The B. League is keeping its feet moving forward as it prepares for its third year, hoping to broaden basketball’s appeal among the public.
On Monday, the nation’s professional men’s circuit released the schedule for the upcoming 2018-19 season.
The campaign will tip off with a meeting of two of the league’s powerhouse clubs when the Chiba Jets Funabashi and Kawasaki Brave Thunders play on Oct. 4 at Funabashi Arena.
The game will start at 7:05 p.m.
The other Division One matchups will start on Oct. 6 across the nation. Some of the notable matchups include the reigning league champion Alvark Tokyo taking on the Sunrockers Shibuya at Arena Tachikawa Tachihi, the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins facing the SeaHorses Mikawa in an all-Aichi Prefecture showdown and the Rizing Zephyr Fukuoka making their top division debut against the Tochigi Brex.
The second division will begin its season on Sept. 28, ahead of the top-flight division, with two contests.
Each team will play 60 games during the regular season, which will continue until late April.
Last year, multiple games were played on the same day to begin the season. But the league chose to select one marquee matchup in order to draw more attention from fans and media this year.
“We had an idea to have one game first,” league chairman Masaaki Okawa said at a news conference at the league office. “The Chiba Jets have overwhelmed in fan attendance and we thought they had a right to be part of it.
“And the Brave Thunders have switched their ownership from Toshiba to DeNA while Nick Fazekas has naturalized. So they are going to be a new Brave Thunders, and let’s see what they’ll show us. Usually these two teams have managed one win and one loss against each other (in a two-game series). So we can expect some tough, close battles.”
The Jets drew 5,196 fans per home game during the 2017-18 season, and were far ahead of the runner-up Levanga Hokkaido (3,743).
In its inaugural year, the B. League kicked off in grand fashion with a matchup between the Alvark Tokyo and Ryukyu Golden Kings drawing 9,132 fans at Yoyogi National Gymnasium while also being broadcast live on two major channels.
Kawasaki and Chiba had both hoped to be selected for that contest, but were left out.
“I’m frankly excited about this,” Kawasaki captain and point guard Ryusei Shinoyama said. “I still vividly remember how excited everybody was in the opening game in the first season. But we’ve gotten the privilege to play ahead of everybody else this year, and we expect more attention from the media and all that. Hopefully, it’ll be televised on a network channel.”
Ryumo Ono of the Jets said: “I’m sure we are going to get some attention (from the fans and media), so hopefully we are going to play a game that’s deserving of it.”
The Jets edged the Brave Thunders 2-1 in the first round of the playoffs last season. Chiba eventually advanced to the championship game and fell against the Alvark.
Meanwhile, the league has also tripled the number of games held on weekdays from last season for the upcoming 2018-19 campaign.
Okawa said the league hopes to create a culture where company employees come to arenas after work by playing games on weekday nights.
“Entering the third year, we are going to test our genuine values,” Okawa said. “We are going to actively try to have more games on weekdays. In order for basketball to be recognized more nationally going forward, it will be our first step.”