Basketball / B. League

Alvark players consider themselves B. League contenders, not reigning champions

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Reigning B. League champion Alvark Tokyo will approach the new season not with the intent to defend their title but rather with the desire to win another, team captain and guard Takeki Shonaka said at the B. League’s kickoff conference on Monday.

“We expect a tough season-opening series against Sunrockers Shibuya,” said Shonaka, whose Alvark captured its first league title by defeating the Chiba Jets in May. “Hopefully, we’ll play well and build confidence for the rest of the season.”

The two East Division clubs will face against each other in an all-Tokyo matchup on Oct. 6 and 7 at Arena Tachikawa Tachihi to tip off their third B. League campaign.

“People say that we are the defending champs and are the only team that can aim at the repeat,” Shonaka said. “But we are trying not to dwell on that too much and we are rather focusing on how we’ll be able to develop ourselves as a team.”

Meanwhile, other teams that came up short for the title last year hope to be the last men standing at the end of the season.

Jets star point guard Yuki Togashi said that because the team finished second last year, its goal for the upcoming season is crystal clear: winning the championship.

“Our squad hasn’t changed much from last year,” the national team player said. “But we’ve acquired a guard in Trey Jones (who has been listed as a small forward), and hopefully it’s going to work out.”

Chiba, which has captured the annual All-Japan Championship two years in a row, have also signed popular shooter Shigehiro Taguchi from the Akita Northern Happinets during the offseason as well as power forward Josh Duncan, who has plied his trade across Europe.

The Jets will take on the Kawasaki Brave Thunders in its season opener at Funabashi Arena on Oct. 4 in a head start for the top division.

Asked if being a part of the season opener felt special, Kawasaki’s Ryusei Shinoyama recalled his jealousy in response to the B. League’s inaugural season opener between the Ryukyu Golden Kings and Alvark, which was played before a crowd of over 10,000 at Yoyogi National Gymnasium two years ago.

“It won’t only be a season-opening game, but it will also draw a lot of attention,” said Shinoyama, whose Brave Thunders changed ownership from Toshiba to DeNA Co. Ltd after last season. “That will affect the excitement of the B. League and we all share responsibility in being a part of it.”

The league has made some regulation changes in its third season. The number of non-Japanese players who could be used at any time, which was previously variable depending on the quarter, has been set at two for the entirety of the game.

The playoff format has also been tweaked. Previously, first and second-round series tied at 1-1 would be decided immediately through a mini-game with five-minute halves. Now, a full 40-minute Game 3 will take place on a separate day.

For a second straight year, the title game will take place at Yokohama Arena May 11. Toyama will host the All-Star Game on Jan. 19.