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Friday, Oct. 9, 2009

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Kings GM Kimura recalls title run in new book


Staff writer

A positive symbol of the bj-league's growth is contained in a new 240-page book written by Tatsuro Kimura, the Ryukyu Golden Kings' general manager and president.

"Miracle of the Ryukyu Golden Kings," a Gakken Publishing book, was released on Thursday, in Japan.

Written in Japanese, Kimura's book details the creation of the Okinawa-based franchise from its inception, its disappointing first season (10-34), which led to the firing of coach Hernando Planells, and its sensational title-winning campaign of 2008-09, including Jeff Newton's epic 50-point effort in the Final Four.

In a recent interview, Kimura reflected on the time he spent writing the book.

"Well, it was a good experience for me to have an opportunity to look back at the road the Kings and I were coming from," he told The Japan Times. "You can't really think about the past while you are doing the job.

"It was a little difficult for me to write because my memory was not clear on some parts, so it took some time to remember by asking people who helped me or by researching my old diary."

Indeed, Kimura's professional background prepared him for this time-consuming project. He majored in mass media at Emerson College in Boston and later worked as a director of sports-live programs for NHK.

"This book is about how people in Okinawa and I built up a local pro sports team," he continued. "There are a lot of dramatic human stories. I would like to share the whole experience with everybody involving the Kings activities.

"At the same time, I would also like to record the history of the franchise in the book as an example of a successful franchise management. I know it is not something I should say, but instead somebody needs to say it. As you know, it has been chaos economically, but if you know how to run a pro sports organization with the right structure, a team can flourish without big financial support from one company.

"I wish the Kings organization and what or how it's done can make some positive impact in this business, and can encourage other organizations."

The Golden Kings, with the offseason addition of former Five Arrows All-Star center George Leach, begin their quest for a second straight championship on Saturday against the Osaka Evessa, who earned the league's first three titles.

Saturday's series opener is as follows: Shiga Lakestars vs. Takamatsu Five Arrows.

Former Broncos center Antoine Broxsie joins the Five Arrows for this weekend's series. Takamatsu didn't suit up any foreigners in last weekend's series against the host Sendai 89ers, losing both games by a combined 65 points.

Who's missing: Here's a quick rundown on some of the top import stars who have not returned to Japan:

• Two-time bj-league scoring champion John "Helicopter" Humphrey was not on the Tokyo Apache's Opening Night roster.

• Two-time rebounding champion Gordon James, who has played for the Saitama Broncos and the Takamatsu Five Arrows is also not on one of the league's 13 teams.

• Same goes for veteran forward Matt Garrison, a two-time 3-Point Shooting Contest winner during All-Star weekend. He's previously suited up for the Niigata Albirex BB and the Five Arrows.

• Bobby St. Preux, a versatile small forward and a Best 5 Award winner last season, hasn't returned to the Sendai 89ers.

• Michael Gardener, the league's third-leading scorer (25.5 ppg), top assist man (6.8) and co-No. 3 in steals (2.1) didn't re-sign with the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix.

Did you know?: This season's bj-league media guide lists players born in eight countries. Japan and the United States have the most players. The league also features players who hail from China (Osaka forward Haimo Chen), Morocco (Kyoto center Reda Rhalimi), Brazil (Saitama forward Kazuya "J" Hatano), Trinidad and Tobago (Tokyo center Julius Ashby), Canada (Saitama center Kwbana Beckles) and Iran (Hamamatsu forward/center Hossein Heidari).

Nice effort: After scoring just four points in the Kyoto Hannaryz's debut game last Saturday, 40-year-old shooting guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf turned back the clock on Sunday. The former LSU All-American and NBA player (he was the No. 3 overall choice in the 1990 draft) had 22 points on 10-for-18 shooting, grabbed four rebounds, dished out two assists and made a steal in 31 minutes against the Shiga Lakestars in an 85-81 win.

The Hannaryz (1-1) return to action on Oct. 17 against the host Five Arrows.

Fine advice: A Japanese blogger I correspond with on a regular basis passed along a few comments from a recent conversation with Osaka coach Kensaku Tennichi.

