KAWASAKI – There might not be many teams that are as motivated as the Kawasaki Brave Thunders to have a great start to the 2017-18 season.
Kawasaki was the runner-up to the Tochigi Brex in the inaugural B. League Championship in May.
On Friday night, the Brave Thunders begin their championship quest with the opener in a two-game series against the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins at Todoroki Arena.
In their season-opening series last fall, the San-en NeoPhoenix swept the visiting Brave Thunders. Now, the team embraces the change to open the new campaign in Kawasaki.
“I’m very happy that we will be able to start our season at home, because we opened our season away last year,” Brave Thunders captain Ryusei Shinoyama said after practice on Thursday. “We want to win for our fans and (Friday’s game) will mean just one game.”
In January, Kawasaki also lost in the championship contest in the annual All-Japan Championship to the Chiba Jets. But the team had the best record (49-11) in the league while its star center Nick Fazekas won the MVP award and scoring title, so it had a successful overall season.
For shooting guard Naoto Tsuji, however, the 2016-17 season provided nothing but frustration because he endured a series of injuries and was never able to showcase his peak performance.
“I didn’t make shots when the team needed me to and we dropped some games because of that,” said Tsuji, who was named the Finals MVP in the final season of the NBL, the 2015-16 season. “So I would absolutely like to lead the team to the championship at the end of this season.”
So the 28-year-old Tsuji, who has also been left out of recent international tournaments with the Japan national team due to injuries, intends to avenge his past disappointment during the new season.
“As we are getting into the second season, people are going to have higher expectations and are looking forward to great games from us. So we would like to get off to the new season winning the first two,” said Tsuji, who is recovering from a leg injury from the preseason. He is expected to play in the opening series.
But the Brave Thunders also know that it’s a long, 60-game season, and they expect to have ups and downs and injuries throughout the campaign. And some of the players have been banged up since the preseason. Which is why they want to make sure they don’t try to push too hard early in the season.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries to our players and they are currently working to get back to their full form,” head coach Takuya Kita said. “That’s actually a positive fact. But they are still lacking practice time with the team, so we will have to see how much they would be able to play in the first few weeks carefully.”
Scoring maestro Fazekas said that it would be important to get off to a good start, but noted that there are so many contests to play after the league’s opening weekend.
“Every weekend is important, but it’s 60 games,” said Fazekas, who averaged 27.1 point and 12.7 rebounds (second in the league) last year. “So it’s like, you are not going to win the championship this weekend. It’s just important to kind of play well (in the opening week).”