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WATERLOO - Waterloo Kings owner Eddie Diaz has given his new International Basketball League franchise a bit of name recognition.

Last month, Diaz signed his first player, former Waterloo East all-stater Leighton Nash.

Tuesday, Diaz announced five-time NBA all-star Tim Hardaway has agreed to play in four or five Kings' home games at Young Arena to open the 2005 season.

"I feel great about being able to help out a good friend in Eddie Diaz," said Hardaway from his home in Miami.

Hardaway, 38, last appeared in the NBA during the 2002 season with the Indiana Pacers.

A first-round draft choice of the Golden State Warriors in 1989 out of UTEP, Hardaway went on to play 14 seasons in the NBA with Golden State, Miami, Dallas, Denver and Indiana.

In his third season, Hardaway had one of his better years, averaging 23.4 points and 10 assists a game for the Warriors.

The all-time assists leader for the Miami Heat, Hardaway reached 5,000 points and 2,500 assists faster than any NBA player except for Oscar Robertson. Hardaway holds career averages of 17.7 points and 8.2 assists per game.

One thing Hardaway wanted to make clear about playing with the Kings was it was not for any personal gain.

"This is not a ploy to get back into the NBA or a desparate attempt to get attention," said Hardaway. "Eddie and I are starting a few business ventures in Waterloo, and he knows I love to play basketball.

"This is a way to help him out with the Kings, help establish the new franchise and teach some of the younger players what it takes to get to the NBA."

Diaz and Hardaway haven't determined how many games he will play for the Kings.

Hardaway will be in Waterloo the last weekend of January to appear with Diaz at a press conference to sign a Kings' contract.

Waterloo will compete in a division with Joliet, Ill., Peoria, Ill., and Kansas City. League schedules will be released Feb. 24. The Kings' first game is April 8.

OTHER KINGS NEWS - Juan Thomas, who was the Kings' vice president of operations, has stepped down from that position and will sign as player.

The 6-foot-5 Thomas starred at Waterloo West, graduating in 1987. He went onto Mesa Community College in Arizona before transferring to Washington State University.

Thomas is the brother of Kings' head coach Anthony Thomas.

In Thomas' place, Diaz has hired former Waterloo West athletics director Bruce Sperry.

Sperry's official title with the Kings is vice president in charge of daily operations.

Jim Nelson can be contacted at (319) 291-1521 or jim.nelson@wcfcourier.com

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