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Friday, May 18, 2007

HOOP SCOOP

Bryant: JABBA should end nonsense toward bj-league


Outsiders often have the best "inside" view. It enables them to see the big picture without having their perspective clouded by petty differences, politics or cliques.

Ed Odeven

Joe Bryant isn't really an outsider, but he has the fresh perspective of someone who thinks outside the box. He's someone who realizes the importance of questioning the status quo.

He has lived and worked in Japan for the past two bj-league seasons, guiding the Tokyo Apache during the team's infancy and with a tireless work ethic and a smile helped put a face on the franchise. Being Kobe Bryant's dad is, you might think, his biggest claim to fame. But the elder Bryant was a stellar athlete in his playing days (first in the NBA, later in Europe) and he's become a passionate, focused-on-the-big-picture coach.

Above all, Bryant has proven time and again — school clinics, post-game meet-and-greet sessions with fans, etc., — that he cares about the future of basketball in Japan.

So his thoughts on the state of the game in Japan are worth listening to.

And he offers a fresh set of ideas which are in contrast to the stale, do-things-as-we've-always-done-them approach that has been the modus operandi of the Japan Basketball Association (JABBA).

Bryant hit the nail on the head when he said that JABBA should include bj-league players on the Japan national team. After all, it's a quality pro league, an emerging league, and it's the right thing to do.

"For Japanese basketball to go worldwide I think the national team, when they start playing in the Olympics, they have to put the best players out there,"Bryant said. "They have to put the most talented players out there. It can't be because of politics or corporations."

But that's the reality of basketball in Japan in 2007.

The current Japan national team is comprised exclusively of Japan Basketball League veterans.

This is the wrong approach.

Working together, the JBL and bj-league can raise the profile of the sport in this country and inspire youngsters to practice seven days a week and aim for a shot at a college and pro career.

"You have to get the best players in Japan and say, 'Listen, you are representing Japan. You are not representing Toyota, you are not representing Mitsubishi," Bryant said.

"You have to get your best players . . . and put them out on the floor. And then you will see the Japan national team upset Germany, upset Argentina. And then that will put Japan on the map."

Without hesitation Bryant blurted out the names of two bj-league standouts who he thinks can make a difference on the national team: sharpshooter Yu Okada of the Takamatsu Five Arrows and electrifying, pint-size guard Kohei Aoki of the Tokyo Apache.

"(Okada), I think he can be a super, super player, but is he content on making one shot here, one shot there?" Bryant said. "Or is he going to have that killer instinct and say, 'You can't stop me?' "

But he quickly added, "Oh my goodness, I think there's more. I really think there's more."

It's the notion here that Five Arrows guard Kazuyuki Nakagawa, a former USBL and ABA player, who demonstrated he can be a superb player in the bj-league after joining Takamatsu in mid-season and especially during the league's championship game, also deserves consideration by JABBA.

Yu Tabuse, a national hero to millions of sports fans for being the first Japanese to play in the NBA, is another guy whose omission from the national team should raise a few eyebrows and lead to many what-ifs. He's arguably the nation's best player and could provide great leadership in international competitions.

"Tabuse should come back (and play for the national team)," Bryant said. "He's had some great experience in the States," playing briefly in the NBA and now in the NBA Developmental League.

"So they should welcome him back home with open arms and be a part of his country. You can bring him on home."

Ex-Japan coach Zeljko Pavlicevic worked as a TV commentator during the recent Euroleague Final Four. He did not coach during the 2006-07 season after ending his stint here following the 2006 FIBA World Championship, but told FIBA.com in a recent interview he would like to take over at a European team again in the near future.

Asked to comment on the level of pro basketball in Europe, Pavlicevic offered this assessment: "The competition has gotten better and better. . . . Here, in Europe, you have really great players that you can export to America.

"Before, 15 years ago, 10 years ago, everyone thought the NBA was up and no one made comparisons between Europe and America. Now it's different. Look at the results in Japan at the World Championship with the American national team. It is something that is very good."

Toshimitsu Kawachi, the bj-league commissioner attended the 2007 Euroleague Final Four in Athens.

Now he's busy getting ready for the bj-league draft, which will be held Monday in Tokyo.



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