Basketball / B. League

Players react to cancellation of season's final weeks due to COVID-19 pandemic

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

After the B. League announced the cancellation of the remainder of the 2019-20 campaign due to the COVID-19 outbreak on Friday, some players shared their mixed emotions about this season, which ended abruptly.

Shigehiro Taguchi, a Chiba Jets Funabashi shooting guard, exchanged his opinions, including players’ concerns about competing during the outbreak, with his peers. He serves as the president of the Japan Basketball Players Association.

Taguchi, a popular player known for his funny character, tweeted: “It’s certainly a disappointing way to finish the season. But I’ll get ready for next season, looking forward to playing in front of you all.”

Kawasaki Brave Thunders point guard Ryusei Shinoyama, a JBPA vice president, said in a team-issued statement on Friday that he’s thankful the league, clubs and players have tried to find the best possible solution that would be in everyone’s interests during this difficult time.

The JBPA was founded in 2013 with Japanese players from the NBL, one of the B. League’s predecessors, with guiding principles to promote the game. It is not necessarily a labor union to negotiate work conditions.

The veteran point guard insisted that through this crisis, he felt that it was “meaningful” to have the JBPA represent the players’ voice.

Toyama Grouses guard Tomokazu Abe posted a statement on Twitter stating that even though he understood the reason for the cancellation, it’s regrettable that the season was cut short.

“I’m 34 years old and I’m playing every year, not really knowing how many more years I would be able to play basketball,” Abe wrote.

“That’s why I cherish (playing) every single day. And it gives me a sad emotion that one of the important seasons has ended this way.”

Some of the import players, meanwhile, opposed the decision during and after the league resumed its regular season in mid-March after a couple weeks’ hiatus due to safety concerns.

The season was suspended again on March 17 after one weekend of games.

Kyoto Hannaryz guard Taichi Nakamura, one of the most improved players in the league this year, tweeted that it was difficult to accept that the season concluded this soon. But the 22-year-old added that it was a fruitful “rookie season” as a full-time professional player.

“I’ve finished the season injury-free and that’s the most important thing,” wrote Nakamura, who has played in the league since the 2016-17 season, utilizing its early-entry system while still a Hosei University student.

Spaniard center David Doblas, of the second division’s Rizing Zephyr Fukuoka, said in a Twitter post that it’s “sad” and “hard” to end the season like this, but it was “the right thing to do.”

It was a crazy ride for another player from Spain, Pablo Aguilar, for a different reason.

The forward, who was acquired by the Brave Thunders in late February, was set to make his B. League debut in early March. But his debut was delayed due to the aforementioned hiatus. And then, in Kawasaki’s first game back after the suspension on March 14, it was called off minutes before the scheduled tipoff time against the Levanga Hokkaido because three Levanga had a fever.

Finally, Aguilar made his Kawasaki debut the next day against the same team behind closed doors, and it became the league’s final day of competition this season.

Aguilar, 31, donned his Brave Thunders jersey for just one game in his first year in Japan.

“I wanted to put on the jersey and play in front of a full-house crowd at Todoroki Arena!” Aguilar tweeted in Japanese. “I hope that we will get our daily life back by overcoming the coronavirus as soon as possible so we can enjoy playing basketball.”

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