Kawachi pleased with bj-league’s success, hopes to serve up even better sequel

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Bj-league commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi believes the league’s inaugural season was fairly successful. But he knows not to get too cocky, because fans will expect better for the second season.

“Last year, we were able to start this new league with support and cooperation,” Kawachi said at a news conference at the league’s office in Tokyo’s Ginza district on Monday. “I feel like our effort paid off.”

With the 2006-07 season getting under way on Saturday throughout the nation, Kawachi couldn’t hide his high expectations of his own league, which started with six teams last year. The bj-league expanded to include eight teams with the additions of two ballclubs, Takamatsu Red Arrows and Toyama Grouses, for this season. The number of games increases to 160 games in total as well.

With the increase, Kawachi proclaimed that he wants to withdraw a total number of some 500,000 fans to the arenas, up by about 240,000 from last season.

He also said that the league will devote further effort to drumming up more media coverage on and off the court. Bj-league officials announced that all the 160 games will be aired online this season.

Among the eight sides for this season, the two new teams are most determined. At the news conference, the coaches of the two said of their high hope for their debut season.

“Fortunately, we haven’t had any injured player so far and have been able to build a team that we wanted to some degrees,” Takamatsu head coach Motofumi Aoki said.

“I’d say we are at 80 percent right now. Since we don’t have size, we would like to have uptempo game, keep running for the whole 40 minutes.”

The Red Arrows’ opening game comes on Nov. 8 against the Oita Heat Devils at Beppu Arena in Oita Prefecture.

Compared to Aoki, Grouses coach Masato Fukushima was a bit cautious, saying his team will be trying to gradually step up in its first season.

“We basically play inside with foreigners, but their arrivals were delayed,” Fukushima said. “So although our outside is good, the combination with the inside has yet to be made. We hope to be able to play as a team by the opening game.”

The Grouses face the Saitama Broncos on Saturday at Saitama Municipal Gymnasium. As the sophomore season for the league tips off within a few days, even the coach of the defending champions was feeling a bit of nerves.

Evessa will take on Joe Bryant’s Tokyo Apache on Opening Day at Ariake Colosseum.

Bryant said that with the additions of the two new teams, the competition will be tougher. But he added that is what he wants to see in this league.

“We have two more teams now, and the league will improve more this year,” Bryant said. “We have more size, and our Japanese players have improved so much. So we are looking forward to the new season.”