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Saturday, Dec. 4, 2010

BJ-LEAGUE

Apache, Alvark hold historic scrimmage


Staff writer

The bj-league's Tokyo Apache and JBL's Toyota Alvark have knocked down the first barrier separating the nation's two professional basketball leagues, even if it happened in secrecy, The Japan Times has learned.

The teams staged a scrimmage last week, several sources have confirmed. None of the sources, however, would reveal the location of the game.

This was the first-known competition between teams from both leagues. And it comes at a time when there is increased talk of a possible merger in 2013 between the leagues, though many doubt it will happen at that time due to a number of issues.

"Tokyo put four Americans on the floor vs. Toyota's one," said a source with thorough knowledge of the situation. "And then Toyota put a second one on the court for only two minutes and the Apache were only able to win by four points.

"The JBL looks boring, but it is very competitive," he added.

The bj-league, now in its sixth season, was officially recognized by the Japan Basketball Association last spring, the first step toward gaining legitimacy in the eyes of the old-guard national governing body.

Another important step was taken when Shimane Susanoo Magic guard Takumi Ishizaki became the first active bj-league player to suit up for the national team this fall, including at the Asian Games.

Under the JBA's direction, there was talk of planned JBL/bj-league exhibitions and games for the 2010-11 season, but they never materialized.

At this time, with or without permission from their leagues or the JBA, it made sense for Tokyo and Toyota, coming off a monthlong break while the league was shut down during the Asian Games, to seek outside competition.

Tokyo (4-4) is in the middle of a two-week break before facing the Niigata Albirex BB on Dec. 11-12. The Apache have played four less games than any other club in the 16-team bj-league; in fact, the Rizing Fukuoka and Osaka Evessa both played their 16th game of the season on Friday.

The Alvark (11-5), who are coached by 57-year-old American Donald Beck, are tied with the Aisin Seahorses for the best record in the eight-team JBL. But the Alvark, slated to face the Panasonic Trians this Saturday and Sunday, haven't played since sweeping the Rera Kamuy Hokkaido on Nov. 4-5.

The JBL resumes play this weekend after a monthlong break. The Alvark's Yusuke Okada played for Japan at the Asian Games,and team's leading scorer is Michael Takahashi (13.2 points per game).

Tokyo is led by ex-NBA coach Bob Hill and features a deep, talented roster that includes former NBA center Robert Swift, ex-NBA Development League forward Kendall Dartez, along with teen standout Jeremy Tyler, who is projected by many as an NBA draft pick next summer, as well as popular veterans Cohey Aoki, Jumpei Nakama and Darin Satoshi Maki.

The JBL, which has a one-foreigner-on-the-court rule, is recognized for having many of Japan's top native players, while the bj-league allows three foreigners on the court (in the second quarter, however, it is only two).

Facing the Apache presented a different sort of challenges for the Alvark than they will face in any other contest this season.

So will other bj-league and JBL teams actively pursue competition against the other league in JBA-sanctioned events or team-organized contests?

That remains to be seen, but, as sources have stated in a number of interviews, players want to prove themselves against teams from the other league. That natural curiosity is "part of a player's competitive drive," as one source put it.



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