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Friday, Feb. 18, 2011

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Plan for 36-team league rejected by JBA board


Staff writer

It's back to the drawing board for the Japan Basketball Association.

The JBA's board members held a meeting Wednesday and rejected a proposal to merge the bj-league, JBL and JBL2 teams into a new 36-team professional hoop circuit for the 2013 season.

The latest proposal was unilaterally concocted behind closed doors without the bj-league's knowledge, input or support, The Japan Times has learned after speaking to bj-league officials.

So it's no surprise that the plan had limited support.

Or as one bj-league coach said after hearing the news, "Are they completely nuts? Uh, yes."

JBL and JBA officials assembled together this latest concept for a new league and outlined their goals, including a 68-game regular season, 16 more games than bj-league teams currently play and 26 more than JBL teams now play.

There are currently 16 bj-league teams, with four joining the fray next fall, and more expansion talk for 2012-13, so the concurrent merger talks can even be deemed Plan B. The JBL's first division has eight teams and the JBL2 has nine.

The rejected blueprint included a plan to have pro and amateur teams at the start, with all teams being required to become pro clubs in two years.

Presently, six of the JBL's first-division clubs operate as corporate teams, with only Link Tochigi Brex and Hokkaido considered pro squads.

In recent years, as merger talk has popped up from time to time, there have been several sources who have said Toyota Motors and Toshiba are among the companies that would drop their JBL teams rather than join a pro league.

Indeed, the long-term financial investment and uncertainties of this venture are big factors. Other unknowns include how to sort out the never-ending problem of securing home venues, team salary caps (having it or not), and foreign player quota.

This latest proposal states that teams in the new league would be permitted to have company or geographical names from the outset, but the goal is to have nicknames for all teams in the future, which the bj-league has.

What happens next — counterproposals and countless meetings, for starters — will probably include a spirited debate over how many teams to put in the so-called merger, and how/if to hold a dispersal draft.

"Thirty-six (teams) are too many," a JBA official was quoted as saying by Kyodo News. "Some teams could go out of business sooner or later."

The team formerly known as Rera Kamuy Hokkaido has had major financial problems in recent years and is currently being run by a JBA proxy, Japan Basketball Operation.

In addition, the bj-league's Takamatsu Five Arrows and Oita HeatDevils and other clubs have also been plagued by financial woes.

Around the league: Miyazaki forward Brandon Cole's latest blog entry for Asia-basket.com has been posted online. He offers his thoughts about his team's performance and its recent success. . . . Former Fukuoka and Takamatsu coach John Neumann is currently guiding the Romanian national team.

Here's one reason the Sendai 89ers are in second place: They have 533 assists and 388 turnovers. Of the team's major contributors, only center Chris Holm has more turnovers than assists. In addition, backup guard Takehiko Shimura has 44 assists and seven turnovers in 439 minutes.

Upcoming schedule: This weekend's six series are Saitama vs. Miyazaki, Shiga vs. Ryukyu, Kyoto vs. Niigata, Akita vs. Hamamatsu Higashimikawa, Sendai vs. Toyama and Shimane vs. Takamatsu.

Tokyo plays host to Osaka next Tuesday and Wednesday nights at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2.

Love for the game: Though he turns 40 on April 2, Akita guard Makoto Hasegawa remains a dependable player, a go-to scorer at times and a leader at both ends of the court.

Tokyo coach Bob Hill, for one, appreciates the impact Hasegawa has made in the bj-league and the positive impressions that so many Japanese have of his pro career.

"I don't think his age has as much to do with it as his love to play basketball and his passion to play basketball," Hill said after seeing Hasegawa score 14 points and make two steals on Tuesday. "You have to have that when you are 40 years old to play professional basketball. That's obviously what he has.

"When you're a basketball coach there are certain players that come in for the other team and sometimes you are happy they are coming in and sometimes you are not that happy," Hill added. "When he comes in the game, I'm not that happy.

"He can make shots, he's smart, and he makes the right pass. He doesn't guard anymore like I'm sure he used to. I don't have a frame of reference for that, but he's a very, very, very good basketball player, and my team knows how I feel about it. But I think it's his deep desire to want to play. I mean, he can still shoot, make free throws, make the right passes."

More Happinets talk: Despite the Northern Happinets' 10-22 record as an expansion team, Hill said the team is no pushover.

"The team we just beat is better than people think," Hill said Tuesday night.

But consistent shooting remains a weak point of the first-year team, as evidenced by 31.3 shooting on 3s and 46.7 on 2s through Wednesday.

Akita welcomes Will Graves, who played college ball at perennial power North Carolina, to the rotation for this weekend's series against defending championship Hamamatsu Higashimikawa.

Graves arrived in Japan on Tuesday. An introductory news conference was planned for him in Akita on Thursday.

Happinets coach Bob Pierce said Graves' size, speed and strength will give the team a much-needed boost. He said Graves' ability to attack the basket, shoot from the outside and defend multiple positions will "fit the team's needs."

"We have rough shooting nights no matter what the defense does," Akita coach Bob Pierce said candidly after the series finale. "We can't shoot."

He admitted the Apache's lockdown defense, which held the Happinets to 23-for-69 shooting on Wednesday, was impressive but his team didn't help its own cause.

"We don't make open shots," Pierce said. "Our first three plays of the fourth quarter were wide open. We ran the plays the way they were supposed to be, with guys wide open, and we can't make a shot. . . . It's five against one. We have no help.

