This is a sign of the emerging significance of the bj-league: More than 350 players participated in the tryout process this season. And then the 2008 bj-league draft was held on Monday.
Two new league teams — the Shiga Lakestars and Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix — used the event to add pieces to the puzzle for their respective rosters. The Lakestars made former Toshiba Brave Thunders (JBL) forward Yosuke Machida the No. 1 selection in the draft.
Machida played for the Toshiba Brave Thunders from 2006-08.
“It’s honorable to become the No. 1 overall pick,” said Machida, a 200-cm player. “I would like to thank everyone who has supported me. I would like to make the next step my new Shiga team.”
The No. 2 pick in the draft went to the Toyama Grouses, who selected Takeshi Mito, who attended Kinki University.
“Since a bj-league team has been born in Toyama Prefecture, I’ve been strongly hoping to play for my hometown team,” said Mito, a 184 cm player. “It’s very honorable to be drafted by Toyama. “
Up next — and what follows goes in order of the picks — the Ryukyu Golden Kings took Yosuke Sugawara (Rera Kamuy Hokkaido of the JBL), a 186-cm guard.
The Saitama Broncos then chose guard Yuki Kitamuki, who had played for them last season.
Niigata followed up with the selection of speedy guard Akitomo Takeno, who turned some heads during his rookie season with the Rizing Fukuoka in 2007-08.
The Takamatsu Five Arrows picked up Shuichi Takada, a 194-cm performer from Mitsubishi Denki.
The Sendai 89ers chose 160-cm Takehiko Shimura, who last played at Toshiba.
The Tokyo Apache made the most interesting pick of the first round, selecting Kosaku Yada, a half-Japanese/half-American guard from Oregon, who did not play in 2007-08. He was an assistant coach for Rera Kamuy Hokkaido. A former Harvard player, he has a degree in international relations.
The Oita HeatDevils, Rizing Fukuoka and three-time champion Osaka Evessa did not draft in the first round.
Shiga coach Robert Pierce explained the peculiarity of teams not making draft selections.
“It’s a little bit unusual because not all the teams are picking players,” he said, “which surprised me because there are some very good players that I thought would’ve been picked early. But I’ll tell you, it’s very exciting for us as a team, and we went through a mock draft just a few days ago. . .
“Teams want the option to bring them into their own team tryout, because if you take them in the draft, the salaries are guaranteed at a certain level. At the team tryout, they can be lower (due to the salary cap).
“It’s not that teams don’t want some of the players. (It’s that) they don’t want to have to commit to a certain salary level when they know there’s always plenty of players.”
Asked about what enticed the Lakestars to make Machida the top draft choice, Pierce responded by saying, “We got some tapes of him playing for Toshiba and from younger tapes of when he was at the (William) Jones Cup (in Taiwan) with the Japan national team maybe just two or three years ago.
“What you are looking at is a player that is 2 meters tall that has 3-point range, and if you look at the players in the bj-league, two of the better Japanese players are at Evessa — (Kazuya) Hatano at about 191 (cm) and Naoto (Nakamura) at about 192.”
Pierce said Machida’s versatility and potential made him a top prospect.
“I think he’s going to become one of the best players in the bj-league,” Pierce added. “He should’ve been one of the best players in the JBL. He’s very talented. He just needs the right environment, I think, to bring that talent (together).”
The second round consisted of two picks — a pair of Koreans going to Shiga and Niigata, respectively.
In the third round, Shiga took Yuta Kojima, a former Hitachi Sunrockers (JBL) player.
The lone fourth-round pick also went to Shiga, which took Masakazu Miura, who previously player for Hoshizaki Denki.
“I’m very happy as the commissioner the new bj-league players will be born of out of them today,” said Toshimitsu Kawachi, the bj-league commissioner. “I’m looking forward to seeing the draftees play behind the local boosters’ support.”
The Phoenix, who defected from the JBL after the 2007-08 season, retain six players from last season’s roster, including Masahiro Oguchi, Takeshi Hotta, Atsuya Ota, Shingo Okada, Seiichiro Kage.
In the expansion draft, the Lakestars picked up center Hirotaka Sato (Osaka Evessa), guard Takamichi Fujiwara (Niigata Albirex BB) and guard Shinya Ogawa (Toyama Grouses). These three players were left unprotected by their previous teams prior to the draft.
Phoenix coach Kazuo Nakamura, a longtime figure on the basketball scene in Japan offered these heartfelt comments before the draft began:
“I’ve been impressed and moved when I entered here today. Basketball is a major sport in the world, but here in Japan, it’s been regarded as a minor sport.
“I’ve been involved with basketball in Japan for more than 30 years under that circumstance, and I’ve always thought basketball is more popular in America, Europe and other countries in Asia.
“I’ve been hoping to join the bj-league and I’m happy that my dreams come true now. I’ll do my best to develop not only my team but basketball itself.”
The draft, held at a Tokyo hotel, offered a chance for Kawachi to provide some perspective on the league he oversees.
“Now we have 12 teams, double the start of the bj-league’s first season,” he said. “We also have some offers from many other teams. The bj-league is growing more rapidly than we expected.” For Yada, the chance to help the Apache compete for a title next season is a challenge he welcomes with open arms.
“I know some of the players a little bit and I am real excited,” he said. “From last year to this year was a big improvement, so hopefully we can push it up a little bit. “Above all I want to win, and my greatest strength is shooting. It’s what I love to do — shoot the ball . . . but I love to get everyone involved with a little passing, too.”