Saitama – The Kawasaki Brave Thunders captured their first Emperor’s Cup in seven years on Saturday.
But it’s the way in which they did so that will hopefully serve as a confidence builder toward their ultimate goal — winning the B. League.
When thinking of the Brave Thunders, stars such as Nick Fazekas, Ryusei Shinoyama and Naoto Tsuji, who together have anchored the team for much of the last decade, quickly come to mind.
But the team didn’t have to lean on those players in order to win the Emperor’s Cup.
“It was huge for us to know that what we’ve done all year hasn’t been wrong,” point guard and captain Shinoyama said after Kawasaki’s 76-60 win over the Utsunomiya Brex in Saturday’s final. “And we feel like we are going to get even better from here then on. The Emperor’s Cup title will make us believe we can achieve what we want.
“We learned that we don’t need to do anything special. We can win with hard work by everyone on our team and the way we won today will give us confidence. We didn’t win the Emperor’s Cup with any special strategies, and this will give us momentum going forward.”
Notably, Kawasaki managed to win the semifinal and final without ace scorer Fazekas single-handedly guiding the team. He racked up 13 points and 11 points — numbers considered below average for the naturalized 207-cm center, who has constantly averaged more than 20 points a game since coming to Japan for the 2012-13 season.
“We knew (the Brex defense) would come hard at Nick defensively,” Kawasaki head coach Kenji Sato said. “So we tried to run our offense with everybody else, taking advantage of the opponents’ focus on defending Nick. It was like all the five guys on the floor were going to attack, including Nick himself.
“And one thing you can’t forget is, Nick had nine assists yesterday (in a 79-67 semifinal win over the SeaHorses Mikawa) and six today (in the final). When he does things like that, we’re going to be too hard to stop.”
The Brave Thunders had eight different scorers in the final, with all recording at least seven points.
“Obviously, everyone’s used to me scoring 25 points,” Fazekas said. “Utsunomiya didn’t let me get too many good shots today but someone else had to be open and everyone else was making shots today. So it worked out fine, but I think it’s definitely a confidence builder going forward.
“I think a lot of teams in this league believe that we are sort of a one-man show here in Kawasaki, but it’s really not. We’ve got a bunch of guys that can contribute.”
Other players indeed picked up the slack for Fazekas in the annual tourney’s final two games. In the semifinals, Jordan Heath nailed six 3-pointers for 26 points, and youngster Keisuke Masuda led the team with 13 points including three shots from behind the arc.
The Brave Thunders, who lost to the Brex in the final of the league’s inaugural season, were considered legitimate title contenders in 2019-20 until that campaign was abruptly called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now Kawasaki, which is currently third in the Eastern Conference with a 29-14 record, will have a little extra motivation toward a league title run.
“We did what we were supposed to do on this big stage and I’m certain it’ll help us build confidence,” Tsuji said. “You can’t gain experience like this very often and I think this experience will help us out when we will get to the playoffs.”
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