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Saturday, Sep. 3, 2011

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Murray aims for change in Saitama


Staff writer

The Saitama Broncos have been a part of the bj-league's history since the beginning.

News photo
Dean Murray

As one of the league's two charter teams and defectors from the JBL — along with the Niigata Albirex BB — they helped make it possible for the six-team upstart league to get established for the 2005-06 season.

Fast forward to September 2011, as the 19-team bj-league prepares for its seventh season, and that remains the Broncos' biggest accomplishment to date. The team has rowdy, loyal fans, but has missed the playoffs in each of its six seasons and never finished above .500, either.

Veteran American coach Dean Murray, Saitama's fourth head coach in as many seasons, preceded by Bob Nash, Masato Fukushima and David Benoit, wants to transform the team's image: turn it into a winner.

"In speaking to each player on our team, I have expressed the fact that we have a chance to do something that no other team in the history of this franchise has done and that is to make the bj-league playoffs," Murray told The Japan Times. "It would be great if the 2011-2012 Saitama Broncos team could be the first to achieve this."

Murray, who has coaching experience in the NBA Development League, China and South Korea, wants returning point guard Kenny Satterfield coming off a short stint as a temporary rental player with the Osaka Evessa, to be the team's floor general.

"He has the basketball experience and talent level as a player to be the leader of this team, and I think he'll represent our team well in that position," Murray said.

In the early weeks of Murray's time in charge, he has begun teaching his defensive philosophy and offensive concepts to the team's Japanese players before the arrival of the team's imports, which includes former Oita HeatDevils center Gabriel Hughes, ex-Tokyo Apache star John "Helicopter" Humphrey and rookie forward John Flowers, a defensive stalwart out of West Virginia who played in the 2010 NCAA Final Four.

Laying the foundation for the team's lineup has also been a priority. In talks with players, Murray has initiated this process, which he describes by saying, "All our players will eventually know their roles on this team and how each player can help make our team successful."

Murray believes Flowers has a chance to be a breakout star in the bj-league.

"Everyone is really excited to have John Flowers as a member of our team," Murray said. "He is definitely going to bring energy and toughness to this team.

"His size and quickness make him a player that can guard multiple positions on the defensive end. That is going to make him a very valuable and important player to our team and our defensive philosophy.

"If John keeps working hard, and he has a terrific work ethic already, then he has a very good chance to be a successful rookie in the bj-league."

Assembling the pieces: The Chiba Jets play host to the Akita Northern Happinets in the season's first preseason game on Saturday at Funabashi Arena. Tipoff is at 3 p.m.

For Jets coach Eric Gardow, it's a chance to finally see how his brand new squad has progressed since its first practice on Aug. 1.

"My eyes are focused on our preparation and a little toward a benchmark against the new look at Akita, with a successful and a great coach (Kazuo Nakamura)," Gardow said, adding the addition of point guard Michael Gardener is a strong boost for the Happinets. "Maybe that will have some sort of indicator, but I doubt it. No one ever received any trophies for winning or losing a preseason game."

Above all, Gardow's first month at Chiba has been a slow process as the Jets build from scratch. But, hey, you've got to start somewhere.

"No thrills or frills, just working hard on getting to know each other," said Gardow, who coached in Qatar for the past several seasons.

So what's his assessment?

"We have a lot in — a lot more work to do — and because we are a first-year team, I have nothing to base our progress on other than we are working hard, working together. . .," Gardow said.

On Friday, the Jets finalized contracts with veteran center George Leach, who has previously played for the Takamatsu Five Arrows, Ryukyu Golden Kings, Saitama Broncos and Niigata Albirex BB, and guard Maurice Hargrow, a University of Minnesota product.

Desire to return: Guard Jermaine Dixon, who left Japan after the March 11 earthquake, seeks to resume his playing career here this season. Dixon was an integral part of the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix's second championship season.

"I enjoyed my playing time in Japan last season," Dixon wrote in an email. "I loved playing with my team and the fans made it enjoyable to play for."

Dixon said his grandmother's illness last spring was a factor in his decision to leave Japan. He said he regrets leaving, and now wants to make a positive impact again in the bj-league.

"I don't think teams should sleep on me because I can help teams do well in Japan if given the chance," he wrote.

Signings: The expansion Yokohama B-Corsairs have locked up the services of three players for first-year coach Reggie Geary, it was announced this week.

Ex-Wake Forest center Chas McFarland, who played for the NBA Development League's Springfield Armor last season, will be one of the league's tallest players in 2011-12. He is 215 cm.

Joining McFarland in Yokohama are newcomers Justin Burrell, the Big East Conference's Sixth Man of the Year last season for St. John's, and swingman Marcus Simmons, a 23-year-old University of Southern California product.

Summer hoops: AND 1's King of Streetball tour includes games in Japan in mid-September, with stops in Osaka (Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. ) and Tokyo (Sept. 16 and 17 at 7 p.m. and 3 p.m., respectively).

This year's Street Elite II team includes ex-NBA point guard Jason Williams.

A bj-league squad will face Team USA on Sept. 16 at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2. In the other two schedule games, Team Japan Osaka and Team Japan Tokyo, a pair of streetball squads, will face AND 1's assembled talent. The Sept. 17 game will also be played at Yoyogi.

Representing the bj-league are Makoto Hasegawa and Kazuhiro Shoji of the Akita Northern Happinets; Yoshihiro Tachibana, the two-time Slam Dunk Contest champion, and Takehiko Shimura of the Senadi 89ers; Shuhei Komatsu of the Niigata Albirex BB; Yosuke Saito of the Shinshu Brave Warriors; Jun Nakanishi of the Rizing Fukuoka; and Takaki Ishida and Tomoya Nakamura of the Chiba Jets.

From the rumor mill: A league source said the cash-strapped Oita HeatDevils could fold at midseason.

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Do you have a story idea about the bj-league? Send an email to edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp



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