WJBL powerhouse JX-Eneos Sunflowers chasing history in upcoming season

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The JX-Eneos Sunflowers have completely dominated on the court in Japanese women’s basketball for the last decade. But winning never gets old for the ultimate title collectors.

In fact, if they capture another trophy in the upcoming Women’s Japan Basketball League season, the Sunflowers will place themselves at the sole No. 1 spot for consecutive league titles captured in history of the top circuit. They are currently tied with the Chanson Cosmetics V-Magic for having won WJBL championships for 10 straight years.

“It will be no different from the years past. Our goal is to win the Empress’ Cup (All-Japan Championship) and league title this year,” Sunflowers star point guard Asami Yoshida said at the league’s kickoff conference in Tokyo on Friday.

Each of the 12 teams will play 22 regular-season contests in the 2018-19 campaign, which will tip off with a matchup between the Fujitsu Red Wave and Haneda Vickies at Sky Arena Zama on Oct. 19. JX-Eneos opens its new season the next day in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, against the Yamanashi Queenbees.

The regular season will wrap up on Feb. 10 and the eight teams will advance to the postseason, which will start on Feb. 16.

The playoffs will consist of the first round, quarterfinals, semifinals and finals. The best-of-three championship series is scheduled to be held at Ota City General Gymnasium in early March.

The Denso Iris, who fell to JX-Eneos in a one-game championships game last season, aim to dethrone the Sunflowers. The Kariya, Aichi Prefecture club is loaded with national team-level talent, such as veteran center Maki Takada, Monica Okoye and tall sisters Sakura and Himawari Akaho. Takada, Okoye and Himawari Akaho were part of the national team that finished ninth at the FIBA Women’s World Cup in Spain last month.

“I, Monica and Himawari played for the national team, and our younger players have added experience,” said Takada, who has won the league’s rebounding titles in each of the last three seasons. “We came up short finishing as the runner-ups, but with the experience we’ve added, I believe we will be a really good team this year.”

The Sunflowers have earned 21 championships in the women’s top circuit. They have also hoisted title trophies at the annual single-elimination All-Japan tournament nine times in the last 10 years.

The Kashiwa, Chiba-based team took only one loss last year, including the postseason. It completed an unbeaten season the year before. Ramu Tokashiki, a former forward for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, has been the league MVP in the last four seasons for the Sunflowers.

The league is entering its 20th season since it was rebranded as the WJBL.

This year’s All-Star Game will be held on Dec. 29 at Ota Gym.