Orimo still chasing Olympic dream

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Forty-year-old star shooter Takehiko Orimo has achieved pretty much everything he could’ve possibly hoped for in his stellar career in the Japanese hoop scene.

But not everything. There is still one last piece of unfinished business: playing in the Olympics.

So in 2011, with a year to go to the London Games, Orimo is going about a tough but challenging task.

“We have the Olympic qualifier in September,” Orimo said after a national team news conference on Tuesday. “I’ve never played in an Olympics and earning an Olympic berth is a fervent wish for the Japan Basketball League.”

The last time the Japan men’s team qualified was in 1976 in Montreal.

Orimo doesn’t want to achieve the goal just to add more glory to his personal career profile — he also thinks it would have an enormous impact on the game in Japan.

“If we make the Olympics, I believe something will change in Japan’s basketball,” said Orimo, who played in two World Championships in 1998 and 2006.

Orimo, a guard/forward for the Hokkaido Basketball Club (formerly known as the Rera Kamuy Hokkaido) of the JBL, said the national team and its players had not pushed themselves hard enough to reach an Olympics until now.

For example, national team coach Thomas Wisman and the Japan Basketball Association have brought a new approach to the squad, calling up more players, including prospective collegians and high schoolers, and dividing the group into three categories. That is intended to create more competition inside the national squad and spur long-term development.

Completely agreeing with the idea, Orimo said it was something the national team was lacking in the past.

Orimo called the spots for the regular national team members “reserved seats,” meaning that no matter how they did, their places were secure all the time.

“So there was really little competition inside the team,” said Orimo, adding that he welcomes youngsters challenging for the top-team spots that the veteran players currently occupy.

Even under those kind of circumstances, Japan was still one of the top nations in Asia in the 20th century. But this past decade or so, other countries have had rapid rises and Japan eventually dropped out of the elite group.

Orimo thinks with regret about “what if”, recalling his younger days on Team Japan.

“Had I possessed the mind set that I have now at that time, things might have been different,” he said.

Playing for one of the two professional clubs in the JBL in Hokkaido, Orimo now has high quality professionalism. But he confesses that he only started to develop it when he moved to Hokkaido from a company-led club, Toyota Motors Alvark, at age 36.

“It was probably too late to know that,” he said. “But also I was fortunate to realize that. So I feel like I owe Hokkaido and I am not going to play anywhere else but in Hokkaido.”

And now Orimo strongly believes that a professional league would make other players feel the same way he does and that it would eventually help lift the level of the game in Japan — sooner rather than later.

“The league has changed its name, like to the `JBL Super League’ in the past, but nothing actually changed but the name,” he said. “We’ve now got to create a professional league.”

“Otherwise, it won’t develop the game in Japan and won’t be a sport that children want to play.

“The majority of the JBL clubs are backed up by big corporations and they’re not willing to join a pro league.

“To be very honest with you, I want those organizations to get out of it.”

As to the integrating of the JBL and bj-league, Orimo isn’t optimistic at all that it will be completed because the rules and customs are too different on both sides.

Although he says a “merger” is not realistic, he doesn’t rule out starting up a completely new league.

“The thing is, those who raise their hands should create one (professional) league,” he said.