Every top-flight team has signed new players and tweaked their rosters for the upcoming season, the B. League’s fourth campaign.
It’ll take some time to get acclimated to all of the new faces in different places, but a handful of signings could prove to be the most significant as the season marches on.
Among the marquee names in new places:
Two-time reigning scoring champion Davante Gardner, a bruising inside force who left the Niigata Albirex BB for a fresh start with the SeaHorses Mikawa.
Versatile forward Jeff Ayres, who departed the Ryukyu Golden Kings and returned to the Alvark Tokyo after a two-year absence.
Kennedy Meeks, a former University of North Carolina frontcourt standout and 2017 NCAA title winner who left the SeaHorses and brought his stellar all-around game to the Levanga Hokkaido. Young, fast and strong, he’s a rising star on the pro level.
And dynamic leader Josh Peppers, who played an instrumental role in the Koshigaya Alphas’ promotion to B2 from the third tier and is now on his new challenge with the Toyama Grouses. A snapshot of Peppers’ impact: his 26-plus pulsating minutes against the Hachioji Bee Trains in the B2/B3 promotion game in May, when he provided 23 points, nine rebounds, four assists and four steals for the Alphas.
Taking a closer, what follows is a division-by-division breakdown of some key newcomers and transfers during the offseason. (The regular season tips off on Oct. 3.)
Levanga Hokkaido: The rebuilding squad will have Meeks manning the middle and explosive scorer Markeith Cummings, formerly with the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins along with journeyman pivot Faye Pape Mour, who was last seen in an Osaka Evessa uniform boosting Marc Trasolini’s impact. Point guard Ryoma Hashimoto, previously with Ryukyu, brings veteran leadership.
Akita Northern Happinets: Center Javier Carter (South Alabama alum) joins a club that returns established stars Kadeem Coleby and Justin Keenan in the frontcourt. Talented defender Nyika Williams returns after a stint with the Fukushima Firebonds, while newcomer Takatoshi Furukawa, a sharpshooter who helped the Tochigi Brex claim the title in the 2016-17 season, exited Ryukyu after two seasons.
Utsunomiya Brex: Dynamic duo Jeff Gibbs and Ryan Rossiter are back in pursuit of a championship, with Rossiter expected to come close to replicating his 2018-19 stats (19.8 points, No. 8 in B1; 11.3 rebounds, No. 2). In essence, the roster is basically intact.
Chiba Jets: Rookie forward Nick Mayo (Eastern Kentucky), a four-time Ohio Valley Conference First Team selection, embarks on a pro career after NBA Summer League action with the Miami Heat.
Sunrockers Shibuya: With big man Robert Sacre’s offseason retirement, the team added a pair of frontcourt veterans in 208-cm Charles Jackson (Tennessee Tech) and Madrid-born forward Sebastian Saiz to compete with double-double machine Ryan Kelly. Other new arrivals: Shuto Tawatari, Ryunosuke Watanabe, Daisuke Noguchi and Kohei Sekino.
Alvark Tokyo: Serbian power forward Milan Macvan, 29, who suited up for Bayern Munich this past season, fills a vacancy and brings a winning pedigree to the two-time defending champions. Consider: In the 206-cm Macvan’s career he’s played for Italian, Turkish, Serbian, Israeli and German League champions. The Cleveland Cavaliers drafted him 54th overall in 2011.
Kawasaki Brave Thunders: Uruguayan post player Mathias Calfani brings his talent to Japan after a three-season stint with San Lorenzo in Argentina. The club also signed 208-cm big Jordan Heath (Canisius), who competed in the Hungarian League last season. Brave Thunders mainstay Nick Fazekas had another stellar season in 2018-19 (22.3 points, No. 4; 10.9 rebounds, also fourth).
Yokohama B-Corsairs: Center Jason Washburn, who was injured when he left the team in October 2017, is back after competing in the Romanian League (12.5 points and 10.6 rebounds in 35 games) with U-Banca Transilvania Cluj Napoca last campaign. Gutsy guard Zen Maki moved from Hokkaido to play for coach Tom Wisman.
