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Saturday, April 9, 2011

BJ-LEAGUE

Player concerns may force Final Four move


Staff writer

Voices of opposition have emerged to the bj-league's possible plans to hold this season's Final Four at Ariake Colosseum, and this could force the league to move the final playoff rounds to another region, possibly Kansai.

Kobe is an appealing option cited by several individuals within Japan's basketball community.

Sources cite fear over the uncertainty of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant situation as a major factor in their opposition to staging the playoffs' final rounds at the usual location this year.

"I've heard some Western Conference imports saying they won't play in the playoffs if the finals are in Ariake," said a source with an impressive track record of having his pulse on what's happening around the league. "(The prevailing sentiment is) we Americans all agree that if they are in Ariake they can count us out because nobody wants to be near Fukushima. If the league chooses Tokyo, then we all will leave after the season is finished."

The playoff schedule remains a bit sketchy as league and team officials work behind the scenes to concoct a plan for the Western Conference playoffs.

Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix and Niigata Albirex BB will host first-round Eastern Conference playoff series against either the Akita Northern Happinets or Toyama Grouses on May 7-8. After that, the playoff dates and venues remain unannounced, though six West teams are slated to compete in the postseason.

One team executive, who requested anonymity, is convinced the league needs to find another option.

"The league should prepare Plan B, another site not in the Kanto area, in case they cannot play it in Ariake," the team executive said. "As a matter of fact, I said it again and again to league officials, and they are now seeking other options. Okinawa was once asked to be the host for the finals for emergency situations."

Kyoto Hannaryz power forward Reggie Warren, who helped lead the Takamatsu Five Arrows to the title game in 2007 as an expansion club, is a proponent of finding a suitable venue not named Ariake, which seats 10,000, for the sixth-year league's championship weekend.

"Yeah, it wouldn't make any sense to have it in Tokyo," Warren wrote in an e-mail to The Japan Times on Thursday. "With everything going on and with the teams in that actual area (Tokyo Apache and Saitama Broncos) not playing because of the events, why would they continue to have the playoffs in that region?

"On the other hand, I know it would be good for the fans in those areas to get a chance to get back out and watch some games, but I just think too much is going on. And as I write this my family is contacting me at the moment about another earthquake not too far from Tokyo.

"I am not comfortable and I really don't think my teammates would be comfortable with going down to Ariake to play, either. I think it should be in Okinawa or in this area of Osaka, Kyoto and Shiga."

Osaka Evessa forward Billy Knight, however, wants the league to stick to its original plans.

"I will play in Tokyo," said Knight, who helped lead the Phoenix to a title last spring. "Guys on my team will all play in Tokyo. The guys on the team who are scared are gone now. I hope it's in Ariake."

Like many others around the league, Evessa coach Ryan Blackwell is waiting for specific details about the pros and cons of staging the Final Four at Ariake or another venue.

"I don't even know where the finals are supposed to be held," Blackwell told The Japan Times on Thursday. "I've heard they can't get a gym with the capacity of at least 9,000 (elsewhere), so Ariake would be the ideal place if everything was safe.

"I would think the league and the government especially would make sure there are no risks in playing there. If in fact the Americans do decide to leave I couldn't see having the playoffs. You could (hold games) for the fans and for financial reasons, but a 'real champion' would be undetermined. Hopefully it won't come to that, especially for all of us who decided to stick it out and finish the season."

Ryukyu Golden Kings star Jeff Newton, the only player in league history with four championship rings, is determined to lead his team to the Final Four regardless of the location.

"I don't plan on missing the finals no matter where it's held," said Newton.

Meanwhile, Niigata center Julius Ashby, a bj-league All-Star with three teams, has mixed feelings about the uncertainty hovering over the season's premier showcase.

"I don't know where they plan on having the playoffs," Ashby said, but noted he doesn't think it will be at Ariake. "But I would have to see what other foreign players decided to do to make a decision."



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