The unification of the NBL, NBDL and bj-league to create the B. League represented a big step forward for men’s pro basketball in Japan.
Another important step took place over the weekend with a pair of big events: the Kawasaki Brave Thunders represented the first-year circuit in the East Asia Club Championship, beating South Korea’s Anyang KGC on Saturday night at Yoyogi National Gymnasium; Sunday’s All-Star Game, witnessed by 9,567 spectators at the same venue and a national TV audience, was a crowd-pleasing, high-scoring affair, with B. Black trumping B. White 117-95.
Nine players reached double figures in points. Alvark Tokyo guard Diante Garrett, one of four ex-NBA players in the All-Star contest (joined by the B. Black’s Yuta Tabuse of the Tochigi Brex and Nick Fazekas of the Kawasaki Brave Thunders and B. White big man Hilton Armstrong of the Chiba Jets) was the top scorer with 27 points for B. White.
The Jets’ Yuki Togashi, a former NBA Development League guard, sparked B. Black with 16 points and six assists and received the MVP award.
All told, the teams combined for 95 field goals and 126 points in the paint in the up-tempo contest. And instead of having separate All-Star showcases for the now-disbanded bj-league, NBL and NBDL like in past years, fans and reporters had a chance to see a bigger, broader representation of the nation’s hoop talent in a bright chapter of this new era.
“It was a very impressive spectacle,” B. Black bench boss Tom Wisman, who holds the same post with Tochigi, told The Japan Times. “We had a lot of fun.”
The 67-year-old mentor enjoyed the invigorating outing.
“Even at my age, or should I say especially, I enjoy being around young, talented players. I have to admit that All-Star Games aren’t usually my favorite events — I’m more of a competitor and/or purist — but this was a game I really enjoyed. And we approached it in that vein.”
From a coaching standpoint, preparation was, of course, different than for a typical game.
“Dunks and 3s are All-Star event plays, which we talked about beforehand. But I also reminded the players that the best basketball is displayed as a team game,” Wisman said, “so we shared the ball and the playing time.”
There were 81 3-point shots in the game and the 167-cm Togashi even got into the spirit with the first slam dunk of his career.
In its comfortable victory over B. White, Wisman’s club doled out 31 assists, 18 more than its opposition.
But the veteran American coach didn’t want to see his players abandon defense.
“I also asked for a ‘little bit’ of defense as blocked shots and rebounds are appreciated by fans as well as an entertainment package to showcase the talent of the B. League, which is impressive,” added Wisman, whose coaching career began in 1976 in England.
Witnessing the impact of the weekend’s All-Star Game activities, including the Dunk Contest and 3-Point Contest and the large throng of media at Yoyogi to chronicle the action, Wisman recognized that the activities generated a positive buzz for the league.
“I couldn’t be more pleased,” said Wisman, whose first Japan coaching job was in the late-1980s. “For those of us that are Japan basketball veterans, we understand that this game could prove to be quite big. With the basketball potential of this country in mind, I’m excited with what is happening.
“Finally the JBA — the new Japan Basketball Association, that is — is tapping into it and is really starting to get it together. I tip my hat to them for what they are doing.
“The future is beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and that is good for everyone involved.”
Both Tabuse and Togashi were interviewed by Korean reporters after Sunday’s game and asked to reflect on the sport in the region. They were also peppered with questions by the domestic media.
Tabuse, this nation’s most famous face for the sport, echoed the sentiments of many when he referred to the East Asia Club Championship as a “big game.” He also said that the All-Star Game presented an opportunity for the B. League’s players to “work together to grow the game.”
Similarly, Togashi smiled when he was asked about the weekend experience. He acknowledged being a part of the unified league for the first season is “special.”
Armstrong’s appreciation: About an hour after the confetti rose inside Yoyogi on Sunday night, Armstrong spoke about the joyful experience of being an All-Star and what it meant to him at this stage of his career.
“This is great,” the former NBA pivot told reporters. “I had a lot of fun. I never expected to make the All-Star team and that’s why I’m very grateful.”
The 32-year-old Armstrong, who played for the University of Connecticut, suited up for the B. White squad and contributed eight points with a block and a steal.
Armstrong’s first NBA game was in 2006 for the Hornets and his last appearance in the circuit was in 2014 for the Warriors. Primarily as a backup, he appeared in 292 regular-season NBA games.
Aiming to preserve the special memories of the weekend, Armstrong asked all of his fellow All-Stars to sign a T-shirt, which he immediately described as a keepsake.
“It’s a moment I don’t want to forget,” he said.
Asked about significance of the large, enthusiastic crowd and if he felt the league got a boost by the showcase game, Armstrong agreed that it was a big opportunity.
“Hopefully we made everyone happy,” Armstrong added.
While encouraging Jets fans to continue their rabid support, he also issued a call for basketball boosters across the nation to “support all the teams.”
Upcoming schedule: A full slate of games is on the docket Saturday and Sunday featuring the following matchups: Tochigi vs. Kawasaki, Chiba vs. Mikawa, Tokyo vs. Yokohama, Osaka vs. Akita, Hokkaido vs. Shiga, Shibuya vs. Sendai, Niigata vs. Nagoya, Toyama vs. Ryukyu; and Kyoto vs. San-en.