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Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012

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Hoop hopes: Players representing each of the JBL's eight teams prepare for this weekend's start of the new season at a Tokyo news conference on Monday. KAZ NAGATSUKA

JBL looking to go out with a bang


Staff writer

With its 2012-13 campaign getting under way this weekend, the Japan Basketball League, which will be rebranded as the National Basketball League next fall, promises to entertain the fans as much as possible in its final season under the old name.

The new season will tip off with matchups between the Toyota Motors Alvark and Link Tochigi Brex, and the Toshiba Brave Thunders and Mitsubishi Electric Dolphins on Friday. Each of the eight teams will play 42 games, with the regular season wrapping up on March 24. The top four teams will advance to the playoffs.

The best-of-five JBL Finals will start on April 17.

"This will be our last season as the JBL," JBL chairman Yoshifumi Ito said at a Tokyo news conference on Monday. "But we'll be united as one league to provide exciting games for the fans."

Last year, Toyota ruled the league as it earned both major championships in the All-Japan Championships (Emperor's Cup) and JBL championship, defeating the Aisin Sea Horses in the JBL Finals.

American head coach Donald Beck said that his Tokyo-based team is looking forward to a new challenge in a brand-new year.

"We had a wonderful season last year, winning both the JBA Cup (Emperor's Cup) and JBL championship," Beck said. "Our players now have to get used to defending the titles. We'll work extremely hard to get back a level where we can do that."

The league introduces a couple of new floor generals in American Scott Berry for the Levanga Hokkaido and Lithuanian Antanas Sireika for the Brex this year. The 56-year-old Sireika guided the Lithuanian men's national team to the EuroBasket title in 2003 and fourth place at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

The league also announced that it would stream all games on computers, tablets and smartphones both live and VOD (video on demand).

"We hope to reach out to more fans in broader regions through the internet," JBL secretary general Hideta Suzuki said. "We expect this to help expand the popularity of the JBL and basketball."

Meanwhile, the Panasonic Trians earned perhaps the biggest attention from reporters at the news conference.

Last month it was reported that the Osaka-based club will disband at the end of the season along with the company's badminton team because of the Panasonic's financial struggles, while its other sports teams (such as baseball and rugby) would be likely to remain. There have been no official announcements on the matter from the company, and the team seemed confused as it prepares to begin the new season.

Trians head coach Yoshinori Shimizu raised his voice when asked about the issue.

"The company has not given us any explanations," said Shimizu, a former Japan national team coach. "Certainly, we have not had an explanation why it had to just be basketball and badminton.

"The company's saying it'll make an announcement at the end of October, but I've told my players they don't have to be loyal to the company so much any more because they've got their own lives to think of."

Originally, Panasonic was counted as one of the 12 teams set for the NBL, but the NBL is now considering adding one more club.



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