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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

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New opportunity: Toshimitsu Kawachi, the bj-league commissioner, stands with new draft selections on Tuesday during the annual draft in Tokyo. YOSHIAKI MIURA

Gunma selects forward Sugasawa with No.1 pick in bj-league draft

Staff writer

A pair of bj-league franchises took the first step toward building their rosters for the 2012-13 season during Tuesday's draft day event in Tokyo.

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Ready for action: Tokyo Cinq Reves center Akihito Inoue (center), the second overall pick in Tuesday's bj-league draft, will provide leadership for coach Motofumi Aoki (right) and CEO Hiroyuki Harashima's club in its inaugural season in 2012-13. YOSHIAKI MIURA

In the rookie draft, the Gunma Crane Thunders got the festivities under way by making former TGI D-Rise forward Noriyuki Sugasawa the No.1 pick. The JBL2 product turned 25 in February while suiting up for the team that serves as a developmental squad for Tochigi, Gunma and Ibaraki prefectures for the JBL's Link Tochigi Brex.

The Crane Thunders, led by bench boss Tadashi Hayashi, also picked up 24-year-old guard Tatsuhiko Toshin, a 185-product of Osaka University of Commerce, in the second round.

The Tokyo Cinq Reves, meanwhile, scooped up 27-year-old veteran Akihito Inoue, a well-traveled JBL big man who has played for OSG Phoenix, Toyota Motors Alvark, Hitachi Sunrockers and Levanga Hokkaido. Inoue, a former Japan U-23 national team member, has solid perimeter shooting skills. Coach Motofumi Aoki will have the task of utilizing Inoue's skills within his NBA-style offense.

"It looks like he's finally run out of destinations in the JBL," a bj-league insider said of the Tokai University alum.

The Cinq Reves opted to not draft a player in the second, a common procedure in the bj-league. Many players are signed by teams after individual tryouts, a cost-cutting move that diminishes the importance of the drafting system.

Meanwhile, in the second round, the Takatmatsu Five Arrows, who went 2-50 last season, drafted 185-cm guard Yukio Kishimoto, who previously played at Meiji University. The 22-year-old hails from Okinawa.

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Laying the foundation: Gunma Crane Thunders forward Noriyuki Sugasawa (center), picked No.1 overall in Tuesday's bj-league draft, will be a major piece of the puzzle for coach Tadashi Hayashi (right) and general manager Yasufumi Tanabe's club next season. YOSHIAKI MIURA

The Kanto area's 2010-11 expansion clubs — Chiba Jets and Yokohama B-Corsairs — didn't select any players in the rookie draft. The Iwate Big Bulls, now led by two-time, title-winning coach Dai Oketani (formerly the Ryukyu Golden Kings sideline supervisor), also chose this option, as did several other clubs.

The Miyazaki Shining Suns, whose former coach, Koto Toyama, was named Ryukyu's new coach last week, selected guard Yuya Otsuka, a 173-cm, who attended Kogakuin University High School, in the opening round. He turns 21 on July 7. They also picked 22-year-old guard Kazuki Shigenaga (Tokai University). In the third round, guard Seiji Kawano was Miyazaki's pick. The 171-cm guard attended Kanto Gakuin University and spent time as a B-Corsairs trainee player, but not as a part of the active roster, this past season.

In other first-round moves, the Toyama Grouses chose forward Kenji Fujie (Hakuoh University). The 25-year-old stands 184 cm tall.

The Akita Northern Happinets relinquished their first-round draft rights, but selected 22-year-old guard Samuel Junior Sawaji (Gordon College in Georgia) in the second.

Other picks included the following: 30-year-old guard Yuta Miyanaga, formerly of the JBL's Toshiba Brave Thunders (36 games, 3.3 points per game last season, according to asia-basket.com) by the Niigata Albirex BB in the first round; and guards Shun Watanuki (JBL2's Ishikawa Blue Sparks) and Takuya Hashimoto, 17, who played for the Osaka Evessa basketball school, in the first and second rounds, respectively, by the Evessa.

"Miyanaga from Toshiba is a very good player who should help whoever he goes to," a hoop analyst told The Japan Times. "He's similar to (Toyama All-Star Masashi) Joho in size and strength. Joho is a better shooter though."

Elsewhere, the Kyoto Hannaryz chose guard 183-cm guard Masaharu Kataoka, formerly of Link Tochigi, in the first round. The 26-year-old averaged 5.2 ppg and drained 83.7 percent of his free throws in 39 games last season.

Said a league insider: "Kataoka from Tochigi is a good player but he was apparently tired of playing second fiddle — or third fiddle, actually — to (perennial JBL scoring champion Takuya) Kawamura and (Yuta) Tabuse at Tochigi."

Timothy Ueshima, a former UCLA student, was selected by the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix in the first round. The 25-year-old hails from Shizuoka Prefecture.

The champion Golden Kings called guard Narito Namizato's name to close out the 21-team draft's first round. Namizato, 22, was the top rising star among backcourt players this season and averaged 11.0 points and 4.2 assists for the Western Conference power. He's expected to pursue playing opportunities overseas as he chases his dream to play in the NBA someday.

The expansion draft, consisting of players left unprotected by other bj-league teams, gave Tokyo a trio of players with ample experience: guard Takuro Ito, who averaged 8.1 ppg for the Shining Suns last season; shooting guard Makoto Kato, who had 33 appearances for the Grouses and guard Hirohisa Takada, who played 31 games for the Osaka Evessa. Of the three, Takada had entered the 2011-12 season with the most games under his belt in the bj-league with 96.

Also in the expansion draft, the Crane Thunders chose guard Kenya Tomori, who suited up for the Phoenix for the past two seasons after spells with Toyama and Ryukyu. Tomori averaged 3.2 ppg in 52 games (44 starts). Gunma also picked guard Keishiro Tsutsumi, who averaged 4.2 ppg for the Five Arrows in 2011-12.

Rookie draft order: 1. Gunma; 2. Tokyo; 3. Takamatsu; 4. Saitama; 5. Chiba; 6. Shinshu; 7. Iwate; 8. Miyazaki; 9. Oita; 10. Sendai; 11. Toyama; 12. Akita; 13. Shimane; 14. Niigata; 15. Fukuoka; 16. Shiga; 17. Osaka; 18. Kyoto; 19. Yokohama; 20. Hamamatsu; 21. Ryukyu.

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