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Friday, Oct. 19, 2012

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Back for more: Ex-Tokyo Apache forward Dameion Baker (right), seen against Hamamatsu in 2009, is returning to the bj-league after a three-season absence. KAZ NAGATSUKA

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Ex-Apache forward Baker poised for return with Broncos


Staff writer

Veteran forward Dameion Baker, who suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon on May 17, 2009, in the championship game at Ariake Colosseum, while playing for the Tokyo Apache and hasn't played a pro game since then, will join the Saitama Broncos in the coming days, a source familiar with the deal told The Japan Times.

Baker will reunite with former Tokyo teammate John "Helicopter" Humphrey on the Broncos.

Humphrey encouraged the Saitama front office to sign the 34-year-old Baker, according to the source.

The team's other foreign players are center Randy Orr and forward Antwan Scott. Orr turns 30 in December and Scott is 33, while Humphrey is 32.

Baker, who has been away from pro basketball for three full seasons, will give the team the oldest contingent of imports in the league.

The new Saitama coach, Tracy Williams, is from North Carolina, Baker's home state.

The 193-cm Baker attended Mount Olive College in North Carolina, and played pro ball in Germany before joining the now-defunct Apache. He played for the club from 2005-09, when Joe Bryant, Kobe's father, was the coach.

Baker's versatility and defensive instincts made him a key player in Bryant's rotation. After suffering the aforementioned injury, he was hospitalized in Tokyo and had surgery two days later. In the weeks that followed, he was involved in a highly publicized dispute with team officials, as chronicled in The Japan Times, about his medical bills.

Then-Apache CEO Manabu Saiki refused to guarantee he would pay for all of Baker's medical bills and physical rehabilitation.

Fast forward to a Hoop Scoop column in January 2010, here's how this reporter described the aftermath of that disgraceful chapter in league history:

"Only after the fact was it learned that the team did not have medical insurance for Baker, and he's told The Japan Times the team weaseled its way out of refunding him for the majority of the money he paid for his physical rehabilitation in North Carolina.

"Initial estimates were $6,000 for Baker's rehab, and the team told The Japan Times it would promise to pay for half of it; in a recent email, however, Baker said the team refunded him only $245 for his $4,500 bill."

It remains to be seen if Baker will apply pressure on the bj-league office to refund the money he said the Apache owe him.

Egregious plan: In case you haven't noticed, changes to the league website this year and its accompanying online service BJTV are no longer providing real time play-by-play for free this season.

All users must register to have a BJTV account and pay for this service, on a daily, monthly or full-season basis. In addition, archived boxscores are not posted online on bj-league.com until the following day. And if you want to view the boxscores on the same day, you must pay to do so.

It's believed that in all other pro leagues, boxscores can be viewed on game day for free.

A hoop insider who has worked closely with pro leagues around the world considers the league's new policy an outrageous mistake.

"This is crazy," the source said. "I can't believe that a league fighting for its life, trying to build credibility and increase its fan base would ever consider such a thing. Obviously, the league is desperate to create new revenue sources, but this? If the bj-league was the NBA, which they are not, they might be able to get away with their ridiculous plan. If you asked NBA press staff or NCAA sports information directors if this was a good plan, 100 percent would say, 'Are you kidding me? This must be a joke.' "

Former Apache and NBA coach Bob Hill was surprised the league adopted this new business strategy.

"I have never heard of charging fans for stats," Hill said. " But . . . it's obviously a way to pick up some extra cash. If the hardcore fan wants the stats to go enjoy a beer or dinner after the game and is willing to pay for it, so be it as long as they aren't trying to rip them off."

The fact that league statistics are not regular published by Japanese wire services gives the league a monopoly to distribute stats and turn it into a paid service.

Weekly accolade: Takamatsu Five Arrows guard Makoto Kita is the Lawson Ponta Weekly MVP, getting the award for his splendid 3-point shooting in a pair of season-opening wins over the Evessa. Kita was 4-for-5 on 3s and scored 12 points on Saturday, with a 4-for-4 effort from beyond the arc in a 14-point outing in the rematch.

