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NBL gets ready to begin inaugural season

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

With the National Basketball League getting under way in a couple of weeks’ time, league officials, coaches and players expressed their excitement at a news conference in Tokyo on Sunday evening.

“We’re finally opening our NBL at the end of this month,” league president Mitsuru Maruo said. “We’ve reached this point with the support of the fans, the media, the clubs and a lot of others.”

The NBL will tip off its first campaign with 12 clubs, including the Chiba Jets, who moved from the bj-league over the summer. The teams are divided into the Eastern and Western Leagues and each club plays 54 games in the regular season. The top four teams of the entire league will advance to the playoffs in May.

Maruo admitted that the league wasn’t formed as it was originally meant to be. Three years ago, the Japan Basketball Association formed a committee intended to create a true Japanese top league by ideally merging the JBL and bj-league. But at the end of the day, the status quo will stay as the two leagues continue to co-exist.

“This is not the way we wanted it to be in the beginning,” Maruo said. “Originally, we wanted to get the bj-league involved in our plan.

“But putting that aside, we need to make Japanese basketball stronger. Our (men’s) national team hasn’t played in an Olympics for more than 30 years. To achieve that, we needed to start something new and I want everybody to understand this is just the first step.”

Nevertheless, some critics argue that the NBL is simply a rebranded version of the former JBL. They have a point, but the new league has made some, if not drastically big, changes:

■ Teams must have franchise area names.

■ A salary cap system (150 million per team) has been put in place.

■ Two import players are allowed on the floor (only first and third quarters).

■ Games will be broadcast via the Internet on NBL TV,

■ Aggressive use of social network services such as Facebook.

Also, the sidelines will look a bit different in the NBL. Of the 12 teams, 10 clubs have hired head coaches from outside of Japan. The pack includes the Jets’ Reggie Geary, who led the Yokohama B-Corsairs to the bj-league championships last season, and former Japan men’s national team coach Zeljko Pavlicevic, who takes the helm of the Wakayama Trians.

“We now have foreign coaches, not just from the U.S., but from a lot of different places like Spain, Britain and Lithuania,” said Kimikazu Suzuki, head coach of the Aisin SeaHorses Mikawa. “I’m so excited about it.”

Takashi Yamaya, secretary general of the league, insists that the NBL may not look all that brand new, but it will evolve to attract more attention and make the nation’s game more competitive.

“We are not going to hesitate to change things,” he said. “We would certainly like to reform if it’s necessary, while increasing the number of the teams.”

The 2013-14 season will tip off with six matchups on Sept. 28 around the country.