The Earthfriends Tokyo Z are trying to blaze a trail in the B. League with the signing of 18-year-old Kaine Roberts.
Roberts, a guard who was born to a Japanese mother and American father, will be making his professional debut — sort of. Because he wants to retain his eligibility to compete at the collegiate level in the United States, Roberts won’t receive a salary.
“It’s big that we’ve found a way to let a player compete in a pro league and then go to the NCAA,” Earthfriends head coach Shunsuke Todo said during Roberts’ online introductory news conference on Thursday, a few weeks after the club officially announced the signing.
Todo continued: “I’m proud of this announcement because this is very epoch-making for both the B. League and Japanese basketball. Kaine will play for us for a year and then challenge the NCAA. I think we can present a new path for other young Japanese players.”
Born in Kanagawa Prefecture, Roberts played at Nile C. Kinnick High School in the Yokosuka Navel Base and Santa Margarita Catholic High School in California.
The 187-cm guard played for the Yokohama B-Corsairs’ U-15 team as well as for the Tokyo Samurai, a youth club team.
Last May, Roberts was one of the two players from Japan who were part of the Asia-Pacific select squad for the U-16 All-Star game against the European youth squad during the EuroLeague Final Four week in Spain.
Roberts was invited to the Basketball Without Borders Asia camp hosted by the NBA and was given the camp’s GRIT Award for his hard-working play in Tokyo last year.
Roberts said he appreciates the opportunity to be part of a pro team because it would “help my game progress to the next level,” which could be Japan’s national team, the NCAA or even the NBA.
Roberts, who idolizes the Brooklyn Nets’ Kyrie Irving, did not shy away from saying he wants to make an impact on the Earthfriends and the B. League.
“Honestly, coming in as a rookie, I just want to make my biggest impact from the very first game,” Roberts said. “Even if that’s preseason or regular scrimmage. I just want to make my biggest impact.”
Todo revealed he had a chance to have national team star Yudai Baba see Roberts practice in person during the quarantine period for the COVID-19 pandemic. The coach said Baba told him Roberts, who was 17 that time, is “way better than he was” at 17.
Roberts will wear a No. 4 jersey for the Earthfriends, who finished in the Central Conference with a 12-35 record in the 2019-20 season.