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NBA opens basketball school in Tokyo for young players | The Asahi Shimbun: Breaking News, Japan News and Analysis

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The National Basketball Association is planting a seed to boost its popularity in Japan, a country that has high growth potential in the sport, by opening a school to train young players.  

The NBA is following in the footsteps of European and other professional soccer clubs that have opened similar programs in Japan. 

The NBA Basketball School Japan offers an approximately one-hour lesson once a week for those aged 5 to 18 at the gymnasium of the Shibuya Junior and Senior High School in Tokyo for a tax-inclusive monthly fee of 8,800 yen ($56).

At an inaugural introductory session in early April, 40 children learned dribbling and other court-related skills.

The curriculums for the two levels of classes, which incorporate teachings of NBA coaches and athlete development experts, are designed to improve the skills and court awareness of individual players, rather than teams.

Before coming to Japan, the NBA opened its basketball school in 17 countries, including Australia, Brazil and China.

Sheila Rasu, a senior NBA official responsible for fan acquisition and engagement in Asia, said the popularity of basketball is rapidly growing in Japan, which will send both men’s and women’s teams to the Paris Olympics.

She said Japan has a long relationship with the NBA, such as hosting preseason games, which makes the country a high priority for the league’s strategy.

Rasu added that the NBA hopes to expand its fan base through the school by familiarizing Japanese with NBA teams and players.

Erutluc, a company that provides basketball lessons in the Tokyo metropolitan area, is cooperating in training players at the NBA’s school.

“It will become an amazing project if we can provide a place for children to grow up across the country with the NBA’s help,” said Yoshikazu Suzuki, the company’s representative director and an assistant coach of the women’s national team.

Top-tier overseas soccer clubs, including Spain’s Real Madrid, France’s Paris Saint-Germain and Argentina’s Boca Juniors, are operating schools for young soccer players in Japan.

Spain’s Barcelona soccer club established its Barca Academy in Fukuoka in 2009, the year when Takefusa Kubo, a Japanese national team member, joined a camp of its junior team.

More than 1,500 children age between 5 and 15 are training at its six schools in Japan.

Germany’s Borussia Dortmund set up its Dortmund Soccer Academy in 2017 after Shinji Kagawa, a former Japanese national team member, joined the team in 2010.

Now, 900 players are registered with the academy’s 46 venues across the country.

Writer Eijinho Yoshizaki, who is familiar with the status of soccer in South Korea and other countries, said Japan has become an attractive market for soccer clubs from Europe and Latin America.

He said Japanese are receptive to diverse styles of soccer, unlike in Southeast Asian countries, China and South Korea, where Britain’s Premier League clubs are predominantly popular among European teams.

Hideo Suzuki, a professor of sport education at Edogawa University and a former J.League player, said the main places where children play sports are shifting from extracurricular clubs at junior high schools to locally based teams.

He said that trend is giving business opportunities for overseas soccer clubs.

“While children at foreign clubs’ schools can gain access to overseas coaching methods and information, that is not enough for them to grow as players,” Suzuki said. “The need for leaders who support them from a long-term perspective remains unchanged.”

(This article was written by Shuhei Nomura, Eiichiro Nakamura and Takuya Miyano.)

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