The ongoing debate about how to improve Japan’s basketball, from the elementary school level to the professional ranks, has produced a number of different viewpoints. The one thing that most people agree on is that the current approach isn’t working to create a powerful national team and a number of world-class players for the future.
In response to Wednesday’s Daily Yomiuri column, featuring comments from JBA official Hideaki Usui, former JBL2 and bj-league player Isaac Sojourner offered his insights on Japanese hoops and why the status quo is a major problem.
“The JBA official in my opinion is totally off his rocker,” Sojourner said. “There are more foreigners on any, and all bj-league rosters and the (roughly) 20 NBA D-League players currently playing for the teams all over the league. (NBA vets like) Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and David Benoit and others like Jeff Newton, Lynn Washington as well as countless others throughout the years, who have experience from many years played back home at great high schools, prep schools, junior colleges, big-name universities and big-time pro leagues as well. Which right there blows the doors off any and all of these universities here and any other (Japanese) school for that matter.
“How, then can the Japanese players in this league — the bj-league — not have the upper hand when they have countless hours spent trying to hold their own against our league’s best, year after year, practice after practice, game to game? They can’t!”
Sojourner compared the issue of weight training in the two leagues as being a fundamental difference, too.
“Let’s take the weight issue. Japanese players in this league, if they want to make it through the year, have to lift weights to get stronger and faster in order just to survive; remember, because the average Japanese player in the bj-league on any given night, if not all nights, has to play a foreign player at his position,” Sojourner said. “I have personally seen many Japanese players getting better because of the conditions of this league, so to say it can’t hold its own weight is utter nonsense.
“If the JBL was so much better, then why can’t they make a better showing at the Asian Games? Remember only JBL players could play for the team up until just recently. Most of these players in the JBL were handed just about anything they have ever gotten throughout their basketball lives and they know it.
“If they went to a big school, which all, if not, most of them did — and please keep in mind that I went to a university here, Hamamatsu — so I have seen the cheating and the placing of big-named teams in the exact spots they want them in — then right there, they have not earned much, if this type of thing in fact goes on — and trust me, folks . . . it does go on — and therefore don’t in my book, have neither the experience needed nor the will to actually win games, because of the fact that they have been handed so much throughout their careers.
“Not saying that some of these players are not in fact good players, some are in fact pretty good talents. I just believe that they would have a difficult time playing in the bj-league under our rules.”
Usui’s declaration that the bj-league is in its developmental stage missed the point about why the league has had a profound impact on Japanese basketball.
“A sad thing about that is, they actually would fair better if their league (the JBL) was in fact closer to our model than theirs,” Sojourner said. “So for this JBA official to state the bj-league is in its developmental stage and he wonders if teams like those can really compete in the same arena, to me is just a really bad joke. Of course they could compete.
“You don’t think that they could, then why not have a playoff at the end of the year to actually prove who indeed is the best from the two leagues? That should solve the issue right then and there, right?”
Sojourner’s passionate argument against the JBA’s narrow-minded leadership continued with a number of valid points. He continued by critiquing Wednesday’s Hard Drives column by John Gibson.
“He went on to say that the ‘bj-league, whose Japanese players ostensibly were unable to make it onto JBL rosters, is seen as inferior,’ ” Sojourner said. “Here again, how can that be? They just didn’t make it past your tryout, so they went elsewhere and did make it on a squad and are now really competing for a spot on a team, which is what all ‘players’ should aspire to do in their careers . . . compete!
“No, the fact of the matter boils down to this for me, the two leagues making one big league is not a bad idea at all — for the overall good of basketball in Japan — but in order for the Japanese players to get something out of themselves so that they can compete on the world stage every four years is simple. My thinking is that the bj-league model far outweighs the JBL model, so for the merger to be meaningful do something like 50 games — for now if you want all those teams (36 were stated in the latest rejected proposal) fine — but they all must keep the players they want to keep and put the other players into some sort of draft, where the weaker teams by record from the previous year get the first picks of the leftover players or totally new players that said team(s) scouted.
“Keep the home-and-away model from the bj-league but keep the home venues to one place. (If) you want to have other games in other venues in the prefectures of every team, save that for the preseason games.”
Here is his concluding argument: “Lastly, I would try and have maybe no more than four foreigners to a team overall, and that way you could play with the notion of say, teams can only have two to three players from overseas on the court at one time, forcing the current Japanese ballers to up their own games. I could go on and on about things the two should do vs. what they have done/are doing currently.
“However, overall the two leagues need to take a good hard look at any and all good points about the two leagues and make it one for the benefit of the current talent in this country and to foster new and meaningful impact players in the future.
“The key is experience here, the more meaningful games you play due to a high level in talent from year to year, the more your league will benefit.”
A current bj-league player dished out his insight on related topics but requested anonymity.
“I think the thoughts spoken about the inferiority of the bj-league, is a sad case of speaking on something without knowing the facts,” the player said. “Traditionally speaking, the JBL was top dog in Japan, but times have changed. The game has changed.
“The bj-league has been able to attract more former NBA players and coaches than the JBL has to my knowledge,” the source added, without citing mentors with NBA ties, such as Tokyo’s Bob Hill, the first former NBA head coach in bj-league history, along with former NBA players-turned coaches who have previously worked in the bj-league: Jawann Oldham (Oita), Joe Bryant (Tokyo), David Benoit (Saitama, Kyoto), John Neumann (Fukuoka, Takamatsu) and Brian Rowsom (Oita); and a current bench bosses who played in the NBA, Bob Nash (Saitama); and Akita’s Bob Pierce, who has worked as an Asia-based scout for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“The bj-league has shown that a professional basketball model can be successful in Japan. Teams like Akita, Ryukyu, as well as Sendai, have been able to attract die-hard fans to support their club on a consistent basis.
“The bj-league has grown drastically since my first year in Sendai. The local players have gotten much better, and the level of imports has improved. The JBL seems to be going the other direction; it has remained status quo,” he concluded. “Public perception needs to change, in order for basketball in Japan to continue to grow.”
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