JBL staking future on fielding fewer foreign players

by Kaz Nagatsuka

While there have been a number of Japan Basketball Association-related issues that have hurt its credibility in the past few years, it it is desperate to turn the page with new players and a new experiment.

The Japan Basketball League enters its second season after it was re-established as more of a professional-style circuit last year.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to predict which teams’ names will be at the top of the standings and which club will snatch the championship trophy at the end of the the season due to the new rule and the addition of a new club, Link Tochigi Brex.

Starting this season, the number of foreign players on the court is limited to one per team (previously two). This is considered a drastic change, and, of course, each club’s Japanese players will face greater scrutiny.

The Aisin Sea Horses, who won the JBL league cup, league title and All-Japan Championship last season, are loaded with well-established stars such as 2007-08 MVP guard Shinsuke Kashiwagi and center/forward Kosuke Takeuchi. They will be favored to win it again.

The Toyota Motors Alvark, the runnerup in 2007-08, open the season under first-year coach Koju Munakata, and will be the top threat to Kimikazu Suzuki’s Aisin squad, which plays against the Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins in a season-opening series this weekend.

The other two spots for the four-team playoffs in March appear to be up for grabs.

The Takeuchi twins, Kosuke and Joji, who played on the national squad in the 2006 FIBA World Championship, said it’s disappointing they can’t play with more strong import players because of the one-foreigner-on-the-floor rule.

But in the meantime, they said they want to dominate in the paint, capitalizing on their size and technical advantage over other compatriots.

“Last year, I matched up with foreigners almost every single game so I feel sorry that I can’t play with them as much,” said Joji Takeuchi, a 205-cm forward for the Hitachi Sunrockers. “But I have an advantage against Japanese players. I would like to go with a mind-set that I will win no matter who I play with.”

Said Kosuke: “If I can’t beat Japanese players, there is no way I can beat foreigners.”

That said, the JBL believes the change will be an effective measure to increase local fan bases because it should give Japanese players more exposure in the game.

What’s more, the acquisition of former Phoenix Suns guard Yuta Tabuse by the Brex is considered a positive development around the eight-team league. Top officials believe Tabuse’s addition will boost the confidence of the eight-team league, as well as increase the popularity of the Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture-based club and the league.

The Brex, who were promoted to the top circuit by winning the JBL’s second division last season, are expected to struggle in the JBL’s top division in their debut year, just as Rera Kamuy Hokkaido did in the 2007-08.

Yet with offensive stars in Tabuse and Japan national team sharpshooter Takuya Kawamura, the Brex can at least excite fans with their entertaining, up-tempo game.

“You don’t need words. (Tabuse) gives you passes with eye contact,” said Kawamura, who last played for the OSG Phoenix, who left the league to join the rival bj-league after last season and are now known as the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix.

“It’s a blessing to be able to receive passes from such an experienced man like him. I think I’ll have to be more aggressive.”

Starting Friday, the Brex will take on the Toshiba Brave Thunders at Utsunomiya Municipal Gymnasium in a two-game series.

This season’s scheduling format is as follows: A club plays five times against each team for a total of 35 games (two at home, two away and one at neutral place) until March 8, and the playoffs start with the best-of-three semifinals on March 14, followed by the best-of-five finals.