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Friday, Sept. 10, 2010

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Cost-cutting on refs big mistake by league


Staff writer

In its haste to expand at an alarming rate, the bj-league is proving that it is incapable of meeting the most basic standards of professionalism.

The league, looking to save money and force more of the burden on teams to pay the bills, plans to supply two league officials for each game this season while making the home team pay for a third non-league official, The Japan Times has learned.

That way, over the long haul, the league can save the cost of paying for one-third of its officials. That's the rationale behind what many will call a boneheaded decision, one that essentially turns one-third of the refs into freelance employees.

This ill-conceived "solution" will only hurt the league's image. In fact, it may create a public relations nightmare: fan disgust, as well as increased outrage from players, coaches and front-office personnel.

"If it's true about the refs, the quality of games will really suffer," said one league insider.

There's also talk of league officials — those who won't be contracted by teams — being asked to take a 50 percent reduction in pay, according to the source.

Osaka Evessa power forward Lynn Washington, however, doesn't believe there will be a major backlash from referees.

"The refs would not mind," said Washington, a two-time MVP. "I do not think most refs in Japan are professional refs. Most, if not all (of them), have other jobs. I know the economy is way below par, but most of the money these refs make per game is a little above spending money.

"You would have your rogue referees, of course, but ultimately most refs would stay because of the job itself. If some of those refs that leave are caliber refs then the players and coaches could suffer accordingly."

According to a league source, the aforementioned proposal to force teams to take an active role in assigning and paying for game officials has been finalized, though the league hasn't made the announcement official.

Ryukyu Golden Kings president Tatsuro Kimura and Kunio Kurata, the league's chief officer, also known as the director of officials, had the guts to oppose the plan, according to a source with inside information about what was said at a recent league board meeting.

Kurata, who recognizes the league's need to be fiscally responsible, even talked about the officials going out on strike, the source added, hammering home the point that the league is "disrespecting the game" by doing this.

In other words, Kurata sees the big picture and doesn't like what he sees. He's been placed in an impossible position by the league's short-sighted board of directors. He also knows he will have diminished impact on the game.

"If he can't control all three of the officials, then no one can take responsibility of a mistake or a missed call," the source said, explaining Kurata's reason for being ticked off.

Akihiro Ejima, the league's PR director, was asked to issue a statement but he declined to comment.

This much is certain, though: Don't expect the replacement refs — local hires — to enhance the league's reputation.

"We will get inexperienced referees, maybe college students and that could mean the end of having American referees from the different military bases, which was absolutely the best thing about the bj-league," the source said.

"This would have a negative impact on the games, if true. The league should be trying to improve the quality of the officiating. And the bj-league's No. 1 success story is Tim Greene, who moved on and is now working for the NBA, and has been doing NBDL, WNBA, and some NBA (preseason) games."

He added: "At a time when we are bringing in better coaches and players, why would they risk using inferior referees? I hope this rumor isn't true, but fear it is. Watch the technical fouls skyrocket."

Expansion pickups: The Shimane Susanoo Magic made 206-cm center Will Caudle their first foreign player signing.

Caudle, who played 118 games at Xavier University from 2002-06, has played professional in Turkey, Argentina, Uruguay, the Dominican Republic, Macedonia and the CBA.

Latinbasket.com posted this scouting report of Caudle on its website: "He is a strong inside player with nice hands and a good shooting touch. He is extremely athletic and can get to the hoop off the dribble. . . . Caudle is tough as nails. During a game in high school, he shattered a backboard and cut his hand. After getting it taped up, he went right back into the game with about 20 glass cuts all over his hands. Bob Wenzel of ESPN had this to say about Will: 'Caudle plays hard. He is a very enthusiastic guy. It's hard to find that in big people sometimes. He is physical, gets after it and plays 100 (percent) on every play.' "

The Miyazaki Shining Suns, meanwhile, have added forward/center Brandon Cole, forward Corey Minnifield and forward Elijah Palmer to their inaugural roster, the team announced on Monday.

Cole, a 203-cm veteran frontcourt player, attended Xavier University before embarking on a pro career that has included stops in China, Mexico, Chile, Indonesia, Romania and Macedonia. The 26-year-old has also played for the Vermont Frost Heaves, a U.S. minor league team that has been a pipeline for imports for the Niigata Albirex BB.

Minnifield, 28, has played in the NBA Development League for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants (2007-08) and Springfield Armor (2009-10). For Springfield, he averaged 5.3 points and 21.8 minutes in 15 games. All told, the 203-cm athlete has played in 58 D-League games (30 starts) and averaged 13.5 points).

He attended Loyola-Chicago and finished his college career at Si Tanka-Huron in South Dakota, averaging 18.3 ppg in 2003-04. Since then, he's had his passport stamped in Finland, Hungary and South Korea (he played for the Seoul SK Knights).

The 201-cm Palmer, a Duquesne product, has spent time on teams in Australia, the Netherlands and Belgium. He turned 29 in February.

The Akita Northern Happinets will have signing announcements in the coming days, too.

Insight on Ishizaki: Shimane point guard Takumi Ishizaki, the first active Japan national team player, to join a bj-league team, will be a strong leader for his new teammates, according to Cory Violette, his former Toshiba Brave Thunders teammate.

