Basketball

WJBL's Antelopes focus on positive gains

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

In Japan’s sports culture, you are supposed to be disappointed and mourn when you lose a game.

That’s, of course, a natural reaction for competitors. But you also need positive energy to channel that frustration into a vital force to move forward.

This season, the Toyota Antelopes are attempting that approach in the Women’s Japan Basketball League.

Last Saturday, the Antelopes took a 63-45 loss in the first game of a two-game series against the Fujitsu Red Wave in Ebina, Kanagawa Prefecture. But their spiritual leader, Yuko Oga, unhesitatingly said that her team was “fortunate” to have a chance to avenge the loss against the same opponent the next day.

“This is a result we came up with and we’ve just got to accept it. It won’t help that you look back and keep dwelling on what happened,” said Oga, a vocal guard who joined the Nagoya-based club this year. “Every game is different and we are going to be all right if we spot what we didn’t do well and play to our best.”

On Sunday, Toyota defeated Fujitsu 50-46, capitalizing on its defense, which is one of its strengths.

Oga, 33, said that American Don Beck, who took over as head coach before this season, has always encouraged his players to enjoy the game and keep moving forward with a positive attitude, instead of reflecting on the past too long, because he thinks that’s a recipe for success. (Beck coached the NBL’s Toyota Alvark, a men’s team, before being hired to lead the Antelopes.)

“If you don’t have (the joy of playing), you’re not going to survive your hard training,” said the star guard, who’s averaged 9.1 points, 2.1 steals (fifth in the league) and 4.2 assists (fifth) through Sunday. “I think that Coach Beck’s always told us to come out with a fresh mindset, especially after we lose games like today and don’t do well in our practices.”

Oga has perhaps felt bigger joy than others. She sought an opportunity to play abroad, but wound up not having a team to play on last year. So she’s fired up about the chance to be a part of a team again and perform on the wooden court.

“I didn’t even have a chance to feel the disappointment from a loss and feel the excitement to go in every game,” said Oga, who had guided her former team JX-Eneos Sunflowers to nine WJBL championships. “And I didn’t have the opportunity to show people the outcome of the training that I did. I couldn’t share the joy for winning and disappointment for losing with teammates.

“So I want to cherish every game and every moment. And you can learn from any game, not just games that you win, but games that you lose.”

Toyota is 11-3 and sits in fourth place in the 11-team league standings. But Oga said that the Antelopes are in an adjustment phase, eliminating errors and other issues. She noted that the team’s real battles would come later in the season, including the playoffs.

“Every one of us has worked on her physical training and we are doing it, looking ahead,” the former WJBL MVP said. “And this team is in its first year under Coach Beck and in that regard we’ve had more changes than anyone else. So there’s a lot of challenges for us. But you can’t overcome them all at once. And you’ve got to enjoy the challenges.

“I believe we’ve got more capacity to grow than other teams, so hopefully our fans will enjoy the process as well.”