Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Japan Holds Court: Former Tar Heel Graves Heads to Japan to Play . . . Basketball?!

Sometimes a simple text can prompt me to research a topic and write a story. The origins of this blog entry arose from a message sent by my good buddy D.F. It said, "Will Graves signs with Japanese bball team." Since I was researching a baseball story at the time I received the text, my first reaction was, "Will Graves plays baseball?"

No, D.F. was talking about basketball. Graves is the beleaguered guard/forward who was dismissed from the North Carolina Tar Heels men's basketball team last October for "failing to comply with team rules." Coach Roy Williams never provided further explanation. Obviously Graves had disciplinary issues; he was also served a suspension during the team's 2008-09 NCAA championship season. In signing with a Japanese team in Akita, he's about as far away from Chapel Hill as he can be.

Will Graves and the North Carolina Tar Heels in the 2010 NIT Semifinal at Madison Square Garden

Will Graves (#13) as a Tar Heel

I certainly hope Graves has his act together. Japan is a tough place to go if one has trouble complying with team rules. Which brings me to this: Japan has a professional basketball league?

Yes, the bj-league as it's known – and I don't know why it's known as the bj-league or why it's written in lower case – was established in 2005 with six teams. The league expanded after each season and now has thirteen teams in two conferences, including the one with which Graves has signed to play, the Northern Akita Happinets. I don't know what a Happinet is. For that matter, I don't understand the names for the majority of the teams that comprise the bj-league. Names such as Hannaryz (the newest team from Kyoto), Albirex BB (Niigata), and Evessa (Osaka) seem a bit strange to me. I have yet to unearth the details. 

Okinawa also has a team, the Ryukyu Golden Kings. The birthplace of my mother won the bj-league championship in 2008. Pretty cool, huh? I don't think my family members have mentioned that, but my husband reminded me that we saw banners in Tokyo congratulating the Golden Kings on the victory. I have a vague recollection of that, but can't find any pictures.

At any rate, Akita is neither Okinawa nor Tokyo. It's rugged country that's colorful in the fall and snowy in the winter. 

Akita in the fall

It's also where the Akita Inu, a handsome breed of sturdy dog, is from, as told in the book Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain. Excellent read. But I digress.

Akita Inu (from www.remarkabledogs.com)

I wish Will Graves the best in his new endeavor. As Northern Akita's slogan states, "It's a Happinets Time!"

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