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Saturday, June 5, 2010

HOOP SCOOP

No end to JBA's incompetence


Only the names change, but the story remains the same, someone wiser than I once said.

Ed Odeven

In case you haven't heard, the Japan Basketball Association recently released the names of 29 players for its May 30-June 5 national team workouts under new coach Thomas Wisman.

It should come as no surprise that of the 29 players on the list, none of them played in the bj-league during the 2009-10 season. All of the names on the roster belong to guys who collect paychecks from JBL teams.

Gee, there's a shock!

The so-called plan to integrate the JBL and bj-league under the unifying banner of the JBA is really still a farce.

It may change in the (distant) future, but for the present time it remains only a pipe dream, a theory on paper, a . . . fill in the blank with your own whimsical details.

When the leaders of the JBL, bj-league and the JBA reached an agreement to register the bj-league under the JBA banner earlier this spring, people expected there to be some semblance of change.

What's really changed?

Your guess is as good as mine.

The fact that Masashi Oguchi, coming off a playoff MVP performance for the bj-league champion Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix on May 22-23 at Ariake Colosseum, wasn't named to the national team roster for this current training camp smacks of one thing: stupidity.

Maybe Oguchi is tired after a long season, but he still deserves to be on the squad. Remember this: He canned 10 of 14 3-pointers in the Eastern Conference final on May 22, scoring a career-high 35 points in the process.

Naming Oguchi to the national squad would've been an important first step, a symbolic gesture, too.

If the two leagues are serious about forming a so-called new "next generation" top league in 2013, it needs to take drastic steps to show the public it cares about its image, about forming a unified plan to transform Japanese basketball from its current position as an underachieving, perpetually mediocre program.

Now, to be fair, maybe Wisman hasn't had a chance to assess the talent level in the bj-league. After all, he recently wrapped up his duties as the Link Tochigi Brex's head coach, winning a title in his second season on the bench.

But shouldn't Wisman and the national team coaching staff break ties with the past?

Shouldn't a fresh approach — invite two or three players from each bj-league club for spirited open camp workouts — be the new plan?

Instead, the mind-numbing blandness of the old way remains the policy in place.

Don't expect any big changes in the near future, either.

I've asked bj-league officials about what exactly would change now that the league was "a part of the JBA" and nobody could give me a straight answer. All I was told was that there "will be more talks," and that those talks would lead to a plan.

Really?

Why should Japanese players from 13 bj-league teams, as well as three new expansion teams next season, be forced to wait for more talks to produce little, or no results?

Many of the bj-league's best players — I'll be focusing on them in upcoming Hoop Scoop columns over the next few weeks — are being overlooked and the best years of their athletic prime are wasting away while bureaucrats with no vision waste more time.

It's sad. It's disgraceful. It's foolish. And it's embarrassing that the status quo is the only plan.

An e-mail sent to the Japan Basketball Association seeking comment provided more of the old, tired rhetoric. Those in charge will tell you, as they told me, that it's too difficult to quickly complete the process to have all players registered.

This is a wonderful excuse, but really couldn't every player on every bj-league team have filled out an application on the same day and returned them way in advance of Golden Week?

Couldn't these applications have been processed on the same day, even if it took dozens of extra volunteers to help get the job done?

Didn't the JBA see the value of having the process done already and having a chance to repair its lousy tarnished image by making a joint announcement with the bj-league during the Final Four two weeks ago that a number of bj-league players had received historic invitations to the national team camp?

"(The) JBA signed the deal with the bj-league for the approval of the registration of teams, players, and the league itself on April 21, 2010," the JBA wrote in an e-mail statement.

"Unfortunately, the process of such registrations is still ongoing, and the registrations of all players and teams are not completed at this moment. Therefore, JBA cannot qualify the player(s) who is (are) not registered players yet for the men's national team."

Yada, yada, yada . . . (Insert a yawn for good measure, too). What the JBA's brain trust is really saying is this: It's incapable of managing complex issues.

