Japan B. League

B. League boys: Can Filipino imports make a splash in Japan?

Ariel Ian Clarito
B. League boys: Can Filipino imports make a splash in Japan?

PIONEER. Thirdy Ravena paves the way for other Filipino players to see action in the Japan pro league.

Japan B.League

Here’s a look at the teams of the eight young Filipino stalwarts hoping to make a quick impact in the Japan B. League

When Thirdy Ravena joined the San-En NeoPhoenix last year, it directed the attention of Japanese squads to the abundance of young talent in the Philippines who could bolster their chances in the Japan B. League. 

For the 2021-2022 season, seven other Filipinos signed up with professional ballclubs in Japan – Ravena’s older brother Kiefer (Shiga Lakestars), Bobby Ray Parks (Nagoya Diamond Dolphins), Kobe Paras (Niigata Albirex), Dwight Ramos (Tpyama Grouses), Juan Gomez de Liaño (Earth Friends Tokyo Z), Javi Gomez de Liaño (Ibaraki Robots), and Kemark Cariño (Aomori Wat’s).

Here’s a look at their respective teams. (FAST FACTS: Who are the Japan B. League Filipino imports?

San-en NeoPhoenix
  • 2020-2021 record: 12 wins, 47 losses
  • 9th in the West, 19th in Division I 

Thirdy Ravena suited up in only 18 of 59 games last season. He was on the floor an average of 22 minutes and normed 9.1 points and 3.6 rebounds. San-En needs Ravena in uniform more if the ballclub intends to get out of the cellar. 

A year of familiarity with the coaching style of Serbian tactician Branislav Vicentic should help Ravena transition to a more prominent role especially given the departure of two of their most productive wingmen, leading local scorer Hayato Kawashima and Takanobu Nishikawa.

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Thirdy Ravena signs multi-year contract with San-En NeoPhoenix

Thirdy Ravena signs multi-year contract with San-En NeoPhoenix

San-En also recruited two 5-foot-11 crack playmakers – Ryo Tawatari, who played in US NCAA Division II and Syota Tsuyama, a former Japan Under-18 national team player. 

A trio of frontliners – 6-foot-9 Robert Carter; 6-foot-9 former North Carolina Tar Heel Justin Knox; and 6-foot-8 German national team player and former Gonzaga Bulldog Elias Harris – will reinforce San-En, which got off to a slow start last season with Ravena and another import unable to play right away due to quarantine restrictions. 

Injuries also hit Ravena and other key players then, so San-en looks to have a better start this time around so they could keep pace with the top teams in the standings.

Shiga Lakestars
  • 2020-2021 record: 23 wins, 36 losses
  • 6th in the West, 13th in Division I 

Kiefer Ravena will be joining a Shiga Lakestars ballclub that looks nowhere like the squad that finished sixth in the West last season. 

Gone are their two main locals, Kevin Hareyama and Masaya Karimata, and the only holdovers are Daichi Nomoto, a 6-foot deadshot who connected on 38% from beyond the arc, and 6-foot-5 power forward Tomonori Imagawa.

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Kiefer Ravena joins brother Thirdy in Japan B. League

Kiefer Ravena joins brother Thirdy in Japan B. League

Other than Ravena, there was no other big name acquisition for the Lakestars in the offseason. 

The team, however, recruited a big name coach to handle the reins for the team. Spanish coach Luis Guil Torres, the assistant coach of the Spanish national team who previously served as head coach of Spain’s Under-18 and Under-20 national teams. 

It comes as no surprise that Torres selected two imports who are familiar with the European brand of play – 6-foot-7 Argentine Novar Gadson and 6-foot-7 Ovie Soko of Britain, who both played in US NCAA Division I and European leagues. 

Torres’ teams are often characterized by versatility, speed, and constant ball movement, so the Lakestars are designed to have the same identity. 

With a tactician who knows how to win, the Lakestars look poised to make a run for the playoffs this season 

Nagoya Diamond Dolphins
  • 2020-2021 record: 32 wins, 24 losses
  • 4th in the West, 9th overall in Division I

Nagoya’s new head coach Shawn Dennis has always had his eye on Bobby Ray Parks, whom he saw scorch the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL). 

