Optimistic JBL awaits start of new season

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Despite all the fuss over this country’s governing body in the past year and a half, the Japan Basketball League believes it sees a bright future entering the 2008-09 season, which tips off next Friday.

“We feel so sorry for what has happened,” Japan Basketball Association vice-chairman Yasuhiko Fukatsu said at a Tokyo news conference on Friday afternoon, referring to the organization’s persistent personnel issues over debts (¥1.3 billion) incurred from the 2006 FIBA World Basketball Championship.

This caused the Japan Olympic Committee to take sweeping action last year, suspending the JBA. The ban was lifted on Sept. 13 after the JBA appointed a new board of directors, including the new chairman Taro Aso, the Liberal Democratic Party’s secretary general, last month.

“We have this league to make this country’s basketball competitive enough to play globally,” Fukatsu said. “You can’t just make your national team by strengthening it. The whole JBL’s reinforcement is inevitable to achieve that.”

JBA officials and JBL players, meanwhile, weren’t necessarily hanging their heads, because there are great things the JBL can offer to the fans: confidence and a belief they can upgrade the league’s popularity this season.

Among the most notable changes for the new season are the entry of the Link Tochigi Brex, which played in the JBL’s second division last season, and ex-NBA point guard Yuta Tabuse’s return to Japan after several seasons of playing basketball in the United States.

JBL chairman Fumiya Tamiaki said that the league drew 260,000 fans last season, and 67 percent of them were paying customers, while the remaining 33 percent were club-related people.

Tamiaki excitedly said that the eight-team league expects to increase the ordinary fans to more than 80 percent this season, thanks to the Brex, a Utsunomiya-based pro club which has acquired top Japanese players such as Takuya Kawamura, Shunsuke Ito, and of course, Tabuse, arguably the most famous hoop star this country has ever produced.

“We’ve added one more team, and I believe the league is going to warm up much better than last season,” said Aisin Sea Horses guard Shinsuke Kashiwagi, the reigning MVP.

Fukatsu said the JBA has begun talks with the bj-league, the other top circuit in Japan, which begins its fourth season on Oct. 11.

Since the bj-league’s inception, the two sides have been at odds with each other, but it appears the situation is slowly improving.

“As the association (the JBA), we believe there should be one top league and the bj-league should look for the future under the association,” Fukatsu said. “Yet we and the bj-league probably both have a say about this situation and I just hope things are going in the right direction.”