Takamatsu has already matched its victory total from the 2011-12 season, when it went 2-50.

Apache alumni update: Former Tokyo Apache assistant coach Casey Hill, who worked under his father Bob, the last Apache bench boss, during the 2010-11 season, is serving as assistant coach for the NBA Development League's Santa Cruz Warriors this season.

The franchise, formerly known as the Dakota Wizards, relocated from Bismark, North Dakota, in the offseason. The team is the Golden State Warriors' D-League affiliate.

"I have been with the Golden State Warriors observing their training camp over the last two weeks," Casey Hill told The Japan Times. "It has been one heck of an experience."

With the Warriors' home base about 110 km away in Oakland, Hill will be able to remain in close contact with former Tokyo big man Jeremy Tyler, who was a Golden State rookie last season under first-year coach Mark Jackson.

"Jeremy is doing a great job entering his second year with them," Hill said. "He has certainly been working hard and developing. I'm looking forward to seeing his hard work pay off for him. It's been fun to be near him. He's doing great."

What are Hill's expectations for his second season in the D-League?

"I'm really looking forward to diving into this next season in the D-League," he said. "Last year could not have been better.

"We made the playoffs and while we didn't win it all, we certainly learned a lot about the league and how to be successful within the structure that they provide for us.

"I am lucky to be joining the same coaching staff that we had in Dakota last year and I feel like our chemistry as a staff and team will reflect our hard work together last year."

Nate Bjorkgren, who led Dakota last season, is the Santa Cruz head coach.

Former NBA and Apache center Robert Swift, meanwhile, is in Seattle "working on getting himself back into shape after taking the season off last year," Hill said.

Upcoming games: The Oita HeatDevils, one of the league's original six teams, take on the Kyoto Hannaryz in a Friday-Saturday series.

The rest of the weekend's action begins a day later: Iwate Big Bulls vs. Chiba Jets, Akita Northern Happinets vs. Gunma Crane Thunders, Niigata Albirex BB vs. Tokyo Cinq Reves, Toyama Grouses vs. Sendai 89ers, Shinshu Brave Warriors vs. Saitama Broncos, Shiga Lakestars vs. Osaka Evessa, Shimane Susanoo Magic vs. Miyazaki Shining Suns, Takamatsu Five Arrows vs. Ryukyu Golden Kings, and Rizing Fukuoka vs. Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix.

Who's hot: Iwate is 4-0, reaching that win total before any other team in the league. . . . Yokohama captain Masayuki Kabaya scored 24 and 21 points in the second-year franchise's season-opening weekend. He was 7-for-12 from 3-point range in the opener and 5-for-10 from beyond the arc in the rematch. He had 15 assist against two turnovers in the series. He's currently the league's third-leading scorer at 22.5 points per game. . . .

B-Corsairs guard Draelon Burns dished out 19 assists with four turnovers in the series, while notching a triple-double (12 points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists) in the finale.

Shinshu big man Wayne Marshall, a Temple University product who starred for the Evessa the past two seasons, had a 31-point, 13-rebound effort in his Brave Warriors debut and a 15-point, eight-rebound, three-block encore on Sunday against Gunma, helping the visitors earn a sweep. . . .

Akita forward Yuki Kikuchi canned 9 of 18 3s over the weekend against Toyama.

Who's not: The Broncos were outscored by 38 points in their season-opening series, losing by 21 and 17 points to the B-Corsairs at home. Saitama's Randy Orr shot 2-for-15 from 3-point range in the series. . . . The expansion Crane Thunders (0-4) are shooting 60.5 percent from the free-throw line. . . .

Sendai, which has a new cast of import players — Karron Clarke, Sam Willard, Sam Coleman and Kevin Coble — is 1-3, with its defeats by two points in one game and a four-point margin in two other contests. 89ers coach Bob Pierce said, "All the games have come down to the wire in regulation. And we've had the lead late in all four. We haven't responded well to having to make big plays under pressure."

Coach's perspective: The Lakestars opened the season with a two-point loss to the Shining Suns, followed by a 22-point victory. The weekend provided the first of 26 measuring sticks — that is, series — for Shiga coach Al Westover's team.

