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BJL getting set for its 2010-2011 campaign

Date Posted: 2010-07-08

While eyes of the sports world are on World Cup soccer, or football as its more commonly known everywhere except the United States, the Basketball Japan League is methodically readying for the opening of its 2010-2011 season in just a couple months.

Top level changes have been in the making with the Tokyo Apache, which had a dismal season 2009-2010, with an ex-NFL fullback being chosen as the team’s new president. Chris Hetherington, who played for the Indianapolis Colts, Caroline Panthers, St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers takes the helm of the Apache, which managed to eek out only a 22-30 season.

The 37-year-old Hetherington, after retiring from the National Football League in 2006, headed into a second career with Evolution Capital Management, a global investment firm that bought the Apache only a few weeks ago. In hopes of turning around the team’s fortunes, the Apache are now in the process of finalizing a deal with Bob Hill, who’s coached the NBA’s New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs and Seattle SuperSonics. The 62-year-old Hill’s overall NBA coaching record is 257-212.

The Apaches’ senior management house cleaning extended to the general manager position, where Conor Neu took the position weeks ago.

The Oita HeatDevils also hired a new coach in hoping to turn its fortunes around. L.J. Hepp, who played at the University of North Carolina, has been working in high school and NCAA programs. His mission’s to better the 25-27 record last season that led to coach Brian Rowsom’s release.

A former Ryukyu Golden Kings coach, Hernando Planells, has passed along good words about a Golden Kings player on the league’s 2008-2009 championship team. During an NBA Development League national tryout in Virginia, Planells watched the Golden Kings’ Masashi Obuchi in action, and advised “I saw Obuchi play several times and I can see why he is a key part of the team. My team actually faced him in our final game, and while he didn’t shoot the ball as well as he would have liked, he has a really smooth release and you can tell he is a good shooter… he handled the ball well and with composure.” Planells predicted “the plus is that he was able to face good competition and was able to experience basketball at the American level. I think he will get better with time.”

Only five of the Basketball Japan League’s coaches are returning for another season, including Dai Oketani of the Ryukyu Golden Kings. The other teams with stability are Rizing Fukuoka, Niigata Albirex, Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix and Sendai 89ers. The other 11 teams will have new faces at the helm; three of those are with expansion clubs Shimane Susanoo Magic, Akita Northern Happinets and Miyazaki Shining Suns.

Japan’s Player of the Year is heading home, leaving the Takamatsu Five Arrows and shifting to the Shiga Lakestars. Yu Okada, who averaged 19 points per game with the Five Arrows, was born in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, and has been signed by his hometown club.

Golden Kings sparkplug Jeff Newton has found a place on the Best Five Team starting lineup. Heading up the superstars dream team is Wendell White of the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix, the league champions, along with teammate William Knight. Lynn Washington of Osaka, Michael Parker of Fukuoka and Newton complete the squad. Newton, a four-time champion, moving from Osaka to Okinawa before the start of the 2008-2009 campaign. Sports analysts say it’s very unlikely the Ryukyu Golden Kings would have reached the Final Four for a second straight season without Newton, who averaged 14.9 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game.

Teammate Anthony McHenry of the ‘Golden Kings tied with Rasheed Sparks of the Tokyo Apache for the 17th position on the Best Five Team. McHenry has been the team’s defensive star, filling for Newton during the 18 games he was sidelined by a shoulder injury. McHenry was third in playing time last season, tallying 1,764 minutes on the court.

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