Players were upbeat and enthusiastic, and a positive vibe filled the room.
And what else could be expected?
The new league, featuring the 18-team first division and 18-team second division (and a less-heralded third division), offers a new opportunity to unite the nation’s basketball fans under one umbrella.
With this new era of Japan pro basketball just days away from officially getting underway, a collective sense of excitement carried 18 first-division team representatives and B. League chairman Masaaki Okawa during a Monday news conference, dubbed the “B. League Tipoff Conference,” which doubled as a fashion show, that was festive and informative.
The Alvark Tokyo and Ryukyu Golden Kings meet in the opener next Thursday at Yoyogi National Gymnasium. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:55 p.m. Fuji TV will broadcast the game.
Three generations of Japanese hoop standouts were represented during events staged at an upscale Tokyo hotel, with 46-year-old shooting guard Takehiko Orimo of the Levanga Hokkaido, Tochigi Brex point guard Yuta Tabuse, who turns 36 on Oct. 5, and 23-year-old Chiba Jets playmaker Yuki Togashi in the spotlight alongside 15 other players.
Never before had this snapshot of the new era been presented before a large gathering of the nation’s media and special guests, including Japan Basketball Association officials.
Standing on a stage, each player made a few general remarks after Okawa’s opening statements. Orimo, the elder statesman of Japan’s pro players, went first, followed by Sendai 89ers floor leader Takehiko Shimura, Shigehiro Taguchi of the Akita Northern Happinets and then Tabuse.
Orimo recognized the significance of the B. League’s inaugural season, which, after the unification of the bj-league, NBL and NBDL, shifts the focus from the sport’s previously scattered interests to a singular entity.
“The league finally starts in this way and I’m pleased about it as a player,” said Orimo, whose post-collegiate hoop career began in 1993. “I have some worries with it, too, but I think that this is a first step for basketball to become a major sport like baseball and soccer.”
As for Levanga, who will play in the six-team East, Orimo said the northern club is determined to put forth a strong effort. “We only have 10 players (for now),” he said, “but we are going to play as hard as we can with all guys and we are going to proceed with our fans.”
Interestingly, Tabuse, speaking with TV cameras surrounding him, made this request — delivered as a message after being prompted by the media — to supporters of the now-disbanded NBL (the JBL’s successor), saying, “Please like the B. League.”
He added that he’s looking forward to the challenge of making adjustments with his teammates during the 60-game season against first-division foes. Asked about the on-the-court import quota rule, which will alternate between one and two players during a game based on a coach’s tactics, Tabuse said he honestly doesn’t know how it’ll affect his team, but said the squad has strong overall talent and roster depth.
Accomplished scorer Takuya Kawamura switched to the Yokohama B-Corsairs during the offseason and gives the team an added spark to boost the scoring attack of mainstays Masayuki Kabaya and Kenji Yamada, who helped lead the club to the 2012-13 bj-league championship.
Kawamura’s career has included stops with the OSG Phoenix, Link Tochigi Brex, Wakayama Trians and Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins during the JBL and NBL era, and now he’s fired up about a fresh start with Yokohama in the new league.
“I’m psyched,” the 30-year-old Kawamura told reporters. “The leagues have merged into one and we can now play against all the teams.”
He added: “I’ve been part of the championship team at Tochigi. The B-Corsairs have become a champion team as well and hopefully I can help this team win their second championship.”
To promote the B. League, Kawamura insisted it will be the collective responsibility of every player.
“What each player says will be important because this is pro basketball,” he said. “For now, nobody knows who we are, so we are going to have to put in some effort to promote ourselves using SNS (social networking services) and appear in the media more often.”
Besides media responsibilities, the veteran shooting guard stated that “you’ve got to perform to your maximum ability and play as hard as you can.”
Under second-year head coach Taketo Aoki, the B-Corsairs have retooled their lineup. New additions include forward Jeff Parmer, a dynamic leader with the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (for whom he was named the 2010-11 bj-league MVP), Shinshu Brave Warriors and Shiga Lakestars.
“Even when I’m in the bench, we can play consistently,” Kawamura said. “We have so many different guys. We have some guys that have mobility, too. If we can capitalize on our full ability, I think we can be a dark horse.”
Togashi, meanwhile, declared that the No. 1 thing will be to “play with pride” this season.
Making his mark: Sunrockers Shibuya forward Ira Brown, who recently became a naturalized Japanese citizen has been a solid addition to the national team, which is currently playing in the FIBA Asia Challenge Cup in Tehran.
Brown, who played college ball at Gonzaga University, has a tournament-best 12.8 rebounds a game. He is also averaging 13.4 points in five games.
Looking ahead: The Japan Times will publish an exclusive interview with Okawa next week. A preview article on the upcoming season is also in the works.
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.
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