Niigata Albirex BB: With Gardner changing teams, Niigata signed 203-cm forward Nick Perkins (University of Buffalo), who saw time for the Los Angeles Lakers in the California Classic and the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas — eight games in total. He’ll team up with Lamont Hamilton in the frontcourt.
Toyama Grouses: Peppers changes the locker room atmosphere with a no-nonsense approach to the game and a never-wavering energy to win, which will be infectious on returning frontcourt standouts Josh Smith and Leo Lyons, who poured in 21.8 ppg, fifth-best in the circuit last season. Returnees Naoki Uto, Takeshi Mito and Tomokazu Abe remain key playmakers.
San-en NeoPhoenix: Ex-Aomori Wat’s center Kyle Barone (Idaho) joins rookie Jessie Gowan (Georgetown) and Devin Ewbanks (West Virginia), who saw court time with the Los Angeles Lakers from 2010 to 2013. Playing for Chalons-Reims, Ewbanks led France’s Pro A League in scoring last season at 18.8 ppg.
SeaHorses Mikawa: Gardner is the big addition as mentioned above. He’s coming off a 27.6-ppg, 11.0 rpg season.
Nagoya Diamond Dolphins: Rookie forward/center Ishmael Lane (Northwestern State) joins a rotation with established inside pillars in Hilton Armstrong and Justin Burrell. Lane averaged 13.8 points and 9.5 boards as a college senior.
Shiga Lakestars: Veteran post player Charles Rhodes (Mississippi State) has plied his craft at the pro level for more than a decade, including in South Korea and the Philippines in recent years.
Kyoto Hannaryz: Perimeter marksman Keijuro Matsui (Columbia University) switches uniforms after two seasons with Mikawa. Back to lead Kyoto are point forward Julian Mavunga and inside anchor David Simon, who were among the league’s second- and sixth-best scorer (21.6 and 24.3, respectively) a year ago, and the former was No. 1 in assists (8.5).
Osaka Evessa: New captain Ira Brown (Gonzaga) begins the next chapter of his pro career after an injury-riddled campaign with the Golden Kings. The naturalized Japanese forward saw action in 38 games, contributing 7.7 points and 6.3 rebounds.
The revamped Evessa roster under new coach Kensaku Tennichi brings back B1 rebounding champ Josh Harrellson (12.3 rpg last season), with newcomers Tatsuya Ito, a gutsy 173-cm point guard who plays bigger than his stature, and frontcourt additions Sean O’Mara (Xavier) and Richard Hendrix (Alabama).
O’Mara had a productive 2018-19 rookie season with stops in Finland and Australia, supplying 17.4 ppg to his team in Scandinavia and 20.2 Down Under. Hendrix, the 2005 Alabama Mr. Basketball (state’s top high school player) and Warriors’ second-round pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, has played in some of Europe’s premier circuits since turning pro, including Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel), Unicaja (Spain) and Galatasaray (Turkey).
Shimane Susanoo Magic: Nigeria national team captain and Shimane newcomer Ike Diogu, who played in the recent FIBA World Cup in China, was an Arizona State superstar before being chosen No. 9 overall (Warriors) in the 2005 NBA Draft. The 36-year-old’s NBA career lasted from 2005 to 2012. Diogu was the 2017 FIBA AfroBasket MVP. Joining Diogu among the team’s new players are 25-year-old power forward Robert Carter (Georgia Tech/Maryland) and 30-year-old center Brian Qvale (Montana).
Ryukyu Golden Kings: Power forward DeMon Brooks (Davidson College), a two-time Associated Press honorable mention All-American, was the Southern Conference Player of the Year in 2011-12 and 2013-14. He spent the past three seasons with Medi Bayreuth in Germany’s Basketball Bundesliga. Fellow newcomer/center Jack Cooley (Utah Jazz) brings NBA experience, having competed for the Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings in 2014-15 and 2017-18, 23 games in total. Cooley had an NBA Development League record 29-rebound game for the Idaho Stampede in March 2015.
All 18 second-division teams opened their season last weekend.
The Nishinomiya Storks, Tokyo Excellence, Gunma Crane Thunders and Ibaraki are all 2-0, setting the early pace for the second flight.
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IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5