Third-division assignment could spell trouble for Kanazawa Samuraiz


The Kanazawa Samuraiz are a solid team in the final year of the bj-league’s 11-season existence. They also happen to be a brand new team.

Their 26-20 record through Sunday has been impressive, especially considering the fact that the entire landscape of Japanese basketball is changing.

Many teams are just going through the motions this season, but not Kanazawa.

In their inaugural season, the Ishikawa Prefecture-based team has assembled an impressive roster, featuring a strong nucleus of Masato Tsukino, Yuji Ide, Tsubasa Yonamine, Gyno Pomare, Marshall Brown and Andrew Fitzgerald and led by capable bench boss Yukinori Suzuki.

Last August, the Japan Professional Basketball League, which oversees the newly established B. League, announced that the Samuraiz were assigned to the third division for the 2016-17 season.

The 45-team B. League is scheduled to have 18 first-division clubs and 18 more in the second division. The division assignments were handed out before the bj-league, the NBL and NBDL began their current seasons.

Kanazawa’s success has come at a time when the team is working to build a fan base and create interest in the community, which it needs to attract sustained local media coverage and secure lucrative sponsorships.

For the first division, greater backing (revenue of at least ¥250 million) and the use of a local arena (5,000-seat capacity was Japan Basketball Association president Saburo Kawabuchi’s demand) were requirements agreed to as the Japan 2024 Task Force, organized by the JBA and FIBA, basketball’s world governing body, worked to move the three aforementioned circuits under one organizational umbrella.

Many of the teams were placed in the proper divisions, starting from the top and moving down to the third division.

For instance, the Tokyo Cinq Reves take a 37-game losing streak into this week’s Friday-Saturday series. They are 1-43, and they were 5-47 last season. They don’t have the talent or organizational stability to be a competitive force in either the first or second division.

The Samuraiz, on the other hand, have been no pushover this season. They are 2-2 against the Osaka Evessa (32-14). They are 1-1 against the Kyoto Hannaryz (35-11), and they’ve won one out of four games against all of the following Western Conference foes: Ryukyu Golden Kings (36-10), Shimane Susanoo Magic (36-12), Shiga Lakestars (30-16) and defending champion Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (31-15).

The real concern for Kanazawa, though, is that media and fan interest could decline significantly because of the team’s third-division status, playing against teams with marginal talent in tiny venues.

The Samuraiz have been a respectable club and attracted quality players and a bright head coach who has been a well-respected figure in the bj-league for many years. They have quickly built a solid foundation.

Will that foundation vanish?

Will the team be a third-division powerhouse? Will it quickly find itself in the second division?

Will Kanazawa and other teams in the bottom division be able to attract quality import players to join their teams instead of joining other overseas leagues?

I know next season’s division assignments have been made. But I propose this one change: Add Kanazawa to the second division, reducing the number of teams in the third division to eight. And if needed, the JBA can provide or secure a loan for the Samuraiz to meet operating expenses.

In an ideal world, there’d be an even number of second-division teams for scheduling purposes, but the Samuraiz have accomplished quite a lot in a short period of time. Demotion — that’s really what this is — to the third division after the bj-league’s final game could have a real negative impact on the franchise’s morale and ability to build a perennial winner.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

There’s still time for JBA and B. League officials to give the Samuraiz a better assignment.

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