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Time to stop nonsense on import rule, expand to 48-minute game

by Ed Odeven

Formed as a six-team breakaway circuit from the old-guard JBL, the bj-league aimed to usher in a new era of pro basketball in Japan in 2005.

As the nation’s first pro circuit, the bj-league has changed the history of basketball in this nation. Those are the facts.

In principal, using the NBA as a model for its operations, the bj-league follows the world’s top league for most of its rules and officiating guidelines, and has also used the Spalding ball since its inception.

That said, I believe it’s time to take this a step further and expand the game time to 48 minutes, the NBA model, from its current 40.

This would increase opportunities for Japanese to get playing time and further their development at the same time.

I am also advocating, starting next season, for the bj-league to get rid of its wacky import quota, meaning do away with the alternating foreigner rule (two in the first, three in the second, two in the third and three in the fourth quarter and overtime that was implemented for this season) that produces too many uneven games, takes away the rhythm of those contests and eliminates the chance for coaches to fully make their decisions based on strategies and matchups.

By scrapping this quota, it’s the view here that the league ought to have either a two-import rule for the entire game or three for that span; I support the latter.

With rapid expansion year after year (the Aomori Wat’s and Bambitious Nara join the fold for the 2013-14 campaign), the now 21-team league has not created proper conditions for its players, especially the Japanese, to grow into their roles, to get a comfort level with their teammates and their foes.

In addition to having a full-time quota rule, it’s also time to halt expansion for at least three seasons, maybe five, and shore up the league’s marketing, focus on improving officiating, scouting, drafting, all necessary objectives.

In discussions with numerous individuals around the league, many see the benefits of a 48-minute game. Others have different viewpoints. (Several prominent Japanese players, including Fukuoka’s Akitomo Takeno, Tokyo’s Cohey Aoki and Toyama’s Masashi Joho didn’t respond to a request for comments.)

“I think the games should be extended, especially if you’re going to have the foreigner limit,” Iwate All-Star big man Dillion Sneed said, “but I don’t think there should be an unlimited-foreigners-on-the-court rule. I played in Holland and we would just have five foreigners on the court at all times because all the teams did it and you have to match up, but that doesn’t help the development of local players, which should be one of the goals of the league.

“If anything, just have it at a set number like only three at a time, it’s honestly a little weird with the two and three a quarter; it creates a game within a game. . . ”

Said Niigata center Chris Holm: “I think it would be interesting to increase it to 48 minutes. You would have higher scoring games. But I don’t know if that alone would be the reason the local players improve. Because just in the five years I’ve been here the talent has improved so much, so they are doing a good job now of getting talent, but the 48 would need more subs, obviously, with more minutes, (and) maybe could increase the Japanese talent even more.”

Shiga forward Dionisio Gomez offered his thoughts as well, saying, “I personally think (there) should be less teams in the bj-league. Let’s say 16 teams maybe. Have better quality Japanese players on each team. Develop a small development league for the players that are not quite ready for the pro level as well as using it to develop younger players. I think 40-minutes games are fine. I believe there should be three imports on the floor at all times.”

Shinshu forward Edward Morris, advocating a 48-minute game, told Hoop Scoop: “I think of course it would benefit not only the development of Japanese players but it would increase the game (time) and make it more entertaining as well. More coaching as well. As a 48-minute game, you would have to depend on more bench play as well, I think games would be more close. Overall, everyone would benefit from it.”

On the other hand, Osaka forward Mike Bell sees no need to make the game any longer.

“First off, I think that 40 minutes is just fine. I’ve played in nine countries so far and all of them have the same rules as far as (40-minute games),” said Bell. “I just think they need to be consistent with the rules as far as the import players and how many are allowed to play per quarter. All of this changing up year by year makes things a little difficult for coaches and management to figure out what players and positions they will need to bring in to have their best chance at winning. And that is like a snowball effect because when players are playing unnatural positions they/we are less successful, which makes the team less successful and the fans are affected as well by not being able to see the best basketball from individuals and teams.”

“. . .My only comment/complaint will be just be consistent with the rules,” added Bell.

Toyama post player Brandon Cole insists it’s a splendid idea to change the game to 48 minutes.

“I think it will do nothing but improve the quality of play from both the imports and national players,” Cole told Hoop Scoop. “A longer game without the restrictions of an import playing time limit, will enhance the flow of the games and give the Japanese players even better competition for longer periods of time. . . ”

The league’s only three-time champion coach, ex-Evessa bench boss Kensaku Tennichi, meanwhile, believes the proposed changes I cited at the outset of this article would benefit the league in the long run.

“That is interesting,” Tennichi said recently, “It’s maybe good, maybe bad for the game.

“Obviously, the team has to execute their plays on both ends. Without good understanding of team concepts and execution, 48-minute games would be garbage.”

He added: “I always think the three-Japanese players rule spoils the game. . . . Now, the bj-league does not have enough good Japanese players, unfortunately. So I think teams should be allowed to use three American players the whole game.

“If the game was 48 minutes, Japanese players can still have 96 minutes, 12 minutes by two players by four quarters. Coaches can split those times like 25-25-25-21 for four Japanese players. They can get enough time to play, and the quality of game should be maintained.”

Logical commentary, all of it, by Tennichi.

Finally, Tommie McGowan, a die-hard Ryukyu Golden Kings fans in Okinawa dished out this insight via email:

“I have never been a fan of the restrictions they place on the way the imports must be played. Let the coaches decide how they want to play their imports. It will make the coaches better coaches and make the Japanese players up their game.

“Forty-eight minute games or 40-minute games, either way is fine with me. I would like to tackle one problem at a time and the import restrictions to me is the biggest problem that hinders the league play.

“It’s easier to coach this way because you know you got four imports . . . and you know when you can play those imports. Make the coaches coach . . . make the players — all players — play.”

  • Luis Alis

    If it’s really about sport, there shouldn’t be a limit on foreigners at all. Let good players be good players no matter what their nationality is. That’s the only way the Japanese players with true talent will grow, by playing with better players as much as possible.