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Sunday, Jan. 29, 2006

Hopefuls flock to bj-league tryouts


Staff writer

FUNABASHI, Chiba Pref. -- Although the bj-league is brand new, it is looking for a blend of young talent and seasoned veterans on which to build its future.

About 350 turned out Thursday and Friday as Japan's first pro basketball league held tryouts.

The participants ranged from ages 16 to 38, and under the watchful eyes of all six bj-league coaches, they took a shot at becoming pro basketball players.

Although the goals were the same, the stories behind the players covered a variety of backgrounds.

Takatoshi Ishibashi's tale was just one.

A former center for the national team, Ishibashi played in the Asian qualifier round for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

The 37-year-old Hokkaido native, who stands 210 cm tall with a 140-kg frame, wanted to see if he could add another chapter to his basketball career.

His experiment met with mixed results, however.

"It wasn't good," Ishibashi said of his play after the sessions on Friday. "My legs wouldn't endure."

It was no surprise to Ishibashi that he was not at 100 percent.

Although he plays for the Toyama Grouses, a club team in Toyama Prefecture that will join the league next season (along with another in Kagawa Prefecture), Ishibashi's life is about more than hoops.

Ishibashi is on the Grouses' roster, also working as a normal employee, which keeps him from training as much as he would like.

Usually he steps onto the basketball court just two times per week.

Having decided to try out for the bj-league just two weeks prior, Ishibashi did not have long to get into top condition.

He knew he did not bring his best this time, but Ishibashi does not think his life on the hardwood is behind him.

"Post-up moves, rebounds and battling with my body underneath the basket -- those are what I'd like to show," he said.

Ishibashi has known success, but the humble post presence knows playing on the national team meant nothing to the others vying for a bj-league spot, especially a decade later.

"I'm not sure how I did today," he said. "You say I was a national team player, but it was more than 10 years ago. The level of the players today was indeed high."

Although he is playing for the Grouses now, it is uncertain if Ishibashi can play on the same team next season. But he hopes to chip in for the Grouses as long as he can.

Others at the tryout had more recent highlights on their roundball resumes.

Hirokazu Nema "sort of" knows what it is like to be a pro basketball player.

Nema had been playing for the Fukuoka Red Falcons, the only professional team in the Japan Basketball League (JBL), a half-amateur corporate league and considered on the same level of the bj-league.

But earlier this month, financial problems forced Fukuoka to withdraw from the league in the middle of the season.

On Friday, five Red Falcons participated in the tryout.

The bj-league has announced that tryout participants are allowed to play in games after February.

The contracts will only be temporary, and they will have to be selected via a May draft to play next season.

The league plans to have another tryout session in early May, and the selected players from the January tryout and recommended players from bj-league clubs can be invited as well.



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