The Australian tactician will now get the chance to work with Parks, who bagged two MVP awards and a championship in the ABL before playing in the PBA . 

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Ray Parks Jr. to play for Japan B. League’s Nagoya Dolphins

Ray Parks Jr. to play for Japan B. League’s Nagoya Dolphins

The Diamond Dolphins barely missed out on the playoffs last season,  so it makes sense that they did not blow up their lineup which was just a few pieces away from being a legitimate contender. 

Nagoya has retained its core with seven players coming back this season led by All-Star Takumi Saito, the 5-foot-8 point guard who was the only local who scored in double digits last season. 

Nagoya is bringing in three imports with impressive pedigree, two of whom have NBA experience – 6-foot-7 former Boston Celtic Coy Clarke; 6-foot-11 center and former Indiana Pacer Shayne Whittington; and 6-foot-9 Scott Eatherton, who played in the German Bundesliga and the Spanish Liga ACB. 

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Despite the presence of the three reinforcements, expect Parks to play an eminent role for Nagoya. He will be the designated wing scorer who will also be tasked to clamp down on the opposing gunners. 

The Diamond Dolphins are surely bent on making the playoffs this season. With the lineup they have, it is not hard to imagine them achieving this goal. 

Niagata Albirex
  • 2020-2021 record: 16 wins, 38 losses
  • 9th in the East, 17th in Division I

Kobe Paras will lead the youth brigade for the Niigata Albirex as he’s one of six players in the lineup aged 24 years old and below. 

Also in the roster is 20-year-old Keigo Kimura, a 6-foot-2 guard considered one of the top young talents and shooters in Japan who played high school and NCAA Division III basketball in the US.

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Kobe Paras joins Japan B. League, signs with Niigata Albirex BB

Kobe Paras joins Japan B. League, signs with Niigata Albirex BB

Last season, Niigata was heavily reliant on their three imports, including Meralco’s resident reinforcement Allen Durham. 

But expect the 6-foot-5 Paras and Kimura to be relied on to contribute immediately, particularly on offense. 

Back for another tour of duty is 6-foot-9 Hungarian Rosco Allen, a product of Stanford University who led Niigata last season in scoring with 18.1 points

Jeff Ayres, a 6-foot-10 NBA journeyman, will be coming in after a previous stint with the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins, along with Tshilidzi Nephawe, a 6-foot-10 South African who last played for the Hiroshima Dragonflies. 

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Comebacking Niigata coach Fujitaka Hiraoko is coming in fresh off a successful campaign in B. League Division II where he led the Gunma Crane Thunders to the championship. 

Hiraoko previously coached Niigata from 2013-2015. He also played for the ballclub from 2000 to 2005.

Toyama Grouses
  • 2020-2021 Record: 39 wins, 21 losses
  • 4th in the East, 5th in Division I 

Coach Honoo Hamaguchi built a system predicated on balanced scoring last season which helped propel the Toyama Grouses to the playoffs. 

Leading the way for Toyama were their imports – Joshua Smith, the 6-foot-11 center who averaged 17.6 points and 10.6 boards; and 6-foot-8 power forward Julian Mavunga, a fixture in the B League since 2016 and filled up the stat sheets with 20.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.4 assists, and 1 steal.

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Dwight Ramos spreads his wings, signs with Toyama in Japan B. League

Dwight Ramos spreads his wings, signs with Toyama in Japan B. League

Also joining the Grouses this season are two proven scorers – 6-foot-3 forward Kevin Hareyama, who was the Shiga Lakestars’ top local last season as he averaged 8.3 points and shot 39% from three; and Keijuro Matsui, a 6-foot-2 marksman who shot 41% from beyond the arc last season

With Gilas Pilipinas stalwart Dwight Ramos joining forces with Matsui and Hareyama, it will give the Grouses the luxury of having three more scoring threats. 

Hamaguchi usually keeps a tight rotation of eight to nine players and Ramos together with the Japanese wingmen, along with their import, will form the core of that rotation.

