Kazuo Nakamura never minces his words. And this characteristic doesn’t change, even on a formal, introductory occasion.
“We’ll go for the championship from year No. 1,” Nakamura said at a news conference on May 4 after the bj-league championship game at Tokyo’s Ariake Colosseum.
Nakamura, a former Japan women’s national team head coach, leads the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix, which has defected from the JBL and will make their debut in the new environment as an expansion club next season.
“I’ve been to places like Europe, South Korea and the Philippines, though, I can smell the same entertainment stuff in (the bj-league),” he said. “That basketball we’ve been doing (at the JBL) is seen by those who actually play the game or company employees (of their respective clubs).
“But in the bj-league, those who haven’t been related to basketball come (to the arenas), such as children. And think about it, there are more people that don’t play the game. As I watched the attractions in the last two days (in the playoffs), I believe our decision to make the move was the right one.”
Nakamura, 67, has been at the helm of the club since its JBL era, when its name was OSG Phoenix Higashimikawa. The loud-voiced coach led the team to the JBL finals in the 2005-06 season (where it lost to the Toyota Alvark).
But now that his team has transferred to the bj-league, what he cares about is not just how his team does in the pro circuit. He is also anxious about Japan’s basketball future, citing what JBL’s Japanese players are likely concerned about.
“They think they won’t have much chance to play by being on the same court with those foreigners (in the bj-league) because they have more power and experience,” Nakamura said, referring to the bj-league’s rule of not having a roster limit for foreigners. “But unless they compete together with them (foreigners) and beat them, I don’t think there is a bright future. At some point, someone has to take the challenge to come over here.”
Nakamura gave an example from the national team to show that Japan’s hoop level is in peril.
“If China competes in an Olympic qualifier, it’s going to be so tough (for Japan) to make it to the Olympics,” he said. “I’m not saying you have to do something to go to an Olympics, but if you think what you can do to make Japanese basketball better, the answer is you have to come over here (to the bj-league) and play surrounded by this audience, thinking of how to fire them up.”
Japan finished eighth — worst ever for the nation — in last summer’s Asian Basketball Championships, failing to clinch a berth for the Beijing Games.
At the news conference, another former JBL coach was in attendance. Robert Pierce expressed the same sentiment as Nakamura regarding the excitement of the bj-league.
“I’ve seen the bj-league grow in the last three years. I’m really excited to be part of it because this league is very exciting,” said Pierce, the new head coach of the Shiga Lakestars, the other expansion club for the 2008-09 season.
Pierce, who was the Hitachi Sunrockers’ head coach in 2000-01, said he was so impressed by the enthusiastic fans and their support of their respective local clubs.
“I’ve experienced the emotions at the game, cheerleaders cheering for both teams, and just watching the fans, from all the different clubs, getting excited about the teams — this is a wonderful experience,” he said. “I don’t see this in many other countries, outside the NBA, and we’re doing this here in Japan.”
Pierce has also worked as a Japan national team assistant coach and served as a scout in the Asian region for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
With the two new franchises, the bj-league will begin its fourth season with 12 teams this fall.