Two weeks before the B. League’s inaugural season tips off, the most popular player in bj-league history remains without a team.

Nine-time All-Star guard Cohey Aoki has not finalized a contract with a B. League squad for the upcoming season.

Aoki made his mark as a team-first performer with a knack for hitting clutch shots throughout the bj-league’s 11-season history. He was a beloved player during stints with the Tokyo Apache, Osaka Evessa, Tokyo Cinq Reves and Rizing Fukuoka.

There’s been offseason speculation that the 35-year-old Aoki may retire and focus on running his basketball business, Watch&C Pro Camp, on a full-time basis.

In 2014, the Fukuoka native told reporters that he had thought about retiring before signing another one-year contract with the Rizing. And then he did the same thing last year.

In recent conversations with basketball insiders, The Japan Times has learned that Aoki has communicated with two or three teams and expressed interest in landing a roster spot for the upcoming season. As of press time Thursday, Aoki remains a free agent.

But Aoki holds an important place in Japan basketball history because of his popularity and incredible consistency. The 167-cm Aoki won his sixth bj-league free-throw shooting title last spring by sinking 103 of 109 foul shots (94.5 percent conversion rate).

In December 2008, then-Tokyo Apache head coach Joe Bryant summed it up this way: “He has the pure free-throw motion.”

And even though he’s been one of the shortest players in Japan pro basketball for more than a decade, it’s never stopped him from producing big numbers and making valuable contributions. Several coaches have told The Japan Times over the years that Aoki’s work ethic inspires other players.

Furthermore, he knows how to get open and create space for his shot.

He’s always been a go-to option with the shot clock winding down or in the closing seconds of a game.

Now, as the B. League seeks to attract new fans and give returning customers an incentive to provide repeat business, it’s the notion here that Aoki would be a smart investment for any of the following 45 teams: the 18-team first division, the 18-team second division or nine-team third division. Young players need dedicated mentors and Aoki would provide that tutelage and give a team all-out effort and an offensive boost whenever he steps on the court.

In the final analysis, Aoki deserves a proper send-off to his career and some role in the new league after playing such an integral role in the growth of basketball in this country during the bj-league era.

On the move: Former Osaka big man Markhuri Sanders-Frison has joined the second-division Yamagata Wyverns, the team recently announced.

The 28-year-old Sanders-Frison, a 203-cm power forward, played college ball at the University of California.

The Wyverns also added 24-year-old center Matt Lopez to their roster.

The 213-cm Lopez has suited up for Puerto Rico’s national team. He split his collegiate career between La Salle, Utah State and, finally, Rider University. He began his pro career with San German Athletics in the Puerto Rican League this past season.

In March, Lopez reflected on the opportunity to play professionally in Puerto Rico, his ancestral homeland.

“. . .We play like 45 games in 10 weeks,” he told theridernews.com. “So having four or five games a week is pretty hard. It’s a tough job. We have to come in every day and practice and learn how to rest our body.”

Name change: The Chiba Jets announced on Thursday that the franchise will be known as Chiba Jets Funabashi starting on July 1, 2017.

The change reflects the franchise’s growing identity with its hometown.

The Jets, now a first-division squad, entered the bj-league as an expansion team in 2011 before defecting to the NBL after two seasons.

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