Basketball / B. League | B. LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Storks, Magic looking to make instant impact

by Ed Odeven

Will it be a bigger adjustment for the promoted Nishinomiya Storks and Shimane Susanoo Magic as they acclimate themselves to the first division this season, or for their opponents?

Promotion to the top flight, of course, was a reward for the Storks and Susanoo Magic based on their excellence last season in B2.

Now, 16 new foes will share court time with Nishinomiya bench boss Kensaku Tennichi’s squad and new Shimane head coach Yukinori Suzuki’s club.

When the new season tips off next weekend, last season’s impressive achievements will mean nothing. The slate’s been erased; the Susanoo Magic’s 51-9 won-loss record in 2016-17 has been replaced by an 0-0 mark. Similarly, the Storks’ 43-17 record and B2 championship (a triumph over the Magic) doesn’t carry over to the new season.

Both teams are starting all over again.

But will momentum carry over for the Storks and Magic, building on what they accomplished during the inaugural B. League season?

Established leaders like Draelon Burns for Nishinomiya and Edward Yamamoto for Shimane are expected to help both teams maintain their mental discipline and focus on the big picture: staying in the playoff hunt from start to finish.

As newcomers in B1, it’s a double-edged sword for the Storks and Susanoo Magic. On the one hand, they enter the top flight without their opponents having the same level of familiarity as they do with the rest of the teams. The element of surprise could work in their favor — at least to an extent.

On the other hand, both clubs don’t have the collective experience and memory of past contests during the 2016-17 campaign against B1 teams.

Therefore, the importance of coaching adjustments and effective scouting reports will be among the biggest keys for Nishinomiya and Shimane.

The revamped West Division features the Storks and Susanoo Magic jockeying for top position with the Kyoto Hannaryz, Shiga Lakestars, Osaka Evessa and Ryukyu Golden Kings.

Nishinomiya makes its B1 debut on Sept. 30 against the visiting Chiba Jets Funabashi, while Shimane travels to play the Niigata Albirex BB.

Fazekas honored

Kawasaki Brave Thunders star Nick Fazekas is a part of the University of Nevada Athletics’ Hall of Fame class of 2017.

An induction dinner was held last Friday at the Reno Ballroom, where former NFL quarterback Jeff Rowe, journeyman catcher Brett Hayes, who played in MLB for several seasons and spent the 2017 season in the minors, and NBA guard Ramon Sessions, who recently joined the New York Knicks, and Fazekas, a former NBA big man, were among the seven inductees.

Fazekas, who led the B. League top division in scoring last season (27.1 points per game), did not attend the ceremony. He’s in Japan preparing for the upcoming season with his title-chasing Brave Thunders teammates.

In a phone interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal, Fazekas said “it was pretty special” to be selected for the Wolf Pack’s 2017 Hall of Fame class.

“When you first commit to a university, you don’t even think about something like that,” said Fazekas, whose NBA career included stints with the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers, a total of 26 games. “With the teams we had, the runs we made and things I was able to accomplish when I was there, it was pretty special. It’s pretty sweet knowing you’re going into the Hall of Fame. For me, the big thing would be having my jersey (No. 22) retired next, so that would be the next plan.”

On Sept. 14, the Reno Gazette-Journal website (rgj.com) published columnist Chris Murray’s in-depth Q&A with Fazekas.

He was also asked to reflect on his time in the NBA. The 32-year-old Fazekas responded by saying, “Short-lived. Obviously I don’t feel like I got a fair shake. I feel like I belong in the league. It just didn’t work out. Now, I’m in the place I’m supposed to be and I love it where I’m at. Obviously there are still times I watch games and think, ‘I could be in that league; I could compete.’ I proved it when I was with the Clippers. For whatever reason, that wasn’t the path I was on.”

Entering his sixth season with the Brave Thunders, Fazekas admitted Japan has become his second home.

“If you’re bouncing around from country to country to country, you have to prove yourself and try and make a name for yourself,” Fazekas told the Reno newspaper. “I’ve done that in Japan and now it’s like home. This place has been so great to me that the only place I’d ever go is back to the NBA if it remotely presented itself, but no other country in the world could get me out of here.”

Fazekas starred for the Wolf Pack from 2003-07, helping the school qualify for the NCAA Tournament in each of his four seasons. He earned Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year accolades three times before turning pro.

In February 2007, Fazekas helped Nevada reached No. 9 in the coaches poll, its highest-ever national ranking, and No. 10 in the AP poll.

Brex finish strong

The defending B1 champion Tochigi Brex placed fifth in the eight-team Seri Mutiara Cup last weekend in Kuala Lumpur.

In the fifth-place game, the Brex defeated the Guangzhou Long Lions 77-74, mounting a spirited fourth-quarter comeback on Saturday.

Tochigi trailed 62-52 after three quarters, but Shusuke Ikuhara, who had a team-best 20 points, backcourt mate Yuta Tabuse, newcomer Cedric Bozeman and Ryan Rossiter made key baskets down the stretch.

A day later, the Beijing BRCB Fly Dragons (Stephon Marbury’s team) defeated Croatian club KK Split 80-73 in the tourney finale.