"(Point guard) Sek (Henry) is so frustrated because no matter who he passes to they are going to miss. . . . We can't shoot. That's why we need Will (Graves), somebody who can score. . . . (Antonio) Burks needs somebody else to help him get free."

Tough matchup: Tokyo center Robert Swift, who played under Hill with the Seattle SuperSonics, has six double-doubles in the past seven games, including 14-, 15- and 16-rebound efforts. In addition, he's made 62.1 percent of his field-goal attempts (No. 2 in the league).

"He's way too big and strong for us. We tried to double team him and it just leaves Cohey (Aoki) and Jumpei (Nakama) open for shots," Pierce said. "We can't guard him one-on-one. He's really smart. You can tell he's an experienced player. He uses his body well. If he's double-teamed, he passes out, he seals. I like him.

"I don't know what kind of conditioning he would need to get back to the NBA, that's a different level than here, but we can't guard him."

Working through a slump: Apache guard Jumpei Nakama, a first-time All-Star this season, went a combined 5-for-25 from the field (3-for-15 on 3-pointers) on Feb. 6 against Kyoto and Tuesday against Akita.

He bounced back against the Happinets on Wednesday, shooting 6-for-11 (3-for-7 from long range) and finished with 17 points. Prior to the mini-slump, the Hiroshima native, who's averaging a career-high 12.5 points, scored 32 points and flushed 7 of 12 3s against the Hannaryz on Feb. 5.

"He and Cohey are very similar," Hill said after Wednesday's game. "They both get lots of shots at practice, and today they were here early to get even more shots. His remedy is more shots.

"I try to encourage him in the games when he's open. He has to shoot it, they both have to keep shooting. Shooters shoot. That's what they do."

Perimeter marksman, however, need to let shots come within the flow of the game.

"I thought last night, though, he forced himself some when he shouldn't have. He made some bad decisions last night," Hill said of Nakama.

He added: "Jumpei is an excellent basketball player and his defense — we had a long talk about his defense at the beginning of the year — and he's guarded some imports and done a good job.

"I'm not worried about his shooting. He'll get it back."

For the season, Nakama is 65-for-164 on 3s (39.6, No. 4 in the league) and is a major part of Tokyo's diversified offense.

"He approaches a slump the right way," the coach added. "He gets in the gym and shoots and shoots and shoots."

No position players: Certain players can be labeled as "no-position players" based on the fact that their body type or skill set don't fit neatly into any of the five positions. Sports Illustrated recently provide its own example of this, citing University of Arizona standout Derrick Williams.

With that in mind, one Eastern Conference coach offered his thoughts on current and former bj-league players who fit the above description.

"Marlyn Bryant who played for Fukuoka last year might be the best example, sort of a power forward in a guard body," the coach said.

"Players like (Shiga's) Gary Hamilton, who is a rebounding power forward, except that he also is a deft passer and has great hands to get steals.

"Or (Toyama's) Brian Harper, who has the height of a power forward, but has a build and the game of a shooting guard.

"Oita's Damian Johnson might be the closest to what the article about Derrick Williams was talking about. He's not a true shooting guard or power forward, but morphs into either of those from the small forward spot depending on what his team needs or who his teammates are. . . . (Yosuke) Sugawara last year for Ryukyu was kind of in that mold as well.

"Maybe (Shuichi) Takada for Takamatsu. He's turned into one heck of a player. Would be nice to see him on a good team. He could be (chosen for) bj-league Best 5 if he was in the right situation."

"The upper-echelon teams in the bj-league average 12 turnovers (per game)," Hill said. "We average 18, so we have to clean that up," he added, citing a need to challenge his players to make better decisions with the basketball. . . .

The Apache had 14 first-half turnovers on Tuesday and one in the second half.

Tokyo, playing before triple-digit crowds at Yoyogi for most of their home games, has struggled to play four consistent quarters in front of the hometown fans. "We're a better road team than we are a hometown," Hill said. "You tell me why; I don't know."

The latest issue of Tokyo Weekender features a story on the Apache.

Quotable: "We were absolutely despicably awful. We just were awful. We were out of sync. We didn't play hard. We just were bad." — Hill, sizing up his team's play in the opening half against Akita on Tuesday, when it had 14 turnovers and played listless defense.

Closing commentary: Former Evessa coach Kensaku Tennichi is working as a color analyst for some GAORA telecasts, serving up keen perspective on the league, which he gained from five super seasons with Osaka.

You would think this is a good thing, especially because Tennichi has been involved in more bj-league games than almost anyone in Japan — players, coaches and game officials.

(And obviously he has plenty of insight about how this league and its 16 current teams operate.)

But apparently, petty jealousy and short-sightedness — two big factors that often lead to failure or slowing down progress — have reared their ugly heads.

A league insider has told The Japan Times that some bj-league officials are reportedly not happy that Tennichi, who now coaches the Ashiya University men's team, is working for GAORA. The source also said that the league is subtly pressuring GAORA to stop using Tennichi on telecasts.

What a joke.

A league with limited visibility in the public eye — it hasn't been around long enough or risen to a respectable level of popularity — fails to realize that Tennichi, who captured three titles as Osaka's bench boss, led the Evessa to a championship runnerup last season and a Final Four berth in 2008-09 and, oh, by the way, won 70.4 percent (162-68) of the time has a treasure chest of anecdotes and knowledge about the 16-team circuit.

In fact, Tennichi should be viewed as an asset, not a nuisance or suddenly unwelcome "outsider."

* * * * *

Do you have a story idea about the bj-league?

Send an e-mail to: edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp

Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.



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