CHIBA – The B. League is currently in its inaugural season and is putting basketball in Japan in the spotlight like never before.
But the league has no intention of resting on its laurels and intends to keep evolving.
The league announced Sunday that it and the Japan Basketball Association will launch a new preseason single-elimination series of tournaments ahead of the 2017-18 campaign.
The tournaments, called the B. League Early Cup, will be held in four different areas across Japan — in the Kanto, Kansai, Tohoku and Tokai/Hokuriku regions — and six clubs from the first and second divisions apiece will compete in the three-day championship between Sept. 1-3.
“As we are getting into our second season, we want to bring even more excitement,” league chairman Masaaki Okawa said after Sunday’s Sendai 89ers-Chiba Jets game at Chiba Port Arena. “We will have some entertaining shows as well and hopefully our fans will enjoy them, too.”
Funabashi Arena, the Jets’ home arena, will be the venue for the Kanto Cup, which is the only tournament that will feature only first-division clubs (the Alvark Tokyo, Kawasaki Brave Thunders, Sunrockers Shibuya, Jets, Tochigi Brex and Yokohama B-Corsairs).
The Kansai and Tohoku tournaments will have four teams that are currently playing in the second division.
“I can’t really envision how it will be yet,” Jets star guard Yuki Togashi said. “But we will be in the Kanto tournament and we will face competitive teams. So it’ll be good for us to be able to play against those teams (in preseason), plus it’s a great opportunity for the fans, especially for the children, to get to see all those teams play at the same arena.”
Yamagata City General Sports Center and Edion Arena Osaka will host the Tohoku and Kansai tournaments, respectively, while the Tokai/Hokuriku tournament will be played at two different venues — Niigata Higashi General Sports Center and City Hall Plaza Aore Nagaoka.
Okawa said that the league would like to eventually expand the tournaments to Kyushu and Shikoku as well, and that it hopes to host a tournament where the regional champions assemble and compete to determine the national champion.
“Hopefully, it will become one of the biggest titles along with the league and All-Japan (Emperor’s Cup) championships in the future,” Okawa said.
Among the teams competing in this year’s top division, the SeaHorses Mikawa and Kyoto Hannaryz will not play in the Early Cup. Okawa explained that schedule conflicts will not allow those teams to participate in the inaugural Cup.
A similar tournament has been played in Tohoku, dubbed the Tohoku Cup, which started with the area’s bj-league clubs in 2012.
Echoing Togashi, veteran Sendai guard Takehiko Shimura said he wasn’t sure how the new concept will play out. But there is one thing he is certain about: players will need to be even tougher from the second year on.
“Teams will have to be more serious about their risk management, otherwise they’ll have higher injury risks for the players,” Shimura said. “Plus, you have to have depth on your roster, and as a player you’ve got to be very professional in your preparation. You can’t battle through the season without being tough.
“You play 60 games (in the regular season) and if you play in the postseason, it could be near 70. We haven’t played in (the Early Cup) yet, but it’s going to be more important to get ready conditioning-wise and maintain your body.”
The winners of the Kanto tournament will earn ¥2 million in prize money, while the tournament MVP will be awarded ¥100,000. The prizes for the other tournaments will be announced later.
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