Therefore, its top leaders should step aside and let people with competence handle the job.

That said, I hope Wisman develops a plan to break from the past and make the national team a success.

* * * * *

In a recent interview, former Japan national team assistant coach Dwane Casey, currently a Dallas Mavericks assistant coach, reflected on the current state of Japanese basketball.

"I think over the years Japan basketball has grown," Casey told The Japan Times. "I have been involved with Japan national team basketball in some form or another since 1979. I have seen it grow, but also I have seen it take steps back.

I pressed him to detail the keys for success for the national team in the future based on his keen understanding of the basketball scene.

He cited his work with the men's and women's national teams, including time spent as men's national team coach Pete Newell's assistant many years ago. He also worked with JOMO's women's team, Isuzu's now-defunct men's team, numerous high school clinics throughout Japan, and years mentoring teams for several Japanese institutions of higher learning, including Hakuoh University, Nippon Sports Science University and Chuo University, and writing articles for Gekkan Basketball magazine as providing him with a well-rounded background about this nation's basketball development.

He also mentioned his work with Mototaka Kohama, who led Japan to three FIBA World Championship appearances, by assisting the coach's team's during a monthlong training camp in Kentucky in the 1970s prior to worlds.

"Having a permanent coach, as you do now, is important," Casey said. "That is No. 1. It has to be a year-round job.

"Second, playing foreign teams and touring in the summer to play international basketball around the world is important. It let's younger players play against other foreign teams. . . . Playing in the Vegas Summer League (in 1979) was a good idea, but you must have your top players play. If you don't play in the summer program, you cannot play when it's time to play in the Asian Games unless you are hurt.

"Third, a strength and conditioning program is so important. Hiring an international strength coach is important. Conditioning, building stamina, agility and nutrition are so important."

* * * * *

Without expecting or requesting a comment from anyone with long-standing ties to Japanese basketball about Bob Pierce's two-year stint as the first coach in Shiga Lakestars history, I was delightfully surprised to find a letter from Bruce O'Neil, the president of the United States Basketball Academy, waiting for me on the sports desk on Tuesday afternoon when I arrived at work.

O'Neil hammers home the point that far too many organizations in the bj-league are run by people who have little or no experience in professional sports. (Or as one coach told me two seasons ago: "Our general manager knows nothing about basketball.")

"I have known Bob personally and professionally for many years and am saddened by the news of his departure from the team he has given his heart and soul for over the past two years," O'Neil wrote. "As president of the United States Basketball Academy, I have had a long relationship with Japanese basketball and have followed the rise of the bj-league, which, in my opinion, has been a great step forward for the sport in Japan.

"Obviously, when growth occurs there will be growing pains. The management in this case demonstrated their lack of experience and expertise in sport management. Bob Pierce is a very respected coach internationally and has one of the best reputations in this profession for his work ethic, knowledge of the game and all the other qualities necessary to build a successful franchise. By taking this step in just their second year in the bj-league, the leadership has shown me they will have a very difficult time sustaining their franchise.

". . .It is a shame for the local fans and for bj-league basketball that this has happened, but it's just another example of management pointing fingers when they should be pointing at themselves for lack of experience and ability."

* * * * *

Perimeter marksman Yu Okada of the Takamatsu Five Arrows has become a free agent. And he should be on the wish list of every team in the bj-league.

Now entering his prime, Okada flourished under Takamatsu coach John Neumann during a rocky 2009-10 season, when the Five Arrows were on the verge of folding in the summer but survived despite their financial woes.

Okada, who averaged 19 points per game (tops among Japanese players) has become one of the league's best Japanese defenders and only improved his range and 3-point shooting since joining the league in 2006.

To become an even more dangerous player, he should develop the mind-set to also attack the basket with regularity and not settle for hanging around on the perimeter. He shot 484 3s this season, but only attempted 160 free throws.



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