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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

HOOP SCOOP

Tornadoes learn lessons from 0-18 season


Nobody wants to play 18 games and lose every single one of them.

Ed Odeven

It defies logic. And it eliminates the point of competition.

For the Nippon Tornadoes, however, their participation in the International Basketball League this season produced a record of 0-18, but that's only one vital detail of the story.

The Tornadoes, making their first venture into overseas competition, earned a valuable measuring stick for future Japanese players and teams in international competition.

"Though the results by numbers looked (terrible), those who were engaged have found more courage than those numbers," said Sadachika Yoshioka, the IBL's director of Japanese relations. "I do not see that All-Stars in the JBL and the bj-league will be playing in the IBL in the near future. But those who will challenge as professional players will know that this league can be a battlefield to know yourselves: to succeed or to meet your Waterloo."

The Japan Basketball Academy, with training facilities throughout the country, assembled the team that played in the IBL this season. The team was based in Oregon for the season.

In a recent interview head coach Tatsumi Nishida described his team's 18-game season as "an invaluable experience which cannot be pursued in Japan."

The Tornadoes opened the season with a 146-90 loss to the Vancouver (Wash.) Volcanoes on May 1. Their season ended with a 184-147 defeat to the Snohomish County (Wash.) Explosion on June 3.

Now, a few weeks after the team played its final game, Nishida had an opportunity to reflect on the experience. He chose to accentuate the positives.

"The strength of American basketball is brought through the long history of basketball in America and its education system," he said.

"While in Japan, we could see only impressions. But now we could feel it. This will help us to learn how to improve individual skills."

As a team, the Tornadoes competed against more powerful players and they were physically overmatched throughout the season. And that's a lesson that the current Tornadoes — and prospective Tornadoes — will never forget.

"For Japanese players who come to challenge in the IBL, there is no way (to avoid) situational battles," Nishida observed. "Height, power play, individual skills . . . those handicaps must be overcome by themselves.

"We are not talking about theory," he noted. "But I feel that we are taking steady steps to use our five senses, to use our brain, which has to work with individual play and team play."

In the high-scoring IBL, which utilizes a 22-second shot clock (rather than the standard 24-second clock) to speed up the pace of games, Daisuke Tamura and Masaharu Kataoka were the Tornadoes' leading scorers with averages of 26.7 and 26.0 points per game, respectively.

Although those points didn't help the Tornadoes record a victory, they did serve a valuable purpose: a starting point for statistical analysis. Call it a necessary first chapter in the team's history.

Or as Nishida explained: "Through our participation in the IBL there is an advantage for American coaches who wish to compare stats among both Americans and Japanese, which is a complete difference when looking at Japanese stats produced in Japan."

"I feel our approach will be a good stepping stone for (future) Japanese players who desire to play in the U.S. For the players, this will be a turning point to succeed or fail (on a global stage)."

Indeed, point guard Yuta Tabuse's four-game stint with the Phoenix Suns during the 2004-05 season still serves as a motivational factor for all Japanese players, a target for them to shoot for in the future. But Nishida and his team want to become a success story in the IBL, which in turn would produce a wellspring of inspiration for aspiring pro players in Japan.

Nishida understands this. And he knows his responsibility to become a better coach will greatly influence his players' chances of long-term success in international basketball.

"It is important to know how we as coaches tackle this issue," he said. "Unless we see the future, kids will not be able to see the world as well."

This offseason is an important time for the Tornadoes. Nishida will need to analyze the pros and cons of the team's inaugural season and make plans to improve the team for 2010. Searching for athletic big men should be a priority, too.

In addition, he'll have plenty of chances to brain storm with a large network of hoop colleagues around the country.

"I would like to share my experiences with as many coaches as possible," he said.

"Then, we would like to learn further through the upcoming season next year."

I asked Nishida if he felt it would be difficult for JBL veteran sharpshooter Takehiko Orimo and up-and-coming JBL frontcourt standouts Joji and Kosuke Takeuchi to commit to playing for the Tornadoes, noting that the IBL season would conflict with their time on the national team.

He responded by saying, "It is up to how you value this opportunity. If you want to try, it could be done time-wise. However, it may be better to note that not everyone can play for the Tornadoes."



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