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Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Takushi signs on with Albirex


Staff writer

Naoto Takushi, considered one of the top Japanese point guards since the bj-league was established, will play for his third team in as many seasons in 2010-11.

Takushi will suit up for the Eastern Conference's Niigata Albirex BB, the team announced on Thursday.

Takushi, who began the 2009-10 season as the Kyoto Hannaryz captain, will also be playing for his fifth coach in the league.

He played under Hernando Planells in the Ryukyu Golden Kings' inaugural season (2007-08), then suited up for the Dai Oketani-led championship club in 2008-09 before moving on to Kyoto to play for then-coach David Benoit in the club's first season last fall, and then Kazuto Aono, who replaced Benoit last spring before being offered the job on a full-time basis after the season.

A member of two Best Five squads (2007-08 and 2008-09), Takushi turns 29 on Oct. 13. He'll be counted on to provide veteran leadership in the backcourt for Niigata, which lost point guards Makoto Hasegawa and Akitomo Takeno to the Akita Northern Happinets and Rizing Fukuoka, respectively, during the offseason.

Takushi played for the JBL's Aisin Seahorses before moving on to the bj-league.

Despite his all-around skills, many league insiders feel Takushi has a questionable work ethic, effectively not bothering to hustle or playing lethargically for long stretches of time.

Sources say he had a negative influence in the Ryukyu locker room and was seen as a divisive figure during his short stint with the Hannaryz, which included having an underhanded role in getting Benoit axed in April.

Now, it remains to be seen if Takushi will have a positive role for Albirex coach Masaya Hirose's team, which is coming off a Final Four appearance.

Blockbuster announcement: Do-it-all All-Star Wendell White, the 2009-10 league MVP, will play for the Hannaryz this season.

White, a UNLV product, teamed up with Billy Knight — the "White-Knight Show" — to lead the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix to their first bj-league championship last season. Now, neither player is back with the team; Knight currently plays for the Osaka Evessa.

White, who turned 26 last month, averaged 22.2 points, 3.9 assists and 2.0 steals last season, finishing among the league's top 10 in all three statistical categories. Also, he averaged 9.2 rebounds per game.

Around the league: High-energy forward Gordon James, a two-time bj-league rebounding champion, was on the verge of signing a contract to play for the Sendai 89ers, a league insider told The Japan Times earlier this week. But, on Friday, a deal now appears unlikely, the source added.

James played for the Saitama Broncos (2006-08) and the Takamatsu Five Arrows (2008-09) before moving on to a Uruguayan squad last season.

A fan favorite throughout Japan, James would've bolstered the team's already solid lineup, which includes All-Star center Chris Holm, the league's top rebounder in 2009-10, steady guard Kenichi Takahashi and Mike Bell, one of the league's top 10 scorers and rebounders last season.

In other high-profile player news, big man Jeffrey Price, who helped the Rizing Fukuoka reach the playoff semifinals in their inaugural season in 2007-08, will rejoin the Takamatsu Five Arrows, the source said.

Price was a late-season pickup for the Five Arrows last season. He has also played for the Oita HeatDevils, enduring the misery of an 8-44 season in 2008-09.

New additions: The Shimane Susanoo Magic have signed three more imports: center Jeral Davis, guard Forrest Ray Fisher III and forward Reggie Golson.

The well-traveled Davis, 26, played one season at Daytona Beach (Fla.), then suited up for two more schools before wrapping up his collegiate career at Talladega (Ala.) College.

The 216-cm Davis averaged 7.15 blocks per game during his one season at Talladega, an NAIA school. He played for the Vermont Frost Heaves, a U.S. minor league club that has developed a pipeline for the bj-league, in 2009-10 and averaged 22.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.6 blocks in 22 games for Tijuana's Mexican League club last season.

Fisher, who spent time in the U.S. Marines from 2004-07, hails from Cleburne, Texas. His college career included stints at Hill College in Hillsboro, Texas, where he spent one season and another semester at John Brown (Ark.) University in 2001-02.

Golson, a Southeast Missouri State product, has collected paychecks in a number of locales, including France, Australia, Germany and Finland. He's had some of his finest success in Australia. He averaged a career-best 28.3 points in 21 games in 2008-09 while playing for the Rockhampton Rockets.

In a story posted on the Queensland Basketball League's website, he is referred to as an "excitement machine."

The Akita Northern Happinets, meanwhile, finalized a deal with center Paul Butorac, who played the previous two seasons with the Albirex.

The Miyazaki Shining Suns have signed Jackie Manuel, a 27-year-old veteran of 166 NBA Development League contests, according to NBA.com. The 198-cm swingman, considered a defensive specialist, was a tri-captain on the University of North Carolina's 2005 NCAA championship team.

He played 126 games (85 starts) for the Tar Heels, a perennial powerhouse in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Recent games: The preseason slate of games has started picking up steam, with several more in the books. The Sendai 89ers topped the Saitama Broncos 84-82 on Saturday.

Also on Sept. 23, the Kyoto Hannaryz outscored the Osaka Evessa 27-10 in the fourth quarter en route to a 74-69 win, spoiling rookie bench boss Ryan Blackwell's coaching debut.

For Kyoto, newcomer Kibwe Trim, a center/power forward, had 21 points and sharpshooter Naoto Nakamura, whose playing time diminished greatly last season with Osaka, added 12 points.

It's this reporter's expectation that Nakamura will average double figures in scoring this season, getting many good looks on the perimeter while defenders focus on stopping Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.

On Sunday, the Toyama Grouses edged Niigata 74-72.

Fifth annual bj-league/KBL Championship Games: Hamamatsu earned a series triumph over reigning Korean Basketball League champion Ulsan Mobis Phoebus based on point differential.

The Korean squad won the second game, 79-69 on Sept. 25 after dropping the opener 80-66. Both games were played in Japan unlike in previous seasons when the series featured a home-and-home format.

Upcoming games: The Ryukyu Golden Kings play host to the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix on Saturday and Sunday in Okinawa in preseason action. The Albirex take on the visiting Shiga Lakestars on Sunday.

Name the team: The Chiba Prefecture expansion team, set to join the league for the 2011-12 season, has narrowed its choice of proposed team nicknames to five: Chiba Sharks, Chiba Jets, Chiba Blue Oceans, Chiba Eight Dogs and Chiba Cerberus.

Fans can vote for the team's nickname by visiting its website until Sunday.

Here's the link: papipo.jp/chiba-basketball3/

Expanded coverage: Visit The Japan Times' website for preview stories about the upcoming season, including archived features on new Shimane coach Zeljko Pavlicevic, new Apache coach Bob Hill and new Miyazaki coach Koto Toyama, as well as a father-son profile of Bob and Bobby Nash of the Broncos.

(Look for analysis of both conferences and various predictions in the print edition before the season commences in two weeks.)

Closing commentary: Now entering its sixth season, the bj-league's growing list of players who've suited up for three (or more) teams is expanding rapidly.

This makes it rather difficult to keep track of who's who.

And that's never a good thing.

As more than a few scribes have said over the years, "You can't keep track of the players without a scorecard."

So, it's worth repeating, this undeniable fact: The league should make changes to its players' contractual structure and immediately establish a system that includes multiyear deals. Single-season contracts should be one option, but not the only one.

* * * * *

Do you have a story idea about the bj-league?

Contact Ed Odeven at: edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp



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