Ryuji Aoki will begin his pro basketball career with the Shinshu Brave Warriors.

The defending B. League second-division champions made the announcement on Wednesday, giving the cerebral guard a chance to begin his pro career in his homeland.

The 21-year-old Aoki, who was born in Aichi Prefecture, moved to Illinois while he was a second-grader in elementary school due to his father’s job relocation. He grew up near Chicago. Fast forward to 2015, when Aoki, then a junior, helped Adlai Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire capture the Illinois Class 4A state title.

Aoki graduated from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, an NCAA Division III school in Terre Haute, Indiana, in May in just three years. He earned a degree in biomedical engineering with a 3.91 grade-point average.

In this past season, the 183-cm backcourt leader averaged 12.3 points per game for the Fightin’ Engineers.

“I am very grateful to be able to play basketball in a new environment and a high level,” said Aoki, who will wear No. 13 for the Brave Warriors, in a statement. “I will make every effort to contribute to the team’s (success), and I want to grow as a player.”

Understandably, Rose-Hulman coach Rusty Loyd was thrilled with the news.

“When you work hard and are dedicated to your craft — good things come your way,” Loyd tweeted. “Congratulations Ryuji on your new job and for being my first PRO.”

Looking back on his experiences as a player during his formative years, Aoki said living in the United States was beneficial for his personal growth.

“Playing basketball as an Asian player in the United States where the population of Asian basketball players is so small, it brought me to the highest and lowest points of my playing career,” Aoki told The Japan Times in March. “However, those experiences have made me a better player and I hope to be able to showcase that in Japan.”

Aoki’s shooting skills were on full display during his three seasons in a Fightin’ Engineers uniform. He shot 92.3 percent from the free-throw line and 40.3 percent from 3-point range.

The Basketball Tournament

Ryan Blackwell, a former Osaka Evessa and Gunma Crane Thunders bench boss, is coaching Boeheim’s Army in The Basketball Tournament, an annual summer pro showcase event now in its sixth year. The 64-team, single-elimination tournament concludes on Aug. 6 in Chicago. The event began on July 19.

Boeheim’s Army, comprised of former Syracuse University players, is one of the No. 1 seeds.

Nagoya Diamond Dolphins forward Justin Burrell is one of the top returning stars in the extravaganza. Burrell played a starring role on Overseas Elite’s fourth straight title last summer.

Overseas Elite is one of the other three top seeds and received a bye into the tourney’s second weekend of action.

Another team to keep an eye on: Brotherly Love, a No. 3 seed. The team features alumni of former Philadelphia schools, including ex-Temple University standout Wayne Marshall (a frontcourt linchpin for the Brave Warriors).

Grouses update

Toyama Grouses head coach Don Beck’s staff made a few changes this offseason.

The Grouses this week promoted Daisuke Takaoka to assistant coach after he spent one season as a development coach for the club. Takaoka wrapped up his playing career in 2016 with the Sendai 89ers.

In addition, Haruyuki Ishibashi joins the organization as an assistant coach after serving as associate head coach for the Bambitious Nara during the 2018-19 campaign.

Near the midway point of his playing career, Ishibashi, a former point guard, joined the Osaka Evessa in 2005 and helped them capture three consecutive titles in the bj-league’s first three seasons. As team captain, he presented Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with an autographed team panel in April 2007.

“I am really excited about returning to Toyama to continue our progress from last season,” Beck said in a statement. “With our returning core players plus the new players and staff, I feel we have a chance to be a very good team.”

The Grouses advanced to the playoffs in May, falling to the Chiba Jets Funabashi in a first-round series. They went 32-28 in the regular season.

Assistant coach James Duncan’s contract has expired. The Canadian worked for the club for one season.

New additions

Power forward Robert Carter, who suited up for the Los Angeles Clippers during the recent NBA Summer League, has joined the Shimane Susanoo Magic, it was announced on Wednesday.

Carter began his college career at Georgia Tech (2012 to 2014), then spent one year at Maryland.

In addition to his one game with the Clippers this summer (seven points, eight rebounds), he saw time with the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 Summer League.

This past season the 206-cm Carter competed for Afyon Belediye in Turkey, averaging 10.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists. It was his second straight year playing in the Turkish League. He suited up for Enel Brindisi in Italy and Lietuvos Rytas in Lithuania before heading to Turkey.

In other moves, the B2’s Hiroshima Dragonflies have recently added veteran big man Daichi Taniguchi to their revamped roster.

Taniguchi played for the Akita Northern Happinets for the past four seasons. He averaged 3.4 points in 58 games in the 2018-18 campaign.

The 29-year-old completed his collegiate career at Southwestern Oklahoma State University.

Team slogans

It’s common practice for Japan’s pro teams in NPB, the J. League and the B. League to select a team slogan for each season. The words or phrase add an identity of sorts.

Looking ahead to the 2019-20 campaign, the third-division Iwate Big Bulls have chosen a straight-forward slogan: “Change.”

“I want (us) to be a team that can reach B2 promotion,” Big Bulls captain and forward Shinya Chiba was quoted as saying by the Iwate Nippo newspaper on Wednesday.

Here are a few more already revealed team slogans for the upcoming season:

Yokohama B-Corsairs: Be Courageous

Aomori Wat’s: We Are One

Earthfriends Tokyo Z: Go! Amazing!

Ibaraki Robots: Run As One

New boss in Saitama

The Saitama Broncos on Thursday appointed Dutchman Thomas Roijakkers as the team’s new sideline supervisor.

Last season, the 40-year-old Roijakkers served as an assistant coach for Spirou Charleroi, a first-division team in the Belgian League.

Roijakkers replaces American Samir St. Clair, who guided the third-division club for the past three seasons.

“Very honoured and excited to announce I will be the next head coach of the Saitama Broncos in Japan,” Roijakkers tweeted. “Hope to see a lot of you at our games, it’s only a plane ride away.”


Contact the reporter: edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp

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