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Osaka brings in Harrellson to help man the middle

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

The Osaka Evessa enter a new era with two new big men patrolling the middle.

Former NBA center/power forward Josh Harrellson has been signed to play for the Kansai club for the upcoming campaign, the three-time bj-league champion announced on Monday.

Earlier this month, Osaka also secured the services of 210-cm Xavier Gibson, whose all-around skills made a profound impact for the Shinshu Brave Warriors last season, averaging 22.1 points (seventh-best total in the now-disbanded bj-league) and 2.5 blocks (No. 1 in the 24-team circuit).

Forward Mike Bell, Gibson’s Shinshu teammate last season, called the Florida State alum the “best player” in the bj-league last season during an interview with The Japan Times.

Now, Gibson, 27, will have the opportunity to showcase his skills against many different foes (17 additional teams in the first division) before a largely different audience in the new league. He is somewhat familiar with the former NBL teams, however, having spent the 2014-15 season with Toyota Alvark, who are now called Alvark Tokyo. Before playing for Toyota, he was a key figure on Shinshu’s 2013-14 playoff team.

For Harrellson, this season represents a chance to become a go-to star in Japan.

The 208-cm, 125-kg Harrellson spent time with the New York Knicks, Miami Heat and Detroit Pistons during the 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons, respectively. He appeared in 75 regular-season games during those three seasons, including 37 (four starts) with the Knicks and 32 with the Pistons.

He averaged 4.4 points and 3.9 rebounds in 14.6 minutes a game for New York. His playing time decreased with both Miami and Detroit.

The 27-year-old Harrellson, a University of Kentucky alum who wrapped up his collegiate career playing for coach John Calipari, was the 45th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. The New Orleans Hornets selected him in the second round.

As a senior, Harrellson helped the Wildcats advance to the NCAA Final Four, including a 17-point, 10-rebound, three-block effort against Ohio State in a Sweet 16 contest.

During his pro career, the St. Charles, Missouri, native has also had stints with Brujos de Guayama (Puerto Rico), Guangzhou Free Man and Chongqing Flying Dragons (China) and, most recently, VEF Riga (Latvia). Before joining VEF Riga, he saw time with the Phoenix Suns during the 2015 NBA Summer League and with the Washington Wizards that preseason before being released as the team trimmed its roster for the regular season.

Osaka bench boss Dai Oketani, who guided the Ryukyu Golden Kings to a pair of bj-league titles, is entering his second season at the helm.

Rosters taking shape: There have been a slew of signings in recent weeks as teams begin to assemble their rosters for the B. League’s first season.

Some of the notable acquisitions are reported below.

The San-en NeoPhoenix, formerly known as the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix, have reunited with star forward Olu Ashaolu, who helped them capture the 2014-15 bj-league title. The frontcourt standout played for the rival Evessa last season.

The NeoPhoenix have also signed Robert Dozier, a well-traveled post player who was a second-round draft pick of the Heat in 2009. Since then, the University of Memphis product has played in Greece, France, Spain and for the Alaska Aces in the Philippines this past season.

Meanwhile, the Bambitious Nara, who’ll compete in the 18-team second division, added Nigerian forward Andy Ogide to their roster.

After a college career at Mississippi and Colorado State, Ogide, now 28, has suited up for teams in Spain, Russia, Puerto Rico and Israel. He also competed for Nigeria at the 2016 Rio Olympics, appearing in five games and averaging 13.4 minutes, 4.4 points and 1.2 rebounds.

“Thanks for having me. I can’t wait to play my hardest for you all,” Ogide said in a statement posted on the Bambitious website.

Nara also finalized a contract with ex-University of West Virginia forward John Flowers, who was a rookie pro during the 2011-12 season when he played for the Saitama Broncos. Flowers returns to Japan after stops in France and Germany in recent seasons.

Staying put: Veteran swingman Billy Knight, a UCLA alum, will remain with the Yamagata Wyverns for a second season as the second-division club makes the transition to the new league.

Knight, now 37, helped the Phoenix win the 2009-10 bj-league crown. . . .

Dependable scorer Josh Peppers will give the Rizing Zephyr Fukuoka a familiar option as the team adjusts to the new third division and its new foes after competing in the now-disbanded bj-league. The University of Central Florida product has worked out a deal to return to the team.

Retooling their frontcourt: The Niigata Albirex BB have signed big men Clint Chapman and Stephan Van Treese, the team recently announced.

The 209-cm Chapman, a University of Texas alum, averaged 16.7 points and 7.9 rebounds in 55 games for the NBL’s Chiba Jets last season.

Van Treese, a University of Louisville product, returns to the Albirex for a second stint (he played for the club in 2014-15) after helping the Fukushima Firebonds advance to the bj-league playoffs last season. Van Treese averaged 14.0 points, 11.3 boards and 1.2 blocks in 52 regular-season games with the Firebonds.

Change of scenery: Former Fukushima guard Masaya Karimata, a vital playmaker and scorer for the team’s first two seasons of existence, has moved on to SeaHorses Mikawa, who were formerly called the Aisin SeaHorses.

Before a breakthrough season with the Firebonds in 2014-15 season, when he earned the Most Improved Player award (15.1 points, 4.4 assists), the 28-year-old Karimata had stints with the Jets and Golden Kings.

George Washington vs. Ryukyu: In the final game of the George Washington University men’s basketball team’s recent four-game tour of Japan, the Colonials defeated the Ryukyu Golden Kings 82-58 on Sunday afternoon in Okinawa City.

Yuta Watanabe and Matt Hart paced GW with 15 points apiece.

For the Golden Kings, Shuhei Kitagawa canned four 3-pointers in an 18-point effort and Shota Tsuyama had 10 points, while Ryuichi Kishimoto poured in nine. Ryukyu mainstay Anthony McHenry added eight points, six rebounds and three assists.

Before that, George Washington defeated the Japan men’s national team 81-66 on Aug. 13 in Osaka, 77-71 on Aug. 16 in Tokyo and 75-47 on Aug. 19 in Hamamatsu.

Watanabe, who’s entering his junior season at the school, contributed 14.5 points and 6.8 rebounds in the four-game overseas tour.

Feedback: edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp