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Friday, Oct. 2, 2009

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Lakestars excited about adding Joho


Staff writer

The Shiga Lakestars made a bold move this week, acquiring Masashi Joho from the Tokyo Apache for forward Reina Itakura.

The veteran shooting guard gives them a player with championship experience and a never-back-down attitude.

Joho has played in each of the four bj-league championship games, and he's made positive contributions for all of those teams — the Osaka Evessa in the team's title-winning 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons and the two-time runnerup Apache over the past two seasons — on both ends of the floor.

Known for having an explosive first step, Joho is an aggressive defender and collects steals with regularity, while slicing through the lane for a layup or stepping outside for a long-range jumper are other trademarks of his game.

Itakura, the Lakestars' No. 4 overall draft pick in June, remained unsigned during the dog days of summer. With the season set to begin on Saturday, when the Lakestars travel to face the expansion Kyoto Hannaryz, Shiga's front office decided to make a move.

Lakestars coach Bob Pierce believes the 27-year-old Joho will make a solid impact for the second-year franchise.

"Joho is a finisher, a guy who can make shots, and one of the rare Japanese players who is tough enough to make game-winning shots," Pierce said. "I liked him when I first saw him playing for Osaka about two, three years ago when I took the current Rera Kamuy Hokkaido head coach, Tomoya Higashino, to see a bj-league game (Osaka at Saitama). I liked his shooting, and his flair for the game.

"We have lots of good, hard-working guys, but no 'scorers' among our Japanese players. Joho gives us more outside shooting, plus a toughness and attitude that we need."

Case in point: Joho sparked the Apache with 22 points, including three free throws with 2 seconds left in the fourth quarter, in an overtime win over the Saitama Broncos on Jan. 17, then put 21 points on the board a day later to help his team complete the weekend sweep.

After the Lakestars went 19-33 in their first season, they'll rely on Joho to help them become a playoff contender this season.

"If he can fit his game into our team, and I don't see why not, he will really help us," Pierce predicted. "We would have made the playoffs last year if he had been playing for the Lakestars, so we expect to be in the playoffs this year."

The 192-cm Itakura, a 28-year-old former Hosei University player, made 19 starts for the JBL's Mitsubishi Electric Diamond Dolphins last season. It remains to be seen what impact he'll make for the new-look Apache.

Joho, on the other hand, has already given the Lakestars a much-needed positive jolt of energy as the long preseason comes to a close.

"The whole mood and atmosphere of practice changed," Pierce said, making these observations after Joho's first practice with the team on Wednesday. "He can really shoot, knows how to come off screens, and our American players liked playing with him right away."

Opening weekend: The Hannaryz, coached by former NBA player David Benoit, begin their inaugural season with Saturday's 2 p.m. game against the Lakestars at Kyoto City Gymnasium.

Also Saturday, the Sendai 89ers play host to the Takamatsu Five Arrows in a 6 p.m. game.

The teams square off again on Sunday, keeping with the two-game series format adopted by the bj-league for its first season in 2005-06.

The Apache, meanwhile, open their season on Tuesday night at 7:30 against the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix at Yoyogi National Gymnasium Annex No. 2.

Other teams make their season debuts between Oct. 8 and 17, including the defending champion Ryukyu Golden Kings, who'll meet the visiting Evessa in key early season showdowns on Oct. 10-11.

In the teams' last meeting in the playoff semifinals in May, Golden Kings center Jeff Newton scored 50 points as his team mounted a remarkable comeback.

New challenge: Guard Takanori Goya, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 draft, has bounced around from the Toyama Grouses (his original team), to the Osaka Evessa, the Rizing Fukuoka and now finds himself on the Tokyo Apache's roster. His signing was announced earlier this week.

Goya, who turned 26 in August, is a physically gifted performer but has struggled to be a consistent offensive player during his three seasons in the league.

* * * * *

Look for expanded preview coverage of the 2009-10 bj-league season in upcoming editions of The Japan Times and on our Web site, including features on new Oita HeatDevils coach Brian Rowsom, a former NBA player, and first-year Toyama Grouses floor boss Charles Johnson, who coached the Saitama Broncos during the bj-league's first season.



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