/

Brex upgrade roster in busy offseason

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Just as the team name reveals, the Link Tochigi Brex are trying to do everything to make themselves successful in their first season in the JBL’s top league.

The Brex, whose nickname came from “Break Through” and “Basketball’s Rex,” have shown no hesitation in acquiring quality and vigorous players this offseason.

“I think we’ve got players we wanted,” the club’s head coach, Mitsuhiko Kato, said at a Tokyo news conference on Monday.

Four newly acquired players — guard/forwards Takuya Kawamura (OSG Phoenix Higashimikawa) and Ken Takeda (Panasonic Trians), forward/center Hiromasa Omiya (Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins), and center Shunsuke Ito (Toshiba Brave Thunders) — were publicly introduced at the media event, and all the fresh-faced players revealed their zeal for the Brex, one of the two fully professional clubs in the league.

In the fall, Tochigi will make its debut season in the JBL’s top division after being promoted from the second division after winning the 2007-08 title.

The participation of Kawamura and Ito is a big bonus for the Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture-based club.

A 191-cm ex-star of the Phoenix, who defected to the bj-league from the JBL after last season, Kawamura has played for the Japan national team since 2005, and Ito, a 204-cm big man, has constantly joined the squad since 2001 as well.

Both Kawamura and Ito, whose former teams were big-company-sponsored clubs, said that part of the reason why they joined Tochigi was because it is a professional team.

“I believe it needs to be pro teams that lead the Japan Basketball Association and this country’s basketball from now on,” said Kawamura, whose course of action was the center of the fans’ interest during this offseason.

“I’m a pro, too, that’s why I chose this team.”

Ito echoed Kawamura’s opinion, saying that professional teams will carry the future of Japan’s basketball.

“Thinking of basketball, making (the league) professional is the only way to develop it,” the 28-year-old Ito said. “Professional teams in a professional league — that’s the ideal way.”

Under the current circumstances, JBL players have the option to go to the JBL’s rival, the bj-league, which has shown steady growth in the three years since its inception as Japan’s first professional basketball circuit.

But both Kawamura and Ito remained in their comfort zone — the JBL — although they will play for the new club, because they didn’t want to give up the honor of wearing the national team jersey.

“(Until) now, nobody has been chosen for the national team from the bj-league,” the 22-year-old Kawamura said. “As long as I’m an active player, I’d like to represent Hinomaru (Japanese national flag) and it’s my dream.”

Ito said he had offers from other clubs, including bj-league teams, and settled on the Brex because he agreed with team president/general manager Takashi Yamaya’s philosophy and, like Kawamura, he didn’t want to give up the chance to play for his country.

Ito, who failed to make the national team for last year’s Asian Championship (Japan missed a berth in the Beijing Games, finishing eighth) in Tokushima, said: “I’d like to get back on the national team again and aim for an Olympics.”

For the entire Brex organization, getting top-level Japanese players was a must-do mission during the offseason as the JBL will allow only one foreign player on the court for the 2008-09 campaign, reducing by one the number from last season.

“I think we have players that make fans think this team has improved . . . (since) yesterday,” Kato said.

Yamada joins Kamuy

THE JAPAN TIMES

Japan national team forward/center Daiji Yamada joined the Rera Kamuy Hokkaido, the club announced Monday.

The 26-year-old native of Osaka Prefecture, who has played for the Toyota Motors Alvark and Panasonic Trians in his JBL career, is a versatile inside player with good shooting range.