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Sunday, July 22, 2012

HOOP SCOOP

Summer League needed to help players improve


Summer time shouldn't be a low-key offseason for the bj-league. Instead, there's plenty of work to do — together.

Ed Odeven

Sure, everyone wants a vacation. So, here's what the bj-league and all teams should do: Close the offices for two to three weeks from mid-June to early July. Then return to work.

Building the brand and finding more ways to distinguish itself as a more exciting, better overall product than the rival JBL should be priority No. 1 every day of the year.

Let's start with summer ball, for instance. It's admirable that teams and sponsors are holding various hoop clinics, 3-on-3 tournaments and assorted events to promote the sport.

All are worthwhile efforts, but are basically organized at the local level.

The bj-league can do better. Really, it needs to do better to develop into something that develops a national identity, a national following.

I believe requiring all teams to participate in a league-sanctioned summer league would be a wise objective.

News photo
Trial runs: The NBA Summer League gives young players and free agents, including Orlando's Charlie Westbrook (left) and Boston's Jonathan Gibson, a chance to develop their skills during the offseason. Twenty-four teams are participating in the Las Vegas edition this year. AP

Set a realistic target: Five to seven games per team for the first summer, with half of the teams using Tokyo-based venues and the other half playing in Kansai-area gyms (Osaka, Kyoto, etc.).

Furthermore, invite two dozen or so young international players from overseas, including NBA Development League free agents, to fill roster spots, especially in the frontcourt.

Get a major hotel or Japanese inn sponsor (or a university with extra dormitories in the summer), and work out a deal to provide lodging.

It's impressive — and becoming significant — how much media coverage the NBA Summer League (in Las Vegas and Orlando) gets, how much it has grown over the years, and how the ongoing video footage has become a valuable analytical tool for front-office types from Los Angeles to New York.

Equally impressive is how much value coaches and players have grown to place in the Summer League, realizing it's an important part of individual and team evaluations. Prospective head coaches, meanwhile, get a chance to run the show for two weeks, such as Golden State's Pete Myers and Phoenix's Dan Majerle.

Because of its never-ending expansion, the league's development, from humble beginnings in 2005, has not kept pace with its growth. Which is why the summer represents this: A golden opportunity for the league to begin taking proper steps to improve in all facets.

"I don't know much about summer league systems, but the more you can play, the better," said Johnny Dukes, who starred for the Sendai 89ers last season.

Absolutely, it says here, there would be positives to establishing a full-fledged summer league here.

"I think it would give the Japanese players more confidence during the regular season, but most of all the refs can use the experience. I think they would benefit from it the most," Dukes said.

Former Tokyo Apache and NBA head coach Bob Hill would also like to see the bj-league develop a summer league.

"Players get better in the summer so I would be completely in favor of a summer league for the bj-league," Hill wrote in an email a few days before traveling to Europe to work with the Ukraine national team.

"Chances are the rosters would be all Japanese, which would be terrific for the country rosters," he added. "They could bring in an American team, Korean team and so on. I think it would be great."

Shiga Lakestars coach Alan Westover agreed with Hill's general opinions, and offered a few additional thoughts of his own.

"I think a summer league is a good idea," Westover said. "The young ones need to play more so they can develop.

"The length of the season is an issue, as the young ones and everyone else needs to have a bit of a break. Cost is also a concern; maybe just play teams in your region, have four or eight regions, then have the finals in one place.

"Also, I would like to see the bj-league emulate the NBA and play a 48-minute game, but allow the imports to have three in each quarter. Everyone gets to play more, more scoring and more is better. Summer league, longer game, more basketball is better."

Four-time All-Star Masashi Joho, who played for the Toyama Grouses last season, believes the NBA Summer League is the top option for Japanese to aspire for.

"I hope young Japanese guys challenge for the NBA Summer League," Joho said.

Akihiro Ejima, bj-league public relations director, was contacted and asked to comment on having a new summer league here in Japan. He did not return email messages before this story's deadline.

* * *

Back to the status quo, individual bj-league teams design their own workouts for Japanese players and get them involved in drills during the summer, but the competition is quite limited.

Essentially, each pro is left to find his own game here.

Others, but not a large percentage, look for challenges overseas For example, in recent workouts in San Antonio, Texas, with Hill, Jumpei Nakama spent time honing his skills on offense, defense and physical conditioning.

"No other players were there from Japan," Hill noted.

This illustrates the need for large-scale reform of the way the bj-league handles the offseason — valuable months for competition, promotion and across-the-board involvement for all.

There are, however, skeptics of such a plan, and Sendai coach Bob Pierce advocates a different approach.

"Right now I don't think I like the idea," Pierce told The Japan Times, analyzing Hoop Scoop's summer league proposals. "I thought what Coach Ten (ex-Evessa sideline supervisor Kensaku Tennichi) used to do in Osaka was pretty good. He brought in several players from different teams for a few days and they worked out together and played pickup games. The bj-league has also had their own camp for young bj-league players in the summer, although I never got much positive feedback about it.

"Things like a summer league are great for young players and recent draftees, but that's only two to three per team. The NBA fills out their rosters with lots of rookies and free agents, but those guys are just fillers to showcase the rookies and sophomores that they are going to keep.

"Most of the guys on the Summer League rosters are never going to actually be on an NBA team, although it is a great opportunity and there will always be some guys who do make it.

"But I don't see how you would find enough players to fill out rosters in Japan. Plus even if you do fill up rosters, you have the size issue. Look at the bj-league tryouts, and sometimes guys who will be playing shooting guard in the bj-league are on teams where they're the tallest player. That doesn't help them prepare for league play.

"I really think we should be encouraging young players to go to places like the IBL, or to the Summer Pro League in Los Angeles. But to be effective it probably needs to have league support, and financial backing.

"Placing a team of about eight to 10 bj-league players, along with two to three American players in one or both leagues would be the best way for those who really want to test themselves to get valuable experience."

A concerted effort to do a combination of domestic and international summer events is necessary to elevate all aspects of bj-league operations, especially the quality of play.

Think big.

Start now.

The summer of 2013 will be here soon enough.



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