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Friday, June 17, 2011

Iwate makes Itakura No. 1 pick in bj-league expansion draft

Staff writer

Four bj-league expansion teams took small steps in laying the foundation for their inaugural 2011-12 season on Thursday as the league's annual draft was held in Tokyo.

News photo
An era begins: Yokohama B-Corsairs guard Kenji Yamada (right) and Toshimitsu Kawachi, the bj-league commissioner, share the spotlight during the league's annual draft on Thursday in Tokyo. Yamada, was chosen No. 1 in the rookie draft. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

All told, 27 players were selected in the expansion, rookie and development drafts.

The Iwate Big Bulls made ex-JBL and Tokyo Apache forward Reina Itakura the No. 1 pick in the expansion draft. The Tokyo native appeared in 31 games (296 total minutes) for the Apache in 2010-11, his second season with the club. Itakura, 30, attended Hosei University before moving on to the JBL.

With the No. 2 pick, the Chiba Jets, meanwhile selected 29-year-old shooting guard Hiroki Sato, who averaged 6.3 points in 48 games (28 starts) for the Oita HeatDevils. The Chiba Prefecture native played for the HeatDevils since 2005. He averaged a career-high 5.1 points in 2008-09.

The third selection went to the Shinshu Brave Warriors, who picked up former Niigata Albirex BB point guard Takato Saito, who played in 40 games (16 starts) for ex-coach Masaya Hirose's team. Saito, 26, hails from Niigata Prefecture and calls Nihon University his alma mater. He showed good poise at the point last season, chalking up 71 assists against 25 turnovers.

The Yokohama B-Corsairs, the other expansion club, decided against choosing a player in the expansion. Instead, the B-Corsairs made picks in the subsequent drafts.

Chiba, on the other hand, picked ex-Apache guard Kensuke Tanaka as the lone athlete taken in the expansion draft's second round. Tanaka, 26, won the league's Most Improve Player award last season, becoming a Tokyo starter in January until the season's end. He averaged 6.6 ppg playing for ex-NBA bench boss Bob Hill, including back-to-back 21-point games and consecutive 18-point contests. In 2009-10, he was a practice player for the Apache, but has raised his profile in becoming one of the league's most exciting Japanese players.

In the rookie draft, the B-Corsairs made 180-cm guard Kenji Yamada, who played in 19 games for the JBL's Link Tochigi Brex last season, the No. 1 pick. A native of Kanagawa Prefecture, the 27-year-old played college ball at Hosei University.

Iwate, picking second, chose former Toyota Motors Alvark forward Hayato Kantake. The 24-year-old Fukuoka native attended Takushoku University. The 194-cm forward played sparingly for Toyota last season, appearing in six games and averaging 0.3 ppg.

Shinshu took 195-cm forward Akitomo Matsuyama with the third pick. The Tokai University product, 27, last suited up for the JBL2's Renova Kagoshima.

The Jets, who hired American Eric Gardow as coach earlier this week, selected forward Takaki Ishida, a former Keio University player, No. 4. Ishida, 28, achieved fame as shooting guard Hiroaki Saga on the Fuji TV drama "Buzzer Beat," broadcast in 2009.

In a draft day trade, the Shiga Lakestars acquired the Takamatsu Five Arrows' No. 5 pick, which went to select 22-year-old forward Jumpei Honda, who attended Tokyo Seitoku University. The 190-cm player is from Toyama Prefecture.

The Toyama Grouses, HeatDevils and Saitama Broncos then passed up their draft spots in order, meaning the sixth pick went to the Shimane Susanoo Magic, who called out Takumi Ishizaki's name in the draft room. The Japan national team point guard, who donned a Japan jersey this week at the FIBA East Asian Games, starred for the Magic during their first season, but is considering playing ball in Europe next season.

Juntendo University product and 197-cm forward Shingo Miyagi went to the Lakestars as the No. 7 pick. The Rizing Fukuoka and Sendai 89ers, slated to make picks to close the first round, declined to do so.

In the second round, Yokohama picked 200-cm Senegalese center Faye Pape Mur, who starred at Kanto Gakuin University. Known for his scoring and rebounding prowess, he was a major contributor for his college team at both ends of the court.

Guard Yoshiaki Yamamoto, 28, went to the Big Bulls at No. 9, joining his home prefecture's team. He most recently played for club team Legend. At No. 10, the Kyoto Hannaryz selected 24-year-old guard Hikaru Sasaki, who has played club ball in recent months.

Six teams passed up their second-round drafting opportunities: Shinshu, Chiba, Takamatsu, Miyazaki, Shimane and Shiga.

Only two picks were made in the third round — teams often use individual workouts to shore up their rosters — with ex-Hitachi Sunrockers forward Tetsuya Yamada, 31, going to the B-Corsairs and the 12th and final rookie draft pick, Tasuku Namizato, getting chosen by Iwate. Namizato, a 24-year-old Okinawan, has JBL2 experience with Renova.

Ex-Apache guard Jonathan Inoue, 24-year-old Tokyo native, was among the 11 players taken in the development. He was taken fifth by the Shining Suns.

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