"To improve the national team, we must elevate 15- to 18-year-old's big men's skills," the source said, summarizing Tennichi's views on seeing the big picture. "And those young guys must have good coaching, it not like high school's 'only-to-win' game plans, it would be to improve basic skills more and more."

The Japan men's national team has been had back-to-back dismal performances in the FIBA Asia Basketball Championship, in 2007 and 2009. And that's why a new approach, such as Tennichi's, is needed immediately.

Sparks update: Former Five Arrows All-Star Rasheed Sparks, The Japan Times' 2006-07 bj-league MVP, attended Tuesday's Tokyo-Hamamatsu game at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2. He confirmed he will suit up for Tokyo next week, reuniting him on the court with ex-Five Arrows coach Motofumi Aoki, who previously coached Takamatsu. The veteran point guard is not playing for the Apache this week due to visa issues.

Making adjustments: Coach Aoki will put his stamp on the Apache in the coming weeks. Already, he has given an indication that his new team will be a defensive-oriented squad.

"I like to play a game around defense rather than offense, so we spent the majority of time for defense," he said, referring to preparations for the team's season opener.

Analyzing his team's roster, Aoki admitted he looks forward to getting Sparks into a game and spoke confidently about the team's ongoing efforts to upgrade its roster in the coming weeks.

"We have talented players for sure and once we have a proper number of players, we should be able to play our game," he said after the Apache's 81-73 loss on Tuesday.

New challenge: Spending two seasons with the Toyama Grouses and splitting last season between the Evessa and the Rizing Fukuoka, guard Takanori Goya hasn't played for a bj-league playoff team yet.

He hopes that changes this season with the his new team, the Apache.

Speaking after his 10-point performance in the season opener, Goya told reporters that "I want to focus on every single play on both offense and defense as if I (have to) take a chance on it. As for the team, we finished second two years in a row, so we're going to aim at reaching the next step."

In a versatile backcourt where he'll alternate between shooting guard and point guard, Goya, Toyama's No. 1 overall draft pick in the 2006 bj-league draft, embraces this role. He also expects Cohey Aoki to switch between the two positions as well.

"I can play both the 1 and the 2, depending on the situation," he said "I play both but there will be more times that I will be asked to score. . . . It's clear and easy for me to do."

Goya looks forward to being a productive contributor for the Apache, and is in no rush to move on to another team. In fact, playing numerous home games at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2 (the site for basketball at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics), which he refers to as a "sacred place for basketball," is a step in the right direction for the well-traveled 26-year-old.

"I've experienced so many things in the past," he said. "Here I've been given a clear job at this new club, so I just want to do my job."

The good, the bad: Hannaryz forward Josh Bostic, the NCAA's Division II Player of the Year in 2008-09, scored 26 points and grabbed 17 boards in his bj-league debut on Saturday. A day later, he had 12 points, 12 rebounds and three steals. . . . The Lakestars were 15-for-29 at the charity stripe in their 85-81 loss to Kyoto on Sunday.

Good fit: After watching Kyoto play its opening game and watching point guard/captain Naoto Takushi interact with teammates and fans on the historic occasion, it's quite clear that he is a fine choice to be a team leader for its inaugural season.

Takushi is a natural leader, possesses a strong work ethic and has already experienced the ups and downs of playing — and thriving — for an expansion team. As a bj-league rookie for the expansion Golden Kings, he led the bj-league in assists two seasons ago. Last season, he made the Best Five Team for a second time and helped Ryukyu win the championship.

During a wide-ranging post-game interview, Takushi spoke about setting lofty goals but taking steps "one at a time." He revealed his belief that teams must find a strong balance between Japanese players and foreign standouts, talking about communication being an important building block for success.

Above all, he expressed joy in being a part of something new. That's what every first-year organization needs.

The last word: "I don't want to change the Apache's style that they were using last year. I would like to put a little bit of more emphasis on defense. . . . It's normally difficult to install defense along with a good offense, but I believe we can achieve that with this talented corps."

— Coach Motofumi Aoki, speaking about his overall vision for the Apache this season.

Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.



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