Dependable frontcourt leaders Reggie Warren and Abdullahi Kuso are looking to help transform the Kagawa Five Arrows into a potent force in the second division this season.
The Five Arrows went 19-41 last season, finishing fifth in the B2’s West Division.
The franchise, formerly known as the Takamatsu Five Arrows during the team’s decade in the bj-league (2006-16), brings back a link to its glory days by signing Warren. The deal was finalized last week.
With Warren dominating in the post, the Five Arrows reached the bj-league title game as an expansion team in the spring of 2007, finishing runner-up to the Osaka Evessa. They returned to the playoffs the next season, Warren’s second campaign with the club.
With Warren, they went a combined 55-29 in regular-season games under-then coach Motofumi Aoki, who guided the Five Arrows to a 33-19 mark in 2008-09, his last season in charge.
In 2009, the financial crisis saw the team’s foundation crumble, and the Shikoku-based franchise has never fully recovered.
The Five Arrows haven’t had a winning season since original coach Aoki’s departure. (They bottomed out in the 2011-12 campaign, going 2-50.)
Warren, a power forward, starred for the B2’s Kumamoto Volters last season and helped the West Division club post a 44-16 record, while Kuso brings his blue-collar work ethic from the Gunma Crane Thunders, who went 40-20. The Volters didn’t make a contract offer to the well-traveled Warren, and so he moved on again.
A University of West Florida product, the 36-year-old Warren was the No. 8 scorer in the second division (13.7 points per game) last season, while averaging 8.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists. He appeared in 53 games, making 10 starts.
“Returning to the Five Arrows was something I thought about before,” Warren told The Japan Times on Tuesday night. “Just thinking it would be really cool to play for the city of Takamatsu before I retired and hung up my shoes.
“I had such a great time here the first two seasons I played in Japan,” added Warren, who played a pivotal role for the Saitama Broncos (2008-09), Kyoto Hannaryz (2010-11, 2014-15), Rizing Fukuoka (2012-14) and Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (2015-16), with all but the Broncos advancing to the bj-league playoffs.
A decade ago, Warren developed strong ties with the local community in Takamatsu and throughout Kagawa Prefecture.
“The city and the people welcomed me with open arms and I did what I thought was best by showing them my appreciation by giving 110 percent effort into making the Five Arrows a force to be reckoned with back then,” he admitted.
“I definitely came back for the fans and to try to bring back that winning culture and spirit that was created in the first two seasons,” he continued.
“I definitely think joining this team with another vet like Kuso makes me feel more confident that we can change the culture of the Five Arrows because I know one thing about Kuso after playing against him for many years. He is a fighter and goes out there each and every night and plays hard.”
After Kagawa finished 22 games under .500 in the first season of the B. League era, new mentor Kohei Eto looks to turn things around as Joe Navarro’s replacement on the bench.
So far, so good, according to Warren.
“My first impression of the team is that we are really young but everyone seems to want to listen to the older players and learn from us,” Warren said. “I love our coach’s energy and his genuine excitement to teach.
“I also love the way coach holds all of us accountable and demands to get more from each and every player.”
A Gonzaga University product, the 33-year-old Kuso contributed 13.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.8 blocks (No. 3 in B2) last season, making 60 starts.
Eager to make an impact in the upcoming season, Kuso said in a statement, “I would like to thank the Kagawa Five Arrows organization for giving me the opportunity to further my career in Japan.”
The revamped Five Arrows roster also includes newcomers Ryuichi Horikawa and Takuro Tsukuba (small forwards) and point guard Keitaro Kimura.
After working for the Ryukyu Golden Kings for the organization’s first 10 years as both an assistant coach and bench boss, Okinawan Tsutomu Isa gets a fresh start this season with the Sunrockers Shibuya.
For Isa, his first regular-season game will be against his longtime former employer. The Sunrockers open the new campaign on Sept. 29 in Okinawa City.
Isa, 47, guided the Kings to a pair of championships in 2014 and ’16, but wasn’t retained as head coach after last season, his fourth at the helm. Instead, he became a vital part of Shibuya head coach Geoffrey Katsuhisa’s staff.
It’ll be interesting to see what type of emotions are swirling in the gym for both teams, before and after the opening tipoff, as well as the reaction from Ryukyu fans.
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IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5