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Toyama was a win away from making the semifinals last season. They lost in three games to the Ryukyu Golden Kings in the quarterfinals. 

This time around, Hamaguchi has built a team that is designed to contend for the championship.

Earthfriends Tokyo Z
  • 2020-2021 record: 13 wins, 46 losses
  • 7th in the East, 16th in Division II

Juan Gomez de Liaño will have the chance to be mentored by Hugo Lopez, who takes over the coaching reins for the Tokyo Z. 

Lopez brings an impressive resume that includes coaching the Baloncesto Fuenlabra in the Spanish Liga ACB. He was also named Coach of the Year by the Canadian National Basketball League in 2016 when he handled the Halifax Hurricanes. He is currently the coach of the Swedish national team.

Aside from the Gilas Pilipinas spitfire point guard, Tokyo Z pulled off another blue-chip recruitment coup by signing 6-foot Japanese-American Mark Burton, the 23-year-old who played for US NCAA Division II school Fayetteville State Broncos. 

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Juan Gomez de Liaño joins Earth Friends Tokyo Z in Japan B. League division 2

Juan Gomez de Liaño joins Earth Friends Tokyo Z in Japan B. League division 2

Tokyo Z will be parading two imports who will be making their B. League debut, and a returning import they managed to pry away from another squad. 

Pat Andree is a 6-foot-8 forward who brought his act to the Portugal Liga Profissional, while 6-foot-8 Marc-Eddy Norelia also saw action in Portugal aside from stints in the second divisions in France and Spain. 

Tasked to man the middle for Tokyo Z will be 6-foot-11 center Joshua Crawford, who averaged 18.9 points and 9.6 rebounds for the Aomori Wat’s last season. 

With a new coach and a crew of speedy and athletic guards and wings, the Earthfriends Tokyo Z will be a thrill to watch and might just have the materials needed to contend for the playoffs.

Ibaraki Robots
  • 2020-2021 record: 41 wins, 16 losses
  • 2nd in the East, runner-up in Division II

At 23 years old, Javi Gomez de Liaño will be the youngest player in the lineup of the Ibaraki Robots, one of two teams recently promoted to Division I of the B, League, the other being the Gunma Crane Thunders.

Ibaraki will be fielding a veteran-laden squad which has seven players aged 30 years old and above. 

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Javi Gomez de Liaño joins brother Juan in Japan, signs with Ibaraki Robots

Mentored by American Richard Glesmann, a former US NCAA Division I assistant coach, Ibaraki is carrying over majority of the team that finished second overall last season in the B. League Division II.  

That includes their two imports – 6-foot-9 center Marc Trasolini from Canada and 6-foot-5 do-it-all forward Chehales Tapscott from the United States. 

The Ibaraki Robots will be bracketed in the East District where the top three teams – the Utsunomiya Brex, Chiba Jets, and Kawasaki Brave Thunders – all play. Glesmann and the Robots for sure are looking forward to the challenge.

Aomori Wat’s
  • 2020-2021 record: 7 wins, 51 losses
  • 8th in the East, 8th in Division II

Gilas Pilipinas and San Beda slotman Kemark Cariño will be a huge boost in patrolling the interior for the Aomori Wat’s, the squad that finished in the bottom five in rebounding and in the bottom four in defensive rebounds last season. 

Cariño, a workhorse off the glass, will not only provide the added support to the imports but also some shot blocking presence for Aomori Wat’s, whose defense left much to be desired.

The 6-foot-9 Cariño will most likely be alternating with British-Jamaican  Ryan Richards and bullstrong former PBA import Michael Craig at the center and power forward slots.

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Gilas prospect Kemark Cariño joins Aomori of Japan B. League

Gilas prospect Kemark Cariño joins Aomori of Japan B. League

Head coach Takeshi Hotta will have his work cut out for him as he takes over the helm of the Aomori Wat’s after his two-year stint with the Hiroshima Dragonflies in Division I. 

The Aomori Wat’s will be rebuilding around their top local, 6-foot guard Daichi Shimoyama, who averaged 11 points last season and connected on 39.5% of from three-point distance. – Rappler.com