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Friday, March 2, 2012

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Aomori's entry delayed a year by lack of sponsorship


Staff writer

By delaying its entry into the bj-league by a year, the Aomori expansion franchise will have more time to get its financial house in order. At least that's the basic assumption one has after last Friday's announcement made official what had been expected for several months.

News photo
Catalyst: The strong play of Jermaine Dixon has Hamamatsu in first place in the Eastern Conference. HIROKO IWASA

One wonders, however, if the Aomori group's lack of sponsors now is a warning sign that the league selected a bad market to add another team.

Time will tell if the northern Tohoku city will be a thriving market or one of many in the league with struggling franchises, including Takamatsu, Oita, Miyazaki and Fukuoka.

In an interview with The Japan Times on Tuesday, bj-league spokesman Akihiro Ejima said he couldn't give a definitive answer about whether the league or the Aomori team had a bigger say in the decision to delay its inaugural season until 2013-14.

"I can't say clearly which side made that decision," Ejima stated. "The idea of delaying came out during the mutual discussions on preparation for entering the league. The reason is Aomori couldn't get enough sponsorship as planned to get in the league. We reached the conclusion that we should wait until Aomori gets enough financial stability."

Asked if this decision, from a financial standpoint, is a good precedent for future new franchises before joining the league, Ejima responded by saying, "The bj-league always checks each possible expansion team's entry plan and hopes each has good enough stability financially. That policy will never change."

So the next year becomes critical for the franchise, which was to be one of three to join the league for the 2012-13 season along with a new Tokyo club and the Gunma CraneThunders, to improve its financial status in order to field a team. Or as Ejima stated, "Aomori has to make a stable financial plan over the year."

The reported fee for new clubs to enter the league is now around $215,000. Having enough cash to properly market and run a team requires long-term planning, not just the initial start-up fees needed to join the league, which currently has 19 clubs.

"We can't say there is no negative effects for now because people had expected its entry this season," Ejima said of the Aomori group. "But, at the same time, Aomori and (the league) have earned an extra year to promote the team more. Aomori should make the best of it and we'll support them."

League honors: Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix guard Jermaine Dixon, whose older brother Juan played in the NBA for several seasons, is the Lawson/Ponta Player of the Week.

Dixon had 25 points, including 11-for-13 at the charity stripe, and seven assists in a 15-point win over the Osaka Evessa on Saturday. A day later, Dixon had 26 points, eight assists and four steals as the two-time defending champion Phoenix defeated the Evessa 89-81.

With Dixon capably running the point, the Phoenix are once again a well-oiled machine. Hamamatsu (24-12) sitting in first place in the Eastern Conference, sporting identical 12-6 records at home and away.

What's more, rookie head coach Ryuji Kawai's club is 3-1 against the Western Conference's top two clubs, the Ryukyu Golden Kings (1-1 record) and Osaka (2-0).

The Phoenix are shooting 72 percent on free-throw attempts, and have a plus-107 turnover margin, solid numbers in any league. A reminder the team has the experience and consistency to contend for another title.

Meanwhile, Toyama Grouses guard Masashi Joho is the league's February MVP, it was also announced.

Joho, played all but one minute in his team's eight February games, leading Toyama to a 6-2 record. The backcourt leader averaged 18.4 points per game in the month, when Kazuaki Shimoji's team climbed into third place in the East.

Joho scored at least 14 points in every February game, including a 22-point effort and 5-for-9 on 3s on Feb. 15 and a 26-point performance on Feb. 26.

Few players in the league have generated as much excitement for fans than Joho since the upstart circuit began in 2005. Playing for the Evessa, the Tokyo Apache and the Shiga Lakestars before moving to Toyama in the offseason, Joho's infectious enthusiasm and hustle have been key factors for all of his teams' successes.

Upcoming games: This weekend's schedule matchups are Akita vs. Fukuoka, Toyama vs. Saitama, Hamamatsu vs. Kyoto, Osaka vs. Yokohama, Oita vs. Sendai, Miyazaki vs. Iwate, Takamatsu vs. Niigata, Ryukyu vs. Shimane and Chiba vs. Shinshu.

Around the league: A major blunder was made by game officials on
Sunday in the Oita HeatDevils' 80-73 victory over the visiting Shimane
Susanoo Magic, according to an astute hoop observer.

"Officials blew it at the end of the game Sunday," the league insider
told The Japan Times after watching game footage. "(Oita's) Naoto
Takushi missed his first free throw with the score 75-71 and 0:57 on
the clock. The second free throw was hanging on the rim, and (Oita's)
T.J. Cummings hit the net, going for the possible offensive rebound,
shaking the basket as the ball went in. It should have been
goaltending and the shot disallowed."

So, instead of a four-point deficit after Takushi's controversial
make, the Magic trailed by five, making it a two-possession game. ...

NHK will feature a Saturday morning documentary segment (11:30 to
11:53) on Akita coach Kazuo Nakamura and the Northern Happinets,
highlighting the team's ups and downs this season under the inimitable
71-year-old bench boss. The feature will be aired on the "Mokugeki"
program.



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