Even after his team’s 2020-21 season was brought to a close with a series sweep, Osaka Evessa veteran Ira Brown seemed satisfied with their first-ever B. League playoff appearance.
“No, I feel pretty good for what we’ve accomplished,” the forward said after their 84-73 loss to the Kawasaki Brave Thunders at Ookini Arena Maishima on Sunday. “It was the first time that Osaka has made playoffs. We had a lot of adversity. So I mean, for us to make the playoffs, I think it’s a huge accomplishment.
“We had what, seven to eight rookies? And then also a rookie head coach. You can’t ask for more than what we did throughout the season. I thought that we had a chance of beating Kawasaki but in order to beat a great team, you have to have everything go right for you — whether defense and offense, (or) the coach making the right (decisions) for the team. There’s a lot of things which come into play in a situation like this, so I don’t have any regrets on where we ended the season.”
The Evessa, who finished second in the West Conference with a 34-20 record this season, acquired eight players before and during the campaign. Assistant coach Akitomo Takeno served as the team’s acting coach after head coach Kensaku Tennichi was diagnosed with a malignant lymphoma last summer.
The team hit more speed bumps over the course of the season, with coronavirus infections forcing the Evessa to pause activities in April and a pair of core players absent from the playoffs due to injuries.
“A lot of teams keep their core group together,” Brown said. “They don’t make a lot of changes every single year. They keep their top players and then build off of what they need according to what’s going to make the team better.
“So I’m hoping, possibly in the future, that Osaka will continue to do that and get the players that we need in order to become a better team because once you change so many pieces every single year, it’s almost like a rebuilding year and you don’t know what outcome you’re going to get.”
This year’s first-division B1 featured just two conferences — East and West — while previous seasons had also featured a third Central conference. Yet the East has always been considered the strongest, fielding all three of the B. League’s champions.
Brown, a candidate for the Japan men’s 3×3 squad for the Tokyo Olympics, said that the East’s success has “100%” to do with the money, meaning that clubs in the conference can afford to pay more for better players and deeper benches.
Kawasaki indeed had an edge over the Evessa in terms of depth. In Sunday’s Game 2, Nick Fazekas was the only member of the Brave Thunders to play more than 30 minutes, compared with four for Osaka.
Brown, who has played in Japan since 2011 and was naturalized in 2016, noted the Eastern Conference’s abundance of “company teams” owned by giant corporations such as Toyota (now known as the Alvark Tokyo) and Toshiba, the Brave Thunders’ previous owner.
“They have the money to spend, and they know what it takes to win at all times,” said Brown, who averaged 14.4 points and 7.5 rebounds in the 2020-21 season. “They’re not afraid to spend the money in order to make their programs or keep their programs better. All the top players want to go to where they know that they can make money.
“I’m not saying Osaka is not a great organization because it’s an improving organization. But I feel like the money difference is extremely different between the East and West. And when you have the money difference being that big of a discrepancy, then all the players are going to go to where the money is and also where there’s high-level coaches.
“If we spend the money over here in Osaka, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t dominate our conference.”
According to the B. League’s financial disclosures for the 2019-20 season, the East’s Alvark, the Chiba Jets Funabashi, the Utsunomiya Brex and Kawasaki were the highest-spending clubs in terms of personnel expenses, which include player and staffer salaries.
The Alvark easily topped other B1 teams with their ¥926.2 million ($8.48 million) payroll, followed by Chiba (¥659.2 million), Utsunomiya (¥608.2 million) and Kawasaki (¥483.3 million).
Osaka was third among this season’s West Conference teams with ¥433.1 million.
Yet it’s fair to point out that the Jets and Brex are not company teams, but instead were formed as private clubs and have both developed into some of the most popular and competitive teams in the league.
Asked if better players tend to gravitate toward East clubs, Takeno agreed but insisted that the Evessa are making strides to catch up with their rivals.
“This club doing as well as it has gives our players confidence going forward,” Takeno said of the Evessa, who won three league titles in the bj-league — one of the B. League’s predecessors. “Although we lost to Kawasaki four times this season including the regular season, we split 2-2 against Chiba and went 1-1 against Utsunomiya, so we’ve gradually been able to do better.”
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