The Tokyo Apache’s season isn’t officially over, but the team’s American players and head coach, Bob Hill, were busy making plans to leave the country as soon as possible, The Japan Times has learned.
With the uncertainty of widespread health risks due to the Fukushima nuclear plant’s radiation leak problems in the aftermath of Friday’s devastating 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami, the Apache’s foreign personnel, including Hill, general manager Conor Neu and players Robert Swift (ex-NBA center), Mike Chappell, Justin Johnson, Jeremy Tyler (teenage NBA prospect and projected second-round draft pick), Byron Eaton and Darin Satoshi Maki were on the verge of leaving the country as of press time on Wednesday afternoon.
Neu, however, said things are still up in the air.
“I’m told the league will make a decision and announce an official statement soon and we’re waiting for that,” he said. “As with the rest of the country, plans change hourly. The team is still in Tokyo at the moment, although we canceled practice today as we make decisions on what to do.”
In a number of e-mails and interviews with league sources in recent days, it’s become clear that numerous imports from other bj-league teams have discussed or are considered leaving Japan in fear of more natural disasters and health risks. For a league with nearly 35 percent of its players coming from overseas, a mass exodus of players — and possibly foreign head coaches L.J. Hepp (Oita HeatDevils), Zeljko Pavlicevic (Shimane Susanoo Magic), Bob Nash (Saitama Broncos), Ryan Blackwell (Osaka Evessa) and Bob Pierce (Akita Northern Happinets) — would compound this unforeseen chain of events.
Before the aforementioned catastrophic events began last week, the bj-league was scheduled to wrap up its sixth season by holding the Final Four at Tokyo’s Ariake Colosseum on May 21-22. Now, it’s a big question mark if the playoffs can, or will, take place. Already, it appears to be a logistical nightmare.
Tokyo Apache spokesperson Azumi Kurita said in a telephone interview on Wednesday afternoon that the team hasn’t decided yet if it would end its season, adding that the team was “waiting for everybody’s decision (in the league).” Kurita cited the difficulties associated with securing venues for games and the uncertainty of having available electricity at these sites, as well as not knowing if the Apache and other bj-league teams would be able to travel to and from game venues as factors that the team and the league must consider.
“It’s very complicated,” Kurita said. “We can’t decide (right away). . . . We’re taking time to decide the situation.”
Health concerns associated with radiation, especially if the situation worsens, also must be factored into the equation, she said.
U.S. Ambassador to Japan John V. Roos said the government is closely monitoring the situation.
“We understand that many of you are anxious and have questions in the shadow of the Fukushima emergency, since we are in the midst of a complex, constantly changing, and unpredictable situation,” Roos said in a statement. “In this fluid situation, our commitment to our citizens is to accumulate accurate information and assess it sufficiently in order to make important judgments.”
He added: “If we assess that the radiation poses a threat to public health, we will share that information and provide relevant guidance immediately.
“The United States will continue to work around the clock to provide precise and up-to-date information supported by expert analysis to ensure the safety and security of our citizens and to help Japan in its time of great need.”
The Apache have played a league-low 34 games, while the Akita Northern Happinets have completed a league-high 40 contests. For the 16 teams in the bj-league, their regular-season schedule consists of 52 games apiece.
The league has not made an official announcement about how or if it will stage the remainder of the season, though a decision was expected to be made as early as Thursday.