The Winter Cup is Japan’s biggest high school basketball tournament, but the 2020 edition is facing an unprecedented crisis amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Saturday, the Kaishi Kokusai High School boys team became the seventh squad to withdraw from the tournament since it kicked off on Wednesday.
Unlike in the other cases, however, no one from the school, which is located in Niigata Prefecture, tested positive for the virus or recorded a fever. The school was told to pull out because its players were deemed as close contacts due to a Thursday game against Tokyo’s Senshu University High School, which reported a positive case within its team.
The Winter Cup’s coronavirus guidelines state that it could be called off if one-tenth of the 120 participating teams are forced to withdraw. This year’s event is being held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium and Musashino Forest Sport Plaza.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium is operated by the city and a Japan Basketball Association spokesman said the sport’s national governing body is still waiting to find out whether the tournament can continue. According to the spokesman, the Winter Cup has never been canceled in its 73-year history.
Kaishi Kokusai was viewed as a team with a chance to go deep into the tournament. It had been scheduled to face Sendai University Meisei High School in the third round on Saturday.
John Lawrence Harper Jr., the starting point guard for the two-time reigning boys champion Fukuoka Daiichi High School, said his team was disappointed as it’d had been hoping to face Kaishi Kokusai in the quarterfinals if both schools advanced to that point.
Harper, whose father is American, said he was personally looking forward to matching up against Kaishi Kokusai guard Taiga Jones, who is also biracial.
“I actually talked with Jones this morning, and he told me, ‘You guys got to win it all,’” Harper said after his team’s 96-58 win over Gifu Prefecture’s Mino Kamo on Saturday. “And I told him we will.”
So far, seven squads — six boys and one girls team —have pulled out of the event, which is officially known as the All-Japan High School Tournament.
Fukuoka Daiichi head coach Takashi Ideguchi expressed frustration with tournament organizers, saying the guidelines do not clearly establish the conditions under which a team should withdraw.
“What are the rules?,” Ideguchi asked in an angry tone. “We want clear explanations so that everyone can understand and inform the remaining teams about what we need to do. We heard that (Senshu University High)’s person wasn’t a registered player. So where do we draw the line?
While Ideguchi said his team would continue to do its best at the event, he has an inkling the tournament won’t be able to complete the remaining schedule.
“I know that’s not what we’re supposed to say,” he said. “We’ll just focus on every game we’re supposed to play. This is a stage for our players to showcase what they’ve accomplished in their practices. We just want them to perform at their best.”
The Winter Cup is scheduled to wrap up with the boys final on Tuesday at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.
The tournament was played in empty gyms through Saturday’s games, but organizers will allow fans to attend games beginning Sunday.
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