Star guard Oga lashes out at JBA

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Japan women’s national team star Yuko Oga angrily pointed at a banner that hung on the wall at a practice gym while she had a conversation with reporters.

The banner reads: “Go For Olympics.”

That’s easier said than done. Oga thinks that the Japan Basketball Association, the sport’s national governing body, is neglecting to give players the best chance to achieve whatever it wants them to.

FIBA allegedly told the JBA that it would be suspended from international tournaments if it didn’t propose a solution for unifying Japan’s two men’s top leagues, the NBL and bj-league, by the end of October.

If the proposed severe punishment is meted out by basketball’s global governing body, it will mean that all national teams under the JBA umbrella, not just the men’s A team, will be prohibited from playing in FIBA-sanctioned tournaments.

That would include the Japan’s women’s national squad, which captured its first gold medal in the FIBA Asian Championship in 43 years last fall in Thailand.

“It’s contradictory,” said Oga, a former Phoenix Mercury guard, during a recent national training camp for this fall’s FIBA World Championship for Women at Tokyo’s National Training Center. “(The JBA) are in that situation and they want us to do something big, like in the Olympics? If they really acknowledge what kind of situation they are in right now, they can’t say that so lightly.”

Oga was also furious that the players have not had an opportunity to speak with JBA officials. She added that they could only get information on FIBA’s potential punishment of the JBA through media reports.

And she insisted that JBA bureaucrats were too slow to make any moves.

“While (the JBA executives) have years to work on this, our longevity is limited,” said the 31-year-old Oga, who played in the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association and helped her Shanxi Xing Rui Flame win their second consecutive championship this past season. “Me personally, I don’t know how many years I could play. I’ve got to take one year at a time.

“Maybe we’re only looking at the surface and there are more complicated things that we don’t know inside. But at the end of the day, the game is played here (on the court by the players).”

Asked if she would take any actions regarding the situation, Oga didn’t deny the idea. She actually hinted that she, along with other national team players, might try to join the recently formed Japan Basketball Players Association, which currently consists of the NBL’s Japanese players, in order to have a voice as a collective group against the JBA (although the JBPA isn’t legally a labor union).

Oga was harsh on her fellow female players. She said that other players had to be more aware of the FIBA-JBA situation because they are directly affected by it.

“I don’t think that the younger players understand it,” said Oga, who’s been on the national squad since 2001 and was the scoring leader in the 2010 FIBA World Championship with 19.1 points per game. “But they’ve got to know. They might say that they wouldn’t be affected. Yes, they could be.

“We’ve got to create the mood that we cooperate with the men’s players and women’s players and can direct our words to the association. Otherwise, nothing will change no matter how much time passes.”

Oga, a former long-time star for the WJBL’s JX Sunflowers, is desperately focused on not letting the JBA get suspended, because she knows that it would be a major blow for Japanese basketball.

“It will take everybody’s goals away,” Oga said, when asked what kind of impact the potential abeyance would have. “(The JBA) have set goals to make the Tokyo Olympics, but that may not happen. Our goals will become the children’s goals. But if they know they can’t go to the Olympics, then maybe they might think they want to play something else like volleyball or soccer.

“There’s no way that it will help spreading the game. Then, we can’t win a medal and the sport won’t be major. If that happens, that will depress the whole thing.”

Reigning Asian champion Japan is in Group A along with Brazil, Spain and Czech Republic in the 16-nation FIBA World Championship for Women, which tips off on Sept. 27 in Turkey.