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Friday, Sep. 14, 2012

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Ex-referee says bj-league made wrong call with Yuzuki


Staff writer

Kunio Kurata, the bj-league's director of officials since its establishment in 2005, has quietly retired. That shouldn't come as a big surprise; after all, the Shizuoka Prefecture native will turn 61 on Nov. 27, so he reached the mandatory retirement age early in the 2011-12 season.

News photo
Vocal critic: Former bj-league referee Tim Greene thinks the league needs to improve its officiating department. YOSHIAKI MIURA

The league has kept a low profile this summer, not releasing much news except for the usual flurry of personnel announcements for teams. League matters rarely get mentioned in the league's news releases, and Kurata's departure has not been widely publicized, nor has it been officially announced.

Veteran referee Tomoo Yuzuki has been named Kurata's successor, multiple sources confirmed on Wednesday.

Tim Greene, the most prominent referee in league history, is convinced Yuzuki will be in over his head.

"I think Tomoo will just be a face piece. His knowledge to make other officials (accountable) is very limited," Greene wrote in an email to The Japan Times.

Greene, a 20-year U.S. Navy veteran, retired from the military to pursue a full-time officiating career in 2009 in the United States. He has primarily handled Division I college, WNBA and NBA Development League assignments, and also served as a replacement official during the NBA referees lockout in 2009 .

The basic structure of the bj-league's officiating department is flawed, Greene believes, and the overall operation needs to be overhauled, in his view.

"It was always a struggle to get them to understand how to get the referee department going in the right direction as far as getting the refs better," Greene wrote.

The league's most recognized Japanese officials, Atsuhiro "Ash" Ueda and Norihito "Gonzo" Okawara, both of whom have worked in the bj-league since 2005 and also in summer basketball leagues in the United States, are not suitable replacements for Kurata, either, Greene insisted.

"Neither Ueda nor Gonzo can handle it," Greene told The Japan Times. "First, Ueda has a hidden agenda, and Gonzo is not capable of holding down that position."

Another league insider summed up the change in leadership this way: "Yuzuki is a good guy. I think he won't be as visible as Kurata. (He'll be) setting policy behind the scenes, which is better."

Greene, meanwhile, advocated the promotion of American David Law, a well-respected referee who has been in the league since day one. The 21-team league has zero foreign staff members in its office, though, despite having dozens of foreign players (there were more than 80 in uniform at the start of last season) and eight foreign head coaches.

"A great person would be Dave (for the position)," Greene wrote. "He made me the ref I am today and still helps. I wouldn't be where I am today without him. His leadership skills are great and (his) knowledge is also great."

He added: "What's also funny is that the league has never reached out to me for new direction when it came to refereeing, even though I am around the best training — (the) NBA."

This season, Greene, a Philadelphia native, will continue pursuing his dream of reaching the NBA as he works in the D-League as well as collegiate contests in the Atlantic 10 Conference, the Patriot League and the Ivy League.

Keeping quiet: After last season's mad scramble in March to institute drug testing and save face in the wake of longtime Osaka Evessa star Lynn Washington's arrest on suspicion of smuggling drugs into Japan (he was exonerated of all charges), one would expect the league to be aggressive in promoting its perceived commitment to testing players.

Routine drug testing never took place during the league's first six seasons, even though the official player contract stated drug testing was mandatory. Some sponsors canceled their deals with the league and games were dropped from TV last spring in the aftermath of the league's mismanaged drug testing.

And yet, even now, less than a month before the 2012-13 season opener, there's no detailed plan in place for all concerned parties to see, nor has that message been conveyed to all league and team personnel, according to one longtime bj-league coach.

The coach also said he'd been kept out of the loop about Kurata's retirement.

"I know nothing," the coach said Wednesday. "Drug testing, referees, I haven't heard either one ever mentioned."

Shimane Susanoo Magic coach Zeljko Pavlicevic, however, said he knows mandatory drug testing will be in place, but didn't provide specific details.

Coming up: The first Seiki Cup will be held this three-day weekend in Shiga Prefecture.

On Saturday, the Kyoto Hannaryz take on the Osaka Evessa, followed by the Shiga Lakestars vs. the Hamamatsu Higashimikaw Phoenix.

Sunday's slate of Seiki Cup games: Kyoto vs. Hamamatsu and Shiga vs. Osaka.

Also Saturday, Tracy Williams makes his debut as the Saitama Broncos' fifth head coach in as many seasons, when they take on the Tokyo Cinq Reves, playing their first-ever preseason contest, in Iruma, Saitama Prefecture. The Miyazaki Shining Suns, meanwhile, are preparing to take on a Kagoshima Prefecture select squad on the same day.

Also Sunday, the expansion Gunma Crane Thunders will make have their first preseason game squaring off against the host Niigata Albirex BB. The Toyama Grouses will face the Shinshu Brave Warriors.

Monday's schedule is as follows: Saitama vs. Tokyo in Hanno, Saitama Prefecture, where for the past two years the Broncos have turned back the clock and used a non-electric scoreboard, having the numbers turned by hand; and in the final day of the Seiki Cup, it's Hamamatsu vs. Osaka and Kyoto vs. Shiga.

The defending champion Ryukyu Golden Kings' first games under ex-Miyazaki coach Koto Toyama are slated for Sept. 18-19 against the Akita Norther Happinets in Okinawa.

More preseason action: The Yokohama B-Corsairs, coming off a third-place finish in the Final Four as an expansion team, will represent Japan in the four-nation ABA Championship on Sept. 24-28 in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Other participating teams are Taiwan's Pure-Youth Construction, South Korea's Changwon LG Sakers and China's Guandong Southern Tigers.

In the paint: Shiga Lakestars forward Ray Nixon was mildly amused by his new team-issued No. 0 jersey having his name misspelled as Nixson. On Facebook, Nixon wrote, "Two years with the same team and they spell my name wrong on the jersey. . . . Someone fix this before the first game." . . .

Former Marquette University forward Dan Fitzgerald, who paced the Sendai 89ers with 18.9 points per game last season, has joined the Buenos Aires-based Obras Sanitarias in Argentina's LigaA. Fitzgerald canned 146 3-pointers for the 89ers last season, shooting nearly 50 percent from beyond the arc.

For a team that was completely starting from scratch after the March 11 disasters, Fitzgerald was hard-working fan favorite in his one season for the Tohoku club.

Ticked off: The B-Corsairs were scheduled to play Dongbu Promy, on Thursday, but Yokohama received a last-minute cancelation notice — 24 hours before the game — from the visiting KBL squad.

A B-Corsairs official lashed out at Dongbu Promy for doing this.

"(It was) very disrespectful and unprofessional, in my opinion, since we turned down a game for this week and moved the date to oblige them," the team source said.

"Their reasoning was unacceptable and completely disrespectful to our organization and league."

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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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