YOKOHAMA – The B. League has wrapped up its season with championship games at Yokohama Arena, one of the best venues for basketball in Japan, in each the last two years.
Now, the Japanese men’s pro circuit has decided to use the arena to open a new season in similarly grand fashion.
The league will kick off its fourth year with a matchup between two of its most popular teams — the Utsunomiya Brex and Kawasaki Brave Thunders — on Thursday night.
The contest, which will tip off at 7:05 p.m., will be the only game held that day. Other teams will begin playing from Saturday across the nation. The lower divisions have already started their 2019-20 seasons.
“It’s an honor for us to play ahead of everybody else,” Brex head coach Ryuzo Anzai said at a news conference on Wednesday. “We play many times every year and have always showcased close games.”
Anzai also mentioned the Japan national team, which finished 31st with a 0-5 record at the 32-nation FIBA World Cup last month. He said that he hopes both teams can display the type of game that inspires Japanese basketball toward next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
Meanwhile, despite making the postseason, Kawasaki had a frustrating season in 2018-19. The powerhouse, which advanced to the league title game against the Brex in the 2016-17 campaign, was never able to play in sync, having to cope with a series of injuries to its core players, and failed to even capture the Central Division crown (The Niigata Albirex BB won it).
It will be a challenge for the Brave Thunders in Thursday’s game against the Brex, being forced to compete without their regular backcourt; point guard Ryusei Shinoyama suffered a broken bone in his left toe during the World Cup, while Naoto Tsuji underwent shoulder surgery after last season.
There was a little good news for Kawasaki fans, however, as both Shinoyama and Tsuji were seen shooting during practice on Wednesday.
“While we’ve had injuries and have had to practice without our national team players, the rest of us have trained hard,” veteran guard Yuma Fujii said. “We still have players whose injuries have not fully healed. Nevertheless, I’m excited about the opening game. I can’t wait for it. Come tomorrow, we’ll play our best and enjoy the game.”
The two teams faced each other in the best-of-three first round of the playoffs last season and Utsunomiya swept Kawasaki in crushing fashion.
The B. League was lavishly inaugurated in 2016, when the Alvark Tokyo and Ryukyu Golden Kings squared off against each other at Yoyogi National Gymnasium.