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B. League hoping to build on success over coming season

by

Staff Writer

The B. League tipped off its inaugural season in lavish fashion last year with a game between the Alvark Tokyo and Ryukyu Golden Kings on an LED court at Yoyogi National Gymnasium.

At the All-Star Game at the same arena, fans were entertained with concert-style shows before the game and during halftime. And the title game between the eventual champion Tochigi Brex and Kawasaki Brave Thunders, also at Yoyogi, produced a highly competitive, nail-biting contest in front of a full house.

All these games were broadcast on prime-time national TV.

None of this had ever been seen before in Japanese basketball.

But the league has no intention of resting on its laurels and plans to maintain its aggressive attitude going in Year 2, which tips off Sep. 29 across the country.

The league will enter the 2017-18 season with a new slogan — “Build Up.”

“In the 2017-18 season, we would like to make our league a more stable yet more attractive league,” B. League chairman Masaaki Okawa said at the league’s tip-off news conference at Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel on Monday. “And we are preparing plans that will surprise our fans.”

Okawa explained that the league continues to set high goals because it believes that is the only way it will grow into a legitimate major professional league.

“The league’s brand has grown, but now the clubs and players will need to raise their values,” Okawa said. “And hopefully, we are eventually going to be considered as one of the three major sports leagues along with professional baseball (NPB) and the J. League.”

In the first year, the league held all its major events at Yoyogi, but the championship game for this year will be held at Yokohama Arena, which has a bigger capacity — at about 17,000 — than Yoyogi (10,000). The dates for the title game will be announced later.

Meanwhile, the players are of course fired up with the league’s “sophomore” campaign around the corner.

Center/forward Kosuke Hashimoto of the defending champion Tochigi Brex said that the team will head into the new season with a challenger’s mind-set.

“We ended last year with the best possible result by winning the title,” the 24-year-old said. “So we are going to be the team that everybody tries to beat this year. But we are not going into the season with the mind set to defend the title — we are going to try to win another championship. And we are the only team that has a chance to repeat the title.”

Tochigi, which has lost some of its main players such as playoff MVP Takatoshi Furukawa (Ryukyu) during the off-season, will open its season against the powerhouse SeaHorses Mikawa at home on Sep. 29, on which three other matchups will be played.

The Chiba Jets recorded the top home attendance figure in the 18-team first division last year. They will begin this year away from home against the Nishinomiya Storks on Sep. 30.

“Last year, we couldn’t start our season with a two-game sweep (of the Sendai 89ers),” said star guard Yuki Togashi. “So this year, we want to start with back-to-back wins to give us a boost for the season.”

As in the 2016-17 season, the teams will play 60 games apiece in the regular season, which will wrap up in early May.