Optimism is the common emotion shared by all teams as the new season unfolds in the early stages.
Players, coaches and fans are fired up to be a part of something new, something unified after a directionless decade for Japan pro basketball.
There’s also been an impressive turnout of local and national media, chronicling action in words, photographs and sound bites.
As Toyama Grouses coach Bob Nash noted, “Our opening weekend’s games were amazing. We had a sold-out crowd on Saturday, which created a great home-court advantage. Sunday’s crowd was a little less but just as loud and inspiring.
“This promises to be an exciting season because of the parity of the teams,” said Nash, who’s now in his fifth season with the Grouses. “You only have to look at the (two-point Saturday) game between the (San-en) NeoPhoenix and last season’s NBL champs, Toshiba. The (Neo)Phoenix got two great home wins against the top team.”
Fourteen of 18 first-division, aka B1, clubs won at least one game during the season’s first week. Only the Kawasaki Brave Thunders, Yokohama B-Corsairs, Ryukyu Golden Kings and Shiga Lakestars lost twice.
Meanwhile, Chiba Jets forward Michael Parker is a fervent supporter of the overhaul of Japan hoops that created the B. League.
“It’s great that the two leagues are together now,” Parker commented. “Of course now it is more meaningful now that it’s only one league. Ever since it was confirmed that it was gonna be a new league, the anticipation started and now that it’s finally here it has been a wonderful experience.
“I personally went to the opening game of the league (at Yoyogi National Gymnasium — Alvark Tokyo vs. Golden Kings last Thursday) and I thought the league did an amazing job. It gives me confidence that it’s only going to get bigger. It was amazing to see Yoyogi sold out (more than 9,100 spectators).
“It’s going to be a competitive league and it should be a new beginning of Japanese basketball. I’m proud to be part of it.”
Besides the usual excitement for opening week, was there any additional incentive for players to do things differently because of the fresh start in a new league?
Some players, including Kyoto Hannaryz forward Kevin Kotzur, would disagree with that notion.
“I feel like everyone’s basketball mentality going into the season is the same,” Kotzur said on Tuesday. “Players are approaching the season as they normally have in the past season no matter what league they were in. I think, though, with that being said everyone is still trying to truly figure out what is happening with the league. We are still trying to figure out the new quirks or ideas that the new league has, instead of already having a mindset of knowing what to expect throughout the year with the old leagues.”
Right now, he doesn’t see a big change in fans’ behavior as it pertains to the B. League.
“For what I have seen so far, I feel like the fans are embracing the new league,” Kotzur said. “I think fans are going to be loyal to their teams no matter what league they play in, but so far I haven’t seen any problems with fans since the leagues combined. Our fans’ anticipation and support for the league was where I expected it to be so far, but like the players I think they want to see what the league and teams have in store for them for the rest of the year.”
That said, Kotzur acknowledged there is abundant motivation for himself and his team to have a special season during this inaugural season.
“As a player, I really am anticipating the new challenges and players that I get to play against,” Kotzur admitted. “I feel like as a competitor you embrace new fans, new rivals and new teams to face every time you get a chance to do it, so I can’t wait to see how this year turns out.”
Perspective on Earl Barron: Grouses newcomer Earl Barron, a former NBA center, adds an element of intrigue to the Toyama lineup this season as well as the skill set of a player who played in the world’s premier basketball league for parts of eight season.
The 35-year-old Barron may be an X-factor for the Grouses.
“Once Earl get into better physical condition, we are hoping he will be a major impact player for us,” Nash said of the University of Memphis alum. “As a team we still learning about each other so we may struggle a bit, but I like the makeup of our team.”
In his first game with the Grouses, Barron had nine points and four rebounds in 15-plus minutes on Saturday. A day later, he finished with 12 points and five rebounds in 15:10 of court time.
Heartfelt appreciation: Coach Nash’s wife, Domelynne, passed away in late July at age 65 after battling cancer, according to published reports.
They had met at the University of Hawaii, where Bob Nash was a basketball star in the early 1970s. Domelynne was a UH cheerleader in those days.
Decades later, this reporter repeatedly saw her kindness, outgoing personality and warm smile during bj-league games in and around the Tokyo metropolitan area.
Reflecting on his wife’s recent death, Nash spoke with heartfelt gratitude about the outpouring of support from individuals within Japan’s basketball community, among others.
“I wish to thank the fans and friends who reach out to our family in the wake of my wife’s passing,” Nash told this newspaper. “We are deeply honored by all the heartfelt messages.
“My wife was a beautiful person both inside and out. She lived her life by caring about other, sharing with others and loving all who crossed her path. She loved the culture and the people of Japan, which is one of the main reasons we have spent five years coaching and living in Japan.”
Second-division spotlight on . . . Kumamoto: Volters veteran power forward Reggie Warren, who played his first game in Japan in 2006 for the Takamatsu Five Arrows, was impressed with the entertainment and big, bold spectacle the B. League delivered in its opening game.
“It seemed lke they rolled out the red carpet for the opening games,” Warren, who’s now in his first season with Kumamoto, told The Japan Times. “I thought they did a great job and put a lot effort into it and looked like the fans really enjoyed every moment of it.
“I definitely feel like it was highly anticipated and it lived up to the hype The fans are the most important and I am happy for them to have a unified league…
The aforementioned 9,000-plus fans at Yoyogi for the opener was “a great crowd,” Warren said, adding, “I really enjoyed watching the game live on TV.”
The Volters opened their season with 87-70 and 73-69 home victories over the Kagawa Five Arrows.
“We definitely wanted to make sure we gave them a victory to start the season off right,” Warren said before reflecting on the continuing recovery in Kumamoto Prefecture from the powerful 7.0-magnitude earthquake in April.
“We have been doing charity helping out around the city with the earthquake victims and just want to help as much as we can,” he stated. “I think those two wins gave them a sense of pride and something to look forward to. Just walking around the city you really understand that people love this team and want to be supporters of the club. And we are trying to give them the best season that we can.”
For the Volters, the team’s volunteer activities have included providing assistance in getting locals gyms ready for use again. Players have helped move weight machines and treadmills, putting them where they need to be, and run 3-on-3 youth tournaments, according to Warren.
Weekend schedule: In the first division, the Kawasaki Brave Thunders play host to the B-Corsairs starting on Friday. The rest of the week’s action tips off on Saturday. Here’s the rundown: Akita Northern Happinets vs. Alvark Tokyo, SeaHorses Mikawa vs. Nagoya Diamond Dolphins, Chiba Jets vs. Tochigi Brex, Sendai 89ers vs. Levanga Hokkaido, Niigata Albirex BB vs. Sunrockers Shibuya, Toyama Grouses vs. San-en NeoPhoenix, Kyoto Hannaryz vs. Osaka Evessa, Ryukyu Golden Kings vs. Shiga Lakestars.
Room to grow: Gunma Crane Thunders center Abdullahi Kuso said that “it’s too early to say” if the new makeup of the B. League will be more competitive. But he welcomes the chance to see his second-division team grow and vie for respectability.
“I do however think that Japanese players are gonna improve in the long run because they do more now,” he noted. “They’ll have to be more well rounded.”
Did you know?: The nine-team third division begins play this weekend. . .. The Diamond Dolphins’ Justin Burrell, a St. John’s University product, leads the first division in scoring (25.5 points per game). He converted 20 of 28 shots from the field in Nagoya’s season-opening series.
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