"Ishi is undoubtedly the hardest working player I've played with," Violette told Hoop Scoop. "He spends countless hours outside practice in the gym working his game. He's become a consistent shooter, and he's someone who can create his own shot. Ishi plays best when he can control the game, and while he is more of a score-first point guard, his eyes are usually up to find the open man.

"One of his best qualities is his willingness to take the big shot. In situations where you need a bucket, especially a three, he has the confidence to take that shot and deal with the consequences. That's a quality that's rare among players, and he wants the ball when it counts."

Around the league: The Rizing Fukuoka signed guard Jun Nakanishi, who played for the team during its inaugural season in 2007-08 and for part of the 2008-09 season before being traded to the Osaka Evessa. Nakanishi was the top overall pick by the Akita Northern Happinets in the expansion daft in June, but never signed a contract with the club. Sources say he wanted to play in Kyushu, where he has family.

Nakanishi averaged 4.3 points in 48 games last season for the Evessa. He has also played for the Tokyo Apache.

• The Evessa, meanwhile, signed guard Masashi Obuchi to a deal for the 2010-11 season, adding a player who gave the Ryukyu Golden Kings a steady supply of scoring from the perimeter last season. Obuchi was selected by the Osaka in the annual rookie draft.

(A former JBL player, he was added as an early challenge player and thus went through the draft process after the season.)

Obuchi averaged 10.5 points in 22 games. He converted 35.4 percent of his 3-point shots (29-for-82) and made 49.1 percent of his 2-pointers (54-for-110) and drained 81.4 percent of his free throws (35-for-43).

In June, Obuchi, a Senshu University product, attended the NBA Development League's national tryout in Virginia.

• Forward Mike Bell, who had a terrific season for the Oita HeatDevils in 2009-10, will play for the Sendai 89ers this season.

A Florida Atlantic University product, Bell averaged 21.3 points (No. 5 in the league) and 12.4 rebounds (fourth-best) for Oita.

• The Kyoto Hannaryz have hired Daniel Stafford, 24, as an assistant coach. The deal was announced on Tuesday.

Stafford wrapped up his collegiate career in the spring, averaging 12.0 points and 5.0 rebounds for Eastern Oregon University, a n NAIA Division II school. He graduated with a degree in international business.

A 193-cm wing player who hails from Auburn, Wash., Stafford was one of 92 members of the 2010 Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athletes squad.

To be eligible for the accolade, a player must have a grade-point average of 3.5 or higher (on a 4.0 scale) and be nominated by the school's head coach.

Now, Stafford is ready for a new challenge.

"I was working with an agent trying to get on a team, and he knew the head coach in Kyoto very well," Stafford told Oregonlive.com. "My agent told him about me and he was interested so I met him in Las Vegas. He was there watching some players workout and asked me to share advice on the players and my opinions.

"I am way excited for this opportunity. My wife, Kimie, may be more excited. She is originally from Chiba, Japan."

Done deal: The Ryukyu Golden Kings have formally announced the signing of forwards Carlos Dixon and Abdullahi Kuso.

The Japan Times first reported the news last Friday.

New mascot: The Akita Northern Happinets have named "Bicky," a frog as the team's mascot.

"In the Akita dialect, frogs say 'bicky, bicky,' not 'ribbet, ribbet,' and so the name is quickly associated with Akita," the team said in a statement.

A fourth-grader named Matsuhashi Riku had the original idea for a frog mascot. Then, a professional designer produced the finished product.

"Matsuhashi Riku's idea was to have a character that could 'jump to the ceiling and dunk the ball,' " the team explained in the news release.

The team received 771 entries, including Riku's.

Looking ahead: The to-be-named Kanagawa Prefecture team, one of four expansion clubs for the 2011-12 season, will play home games at the Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium and Yokohama International Swimming Pool during their inaugural season, the local media has reported.

Toshimitsu Kawachi, the league commissioner, recently visited Yokohama City Hall and met with Mayor Fumiko Hayashi as the league works to forge closer ties with city officials.

New plans: Former Saitama Broncos and Kyoto head coach David Benoit said he would like to take a break from coaching a team on a full-time basis and would like to begin running clinics and camps throughout Japan.

Living in Kyoto, Benoit served as a volunteer coach for a boys junior high team this summer and made regular trips to Tokyo. In a recent phone conversation, he said he loved the experience and it reminded him how much he enjoys teaching the fundamentals of the game.

Benoit, who played forward in the NBA for several seasons, plans to find sponsors and secure venues to hold instructional events for students. No further details were available at press time.

Parting thought: As a followup comment to Sunday's in-depth column about player protection rules, free agency and related topics, one Eastern Conference coach sent this reporter an insightful e-mail about the fact that the status quo is inadequate.

"There is no way for the (foreign) players to know if they are protected or not, released or not, as all the news is released in Japan in Japanese," the coach wrote. "(It's a) very, very unfair system for American players. It's using the system to your advantage even if it hurts players."

And again, it's a reminder that the league needs a legitimate international office with full-time bilingual office staff regularly available to deal with helping import players and their agents.



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