gunma’s leading scorer (21.1 points). Patrick Sullivan, like Kennedy a Niigata player last season, is No. 2 on the Crane Thunders’ scoring chart (14.0)

League accolade: Saitama Broncos forward Seth Tarver helped the struggling Eastern Conference team piece together its first winning streak of the season.

The Oregon State product shined in back-to-back victories over the expansion Hiroshima Lightning last weekend, contributing 22 points, 10 rebounds, five steals and four assists on Saturday. He followed that stellar effort with 27 points, 17 rebounds, 10 assists and three steals a day later.

Tarver is the Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP.

He is averaging 22.2 points in 10 games since joining the Broncos last month.

Tyler update: Former NBA and Tokyo Apache big man Jeremy Tyler is averaging 20.7 points and 8.5 rebounds in six games since joining the Fujian Sturgeons of the Chinese Basketball Association, according to asia-basket.com.

Tyler also made headlines for getting into a fight against the Bayi Rockets on Dec. 11 after a physical encounter when he drove the lane. (The Rockets won 77-73.)

Here’s footage of the bench-clearing brawl: basketballbuddha.com/jeremy-tyler-fights-the-entire-chinese-army-team/

After a recent game against Fujian, Foshon Long Lions head coach Dean Murray, a former Saitama bench boss, weighed in on Tyler’s play in China.

“His game seems to fit the CBA and he looked in good shape,” Murray told The Japan Times earlier this month. “The CBA rosters are full of ex-NBA players and the American imports regularly get signed by NBA teams after our season is over in February. It is a great avenue for players looking to get back to the NBA after having a successful season in China.

“Any player that plays well during the CBA season certainly will receive looks from the NBA as the CBA is heavily scouted by the majority of NBA teams, if not all of them. . .”

Cousin speaks out: After playing his final game for Shinshu, former NBA center Marcus Cousin said the team’s coaching staff refused to believe he was injured.

Cousin parted ways with the Brave Warriors last week and is now focused on recovering from a knee injury he first sustained on Oct. 24 against the Iwate Big Bulls. Last week, Dr. Marc Connell, a longtime team physician for the Washington Wizards, confirmed that he had suffered a medial colateral ligament sprain, Cousin told The Japan Times while describing what happened against the Big Bulls this way: “A player ran directly into my knee. Big collision.”

What did Connell recommend for the 211-cm Cousin, who turns 29 on Friday? Rest and rehabilitation, working with a physical therapist. Connell predicted Cousin will be ready to play in about a month.

“My doctor mentioned a smaller player may come back quicker but a big man takes longer because of the force a big man applies,” Cousin told The Japan Times in an email. “I was being forced to practice and play in a game when I told (Shinshu’s) trainer and coach (Koju Munakata) I couldn’t play. Yet, the team was trying to convince me initially and before I left that nothing was wrong with my MCL (and) to make me play, when I repeatedly told them something is wrong.

“I never got the proper consistent rest and treatment in Shinshu, as I was being pressured to play since I got injured. In fact they were trying to get me to play on my injury in the Sunday game (Oct. 25) after the day of my injury, which was insane.

“My injury was taken as a joke from the team. I pride myself in hard work, honesty, and professionalism and pressuring/forcing a player to play on a serious injury is very disrespectful and could further injure and jeopardize one’s career. Now that I am around honest doctors and trainers, I plan to make a full recovery soon and play again this season. . .”

Indeed, there was a clash of ideologies that led to Cousin’s departure from Shinshu (6-14), which sits in 10th place in the 12-team Eastern Conference.

Said Cousin: “The 6 minutes I played on Nov. 21, I was forced to play. I told the coach before the game I couldn’t play — I had too much pain, something felt wrong. He substitutes me in the game anyway and I re-injured my initial injury.”

Upcoming games: The Tokyo-Nara series is scheduled to start on Friday. The rest of the weekend’s action is slated to tip off on Saturday, with the following series on the docket: Iwate vs. Shimane, Fukushima vs. Ryukyu, Shinshu vs. Hiroshima, Saitama vs. Takamatsu, Kanazawa vs. Toyama, Hamamatsu vs. Yokohama, Kyoto vs. Akita, Fukuoka vs. Aomori and Oita vs. Sendai.

Feedback: edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp