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Monday, Oct. 29, 2007

BJ-LEAGUE

Standouts prepare for roles with new clubs


Staff writer

As the bj-league prepares to open its third season on Tuesday, four standout players continue their adjustments with new teams.

The departure of All-Star center Nick Davis from the Niigata Albirex BB surprised many around the league this offseason. He was picked up by the Tokyo Apache as a free agent.

Davis, who helped guide the Albirex to the championship game two seasons ago, is the biggest name to switch teams.

He is joined on the Apache roster by another solid All-Star and newcomer, guard Masashi Joho, who won a pair of championship rings with the Osaka Evessa.

Mamadou Diouf, a charismatic, high-energy forward, moved to the Saitama Broncos after spending the previous two seasons with the Sendai 89ers.

The Evessa, meanwhile, added Mikey Marshall, a cerebral small forward who was the glue that held together the Oita HeatDevils on both ends of the floor during their inaugural season in 2006-07.

These big-name signings will provide plenty of new storylines over the next several months.

Evessa point guard Matt Lottich commended his team's front office for adding the well-rounded Marshall to their roster, giving the team a logical replacement for the departed David Palmer, the team's super sixth man and 2006-07 league MVP who torched the Takamatsu Five Arrows for 33 points in the title game in what was a glorified recap of his season: instant offense (36 straight games in double figures to end the season), superb passing, running the floor at the same swift pace each time and playing relentless defense. Palmer said last spring he was interesting in playing in the NBA Development League this season.

"Mikey is a unique addition in that he can pretty much do anything," said Lottich, speaking about the man who now wears Osaka's No. 3 jersey. "He can rebound, pass (and) score. He's very athletic. He's added a new dimension to our game."

The 193-cm Marshall appeared in all 40 games last season for the HeatDevils, averaging 36.5 minutes a contest. He also scored exactly 600 points (15.0 per game). He had two or more steals in 19 games, two or more blocked shots in 10 contests (including a season-high six against the Tokyo Apache on March 17), 19 double-doubles and 36 dunks.

"Obviously we'll miss him," Lottich said of Palmer. "He's a great scorer. But Marshall, he can do it in a different way than David."

This has already been evident during Osaka's preseason games and scrimmages.

"He's really helped us on the defensive end more than anything," Lottich observed.

Some players and coaches like to make comparisons about players; others don't. But one comparison that many have agreed upon is this: Mikey Marshall is the bj-league's version of Scottie Pippen, a guy who can be counted on to bring the ball up the floor, defend a foe's top scorer and still have energy to hit the outside shot and attack the basket with authority.

For the two-time champs from Kansai, Marshall's signing was as much of a surprise as the name of the Oscar winners inside those fancy envelopes.

"We didn't have a clue and Mikey had no clue," Lottich admitted.

"Once Palmer announced he wasn't coming back, Coach Ten (Kensaku Tennichi) just started looking. Coach Ten just worked his magic and bam, there it is."

Saitama, which lost 25 of 40 games last season, now attempts to become a more balanced team. Diouf, the Senegalese standout who became an unstoppable offensive force late last season, gives the Broncos that potential.

He had five games of 30 or more points in the last 13. Overall, he scored 20.4 ppg and made 12.0 rebounds per game. He also drained 38.3 percent of his 3-point shots last season.

After joshing with teammates last Tuesday night after practice, Diouf, who will see time at small forward and power forward, sat down for an interview and summarized his preseason outlook this way:

"Definitely I'm very excited to be here and I am very optimistic for the season, I think we have a very nice group of guys and a very good coach.

"I've been here for about three weeks but I am getting very comfortable with the playing style with the guys, very comfortable with the guys. We talk a lot and go out to dinner, so I think I'm fitting in well."

Diouf, who teammates and fans affectionately call Madou, had a busy offseason, training with the Senegal national team in France and participating in the FIBA Africa Championship in Angola.

Now he's busy making his new coach smile.

"I'm really happy," Broncos coach David Benoit said. "He's a very hard worker. I'm happy he's here. He's going to help in so many different areas, because the benefit of having a guy like Madou is he can basically play four positions, meaning he can play the two, three, four or maybe even the five."

"He's capable of putting up a lot of points," Benoit added. "He just has a real knack of knowing how to get his shot or when to get his shot off.

"I think once he catches on to everything and how we are going to play and how I want things to be done, man, he's going to be (productive)."

The Broncos return the league's top rebounder in Gordon James. His 14.3 rpg may be hard number to replicate this season, that is if Diouf decides to fight him for every loose ball.

On the offensive end, the new dynamic duo could provide mismatch problems for teams inside.

Just ask Benoit.

"That is something I want all the other coaches to try to figure out," he said with a good-natured smile.

"That combination is going to be good . . ."

Tokyo, which also had a disappointing season in 2006-07, added a stabilizing force in the middle.

Davis has demonstrated in his two seasons in the league that his No. 1 priority is winning, as evidenced by his hustle, productivity (18.3 ppg, 13.8 rpg, 1.6 blocks per game) and enough well-set picks and passes, to please his teammates.

Tokyo Apache coach Joe Bryant said, "Last year, we got out-rebounded in every game we played, I think. This year, we are going to be able to compete on the boards, where last year we couldn't."

This season, Davis' impact will go beyond the box score — in fact, he's already made a significant impact on the court and in the locker room.

"Nick's been very vocal about the things he's doing and he's actually showing us by example, so Nick's experience is very helpful, especially because we have a lot of young guys in their early 20s," said Apache guard Darin Satoshi Maki.

By all accounts, a change of scenery has been a positive thing for Davis.

"I want to win," Davis said. "Niigata let me go, for reasons I don't know why, but I know this is somewhere and playing for someone that I'll be happy to say I had an opportunity to play for Coach Joe Bryant.

He added: "Right now, just being able to be here and being here with this team after being in Niigata for three years is a great opportunity and a blessing.

"It does show that you have some people that might come out and might not be a fit and then you go to another team and you excel, so you just never know. Basketball here in Japan is changing . . ."

Editor's note: Look for more bj-league preview stories in this week's editions. Tuesday: The Rizing Fukuoka prepare for their first-ever season and the Osaka Evessa begin defense of their back-to-back league titles.



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