It's been six months and a week since the Great East Japan Earthquake, and now the Sendai 89ers are back on the court, preparing for the 2011-12 season. Today, Monday Respect for the Aged Day in Japan, a national holiday, Sendai's preseason opener takes place at Hanno Civic Gymnasium in Saitama Prefecture, out in the suburbs.
The host Saitama Broncos, led by veteran American coach Dean Murray, faced the Chiba Jets on Saturday to kick off their new season.
A few familiar faces dot Saitama's roster: two-time bj-league scoring champion John "Helicopter" Humphrey, who last played in the upstart circuit when Joe Bryant patrolled the sideline for the Apache in the 2008-09 season; ex-NBA point guard Kenny Satterfield, a favorite on the NYC streetball scene; backup point guard Darin Satoshi Maki; forward Daiki Terashita, a versatile, speedy athlete and guard Yuki Kitamuki, who can drain 3-pointers in a hurry when he's on top of his game. Rookie forward John Flowers (West Virginia), whose mom Pam is a Hall of Fame legend in her own right, is one of the new bright faces in the league.
The Broncos have their fourth head coach in as many seasons. The last three: Bob Nash, Masato Fukushima and David Benoit. (Nobody said the Broncos value continuity, and the verdict is still out on the front office's commitment to winning.)
The new-look 89ers include Sudanese-born center Longar Longar (University of Oklahoma), former Marquette forward Dan Fitzgerald and forward Johnny Dukes (San Francisco). Popular guards Kenichi Takahashi, Hikaru Kusaka and Takehiko Shimura rejoined the 89ers after spending time as temporary rental players following the March 11 disaster. Saitama players also were picked up by other teams in the league for the season's stretch run last season. Now, many have rejoined their previous teams.
For Sendai, Bob Pierce is making his coaching debut. He previously ran the show from the get-go for two expansion teams: the Shiga Lakestars (2008-10) and the Akita Northern Happinets (last season). If there’s a better ambassador for the bj-league among the foreigners who’ve been involved in the league over the years, I haven't met him.