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Friday, June 4, 2010

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Neu takes over reins in Apache front office


Staff writer

Conor Neu, a former Princeton University basketball player, is the Tokyo Apache's new general manager.

Neu is the first foreigner to be appointed as a GM in the five-year history of the bj-league, and this is his first job as a professional sports team executive.

Neu's hiring and the sale of the team to global investment firm Evolution Capital Management earlier this week set in motion a busy offseason for the bj-league club.

On Thursday, Neu declined to disclose the purchase price of the team from Exstar Entertainment Co. Ltd. when he was reached by telephone in Southern California. He did say, however, the firm now owns 100 percent of the team.

According to a news release, Evolution has a workforce of more than 200 people and offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Tokyo, Hong Kong and London. Neu serves as a trader for the company, and he's based in L.A.

The Apache appeared in back-to-back championship games in 2008 and '09, losing both times. In 2009-10, after an offseason of upheaval and a major roster overhaul, they went 22-30 before losing to the eventual champion Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix in the Eastern Conference playoff semifinals.

"The opportunity to work with the Apache team and fans is very promising," Neu said in a statement. "We are excited to take on a successful team in a rapidly growing league and intend to maintain its reputation as a first-class franchise."

Daijiro Kusakabe, a former league executive who has run the team during the past season, will remain in a leadership capacity, Neu said, citing his basketball contacts throughout the country and his extensive knowledge of the bj-league.

One of the team's top priorities this summer is to decide if Motofumi Aoki will return as coach for a second season, Neu said.

Neu, who turns 31 in July, resides in California. He said he plans to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the team.

"I'm committed to spending quite a bit of time there," he said, adding he'll be in Tokyo for "weeks at a time."

Former Oita HeatDevils owner Vince Rawl, a Texas tycoon, was the first non-Japanese to own part of a bj-league team. He now serves as a league adviser.

Neu welcomes the challenge of building a successful franchise.

"We have a lot of work to do, but we are very excited to get started," he said in the news release. "We are looking forward to continuing the relationship between the team and what we consider to be some of the best fans in professional sports."

Truth be told, the Apache had one of the league's worst average attendances this season, but they play in the league's biggest market, so there is potential for growth.

Neu, who majored in computer science at Princeton, is a partner of the Web site basketball.org and president of Neptune Ventures CA, LLC, a privately held firm.

According to Neu, Evolution became interested in purchasing the Apache after word of mouth reached the company's Tokyo office about the team. Business networking led to the deal being completed, he added.

Evessa fallout: The Osaka Evessa reached their fifth straight Final Four two weeks ago, but now-departed head coach Kensaku Tennichi's final year in charge was a rocky, up-and-down affair.

"The only reason we kept Coach Ten after February was because we started playing better," an Evessa player told The Japan Times, without needing to cite the fact the team went 25-5 to end the season. "Coach Ten is a great players' coach, but when it comes down to Xs and Os, Ryan (Blackwell) and (Lynn Washington) ran the team. Coach never played our best Japanese player in Naoto Nakamura and our leading Japanese scorer, Chen Haimo, never saw the floor as well."

He added: "Those aforementioned reasons were the sole reasons Coach Ten almost got fired. When the league changed the rule to only three foreigners on the court, that showed Coach Ten's true colors.

"Last season, we lost to Okinawa (the Ryukyu Golden Kings) because in-game adjustments were not in Ten's arsenal and we lost last week (on May 23, actually, 84-56 to the Phoenix in the title game) because of the same reason. I love Coach Ten as a person and we have shared some memorable times, but as a coach he has a long way to go."

The source also confirmed ex-University of Hawaii coach Bob Nash will be named the team's new bench boss.



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