The Brisbane Bullets have turned to Japan to end a run of two wooden spoons in the NBL, signing shooting guard Makoto Hiejima in an historic move that could reshape the league's recruitment strategies.
Hiejima was the architect behind Japan's surprise World Cup qualifier defeat of the Boomers in June and will join the Bullets as a local player under the NBL's Asian Player rule.
The 27-year-old, who will be the NBL's first Japanese representative, speaks limited English and will have a translator by his side as he teams with Brisbane and Australian coach Andrej Lemanis in a landmark arrangement.
His signing will open new doors commercially for the Bullets and the NBL as they continue to build an Asian footprint.
But it is no marketing gimmick with Hiejima averaging 16 points, four rebounds and four assists in the current World Cup qualifying campaign.
"(In June's win) he was playing against the best Australians in the NBL and ... he was something to deal with," Lemanis said.
"You would imagine that's going to translate into the NBL."
Keen to develop his game, the shooting guard sought Lemanis out through Japan-based former NBL coach Shawn Dennis and will take a significant pay cut after claiming MVP honours in the nation's rich B League last season.
"What he is doing is courageous - moving over 6000km to Australia, the change of culture, testing yourself in a new environment with the added challenge of the language barrier - I have a lot of respect for what he is doing and why he is doing it," Lemanis said.
It's how it turns out that will determine the (recruitment) attitudes of the (other) clubs for sure."
His arrival on Monday ahead of an October 11 season opener continues Brisbane's aggressive off-season recruitment drive following back-to-back wooden spoons since rejoining the NBL.
NBL veteran Mika Vukona as well as Boomers Cam Gliddon, Jason Cadee and Matt Hodgson have arrived in the off-season while Rio Olympian and former Chicago Bull Cam Bairstow is fit after a knee reconstruction ruled him out last season.
The Bullets plan to sign another import small forward to complete their roster, which leaves an import spot open if injury or form warrants a mid-season roster change.
"He (Hiejima) gives us great depth in the guard positions, the opportunity to run different line ups and keep pressure on the whole game," Lemanis said.
Australian Associated Press