On Friday, at the team's practice gym, Haleo Dome, Sendai 89ers coach Bob Pierce addressed the media a day before his team's first home game of the 2011-12 season. The Sendai 89ers-Akita Northern Happinets game will be televised by BS Fuji. Tipoff is 4:10 p.m.
His opening remarks were: "Well, for one thing, it's about time we had a home game. Three weeks into the season, it's about time we played at home in front of our fans. We are really excited. I think you can tell by the energy as the guys are shooting around and talking, they're ready to play. They are really looking forward to playing at home.
"So much has happened in Sendai since we last played at home here ... the players, the fans, the boosters, I think everybody wants to see basketball back in action, and I think we're going to come out and play really, really hard.
"We've gotten off to a great start at 3-1, so we are ready to continue that here at home."
Both squads have new looks in 2011-12, what with Sendai hiring Pierce to replace longtime coach Honoo Hamaguchi (now the Kyoto Hannaryz bench boss) and Kazuo Nakamura returning to his hometown to guide the Happinets after two title-winning seasons with the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix. Pierce led Akita last season.
"It's a very different team with a new coach," Pierce said of Akita, "and new foreign players, but it's been fun for me personally watching the games. I really like (Kazuhiro) Shoji and (Yuki) Kikuchi and (Ryosuke) Mizumachi. These are guys that I spent an entire year with, so while I cheer for them individually and hope they do well, when it comes time to play the game we are trying to win.
"So obviously when you go against your former players you have mixed emotions but (Akita is) a very entertaining team with a new style with (point guard Michael) Gardener pushing the ball. They shoot lots and lots of 3-point shots (156 in four games). It's just a very different way to play basketball..."
Pierce called the two-game series a "unique challenge," adding, "our goal is to be No. 1 in Tohoku, and we have to beat Akita to do that."
Asked by a reporter to talk about the 89ers' catch phrase of this season, as the team and region rebuild after the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and devastating tsunami, Pierce responded by saying, "I think the main thing is that Sendai's back. I think the whole thing is we've returned as a strong power in the Eastern Conference. That's what we want to show the fans.
"People, some of the American players, after the earthquake asked me, 'Is it safe to live there in Sendai?' The outside world thinks the whole city was wiped out..."
But that's not the case.
"We are alive, we're here, we're back," Pierce declared. "Sendai's back. That's what we want to show the fans and the world."