Basketball / B. League

Basketball veteran Orimo skeptical of B. League's benefit to national team

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Just like other players, Levanga Hokkaido veteran guard/forward Takehiko Orimo is delighted about the inauguration of the B. League, the new men’s top professional basketball league in Japan.

But he isn’t getting too excited because he thinks that serious issues surrounding Japanese basketball still remain.

One of the biggest concerns Orimo has is about the development of Japanese men’s basketball. The country’s men’s national team hasn’t competed at the Olympics for four decades and hasn’t been able to make its presence felt on the international stage in recent years.

It sounds good that the Japan Basketball Association has established a brand-new circuit. But Orimo, a 46-year-old Japanese hoop legend, isn’t easily fooled. He believes that fundamental problems that have prevented Japan from being competitive internationally have not been resolved at all.

Japanese basketball has entered a new chapter over the past year and a half, during which the JBA was suspended by FIBA for its lack of governance, leading to the creation of the B. League. The reforms have been led by some soccer administrators, most notably J. League founder Saburo Kawabuchi, who led the task force as a co-chairman during the JBA’s ban.

Orimo, who is also the owner of the Levanga, believes that the rise of soccer in Japan began with the creation of the professional J. League in 1993. But he’s worried that the former soccer executives and administrators are trying to change basketball in the same way they did with soccer.

“Basketball is different from soccer,” said Orimo, one of the best shooters of all time in Japan, at the B. League tipoff event in Tokyo last Monday. “They are probably trying to imitate what they did with soccer, but I’m not sure if that’s right, to be honest. Basketball has a different character from soccer and a lot of things are different.

“It’s great that they have had success in soccer. With the foundation of the J. League, the level of Japanese players has developed. They have had some players that can compete on the world stage, the national team has become stronger and the public has been into it. But if you ask whether basketball can do the same thing, it’s probably going to be difficult. You have to come up with other ways that suit basketball.”

Orimo doesn’t think that the B. League will help the Japan national team regain its competitiveness at international level, and believes the country needs a grand plan.

“Training the present players, including myself, won’t help the development (of the national team),” said Orimo, who played for the Toyota Alvark for 14 season before he joined Hokkaido. “You’ve got to put your focus on younger generations, like every other country is doing, whether it’s in Europe and in Asia. Take Iran, for instance. They were very weak (when I was a core player on the national team a long time ago). But now they’ve gotten so competitive and even China has had a hard time playing against them. That’s happened because they’ve really put emphasis on development.”

Iran has captured three titles at the last five FIBA Asia Championships.

“So we’ve got to start training younger players from now, otherwise we’ll stay in difficult times,” Orimo continued. “Whether it takes 20 or 30 years, we’ve got to do it. If we try to do things in the next four, five years (with the focus on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics), it’s impossible (to make the national team competitive).”

The B. League requires clubs to have their own youth teams for that purpose. But Orimo hinted that the clubs might not be able to run those teams smoothly because young players usually play at junior high and high schools, and the associations of each prefecture, junior high school and high school federations might not cooperate with the B. League youth clubs.

“(The JBA) has got to bring governance to it,” Orimo said. “We can’t do it on our own.”

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