"We were a mixture on the weekend," Westover said Tuesday. "We started slowly, but improved as we went along. They played great, and shot extremely well in the first game, where we seemed a bit nervous, but in the second game we were more aggressive and controlled the game.

"We didn't have a great player, but all of my imports were solid, and in particular Wayne Arnold was very impressive — especially since he just recently joined us. Of my Japanese, Shinya (Ogawa) played very well, and Wara (Takamichi Fujiwara) was next best. Tera (Daiki Terashita), (Jumpei) Honda, and (Yutaka) Yokoe all had their moments, and we missed Jumpei (Nakama), who was our best Japanese player in the pre-season, who missed (the series) due to illness.

"It's a starting point, and we'll look to build on it."

Satisfied leader: With two victories in the books to open the season, the B-Corsairs began the regular season the way they ended the 2011-12 regular season, with a winning streak.

"I thought the team played well for stretches of this weekend's games," Yokohama coach Reggie Geary said Tuesday, analyzing his team's performance. "We felt we would have more scorers/shooters on the floor for longer stretches of time then last season, and early signs are that appears to be true. Defensively we still need to do more as a group if we're going to be a factor in this league.

"Draelon Burns (triple-double last game) and Kabaya (22.0 ppg average through the first two games) have been very good, and Thomas Kennedy is becoming more comfortable with his new role.

"Our post players, Pape Faye (Mour) and Paul Butorac, have shown the ability to perform well but will have to continue to improve for us as the competition gets better. Kenji Yamada at the point guard position was very good running the team this first weekend, and we got good contributions off the bench from Seiji Kono and Satoshi Hisayama.

"All in all were happy to be off to an 2-0 start, but realize we still have work to do to put together a solid 40-minute performance."

Feedback from Toyama: Coming off a pair of losses against the Happinets, Grouses coach Bob Nash's team is now 2-2 on the young season, and he said: "We still have some work to do on both ends of the floor.

"We played very well in short periods of time, but our defense intensity needs to improve from 15 minutes to 40 minutes a game," Nash added. "I feel confident that it will get better as we understand our rules and slides better. Akita did a great job of forcing us into running our offense outside of the operational areas. The game video is a great teaching aid and will help us in future games."

Nash enjoyed watching his team play before the spirited crowds in Akita.

"The atmosphere in the Akita game rivals any major college basketball game in the U.S.," said Nash, the longtime University of Hawaii assistant-turned head coach.

"I don't like to single out any of my players, because we are trying to create a culture of TEAM first, but (Masashi) Joho showed why he is regarded as one of the top players in the bj-league. He led us in scoring in both games and showed good leadership on the court and in the locker room.

"We view this season as a marathon and not a sprint race, so we are working hard this week to improve in all areas."

Home venues: According to the league's official guide book, 141 arenas will be used by the league's 21 teams this season, including a league-high 12 for Gunma's 26 home games. Miyazaki, Saitama and Takamatsu have the fewest home venues (four apiece).

The rumor mill: High-scoring guard Maurice Hargrow, who played for Chiba last season, will join the Happinets, according to a source.

By the numbers: There are 45 game officials in the league this season, an increase of nine from the 2011-12 campaign.

Keep an eye on ... Luke Zeller: The former Notre Dame big man is in the Phoenix Suns preseason camp attempting to earn a roster spot. The 211-cm Zeller was an undrafted rookie when he joined the Shiga Lakestars in 2009.

He appeared in one preseason game for the San Antonio Spurs last season before playing in the NBA Development League.

Can Zeller make Phoenix's opening day roster?

"They have 17 names on that roster," Pierce said of the Suns, "and who knows how many of those are guaranteed. Looks like a long shot. But he's been hanging in there with the Spurs, now the Suns. . . . Some of these teams just need the bodies to let some key players rest in the pre-season."

A revealing statistic: In Ryukyu star Jeff Newton's 300 regular-season games since the league's inception in 2005 entering this season, he was whistled for 530 personal fouls. It's a very low number that indicates that despite his aggressive defense Newton knows how to play effectively without getting into foul trouble.

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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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