H.S. basketball teams in Japan brave grueling bus trips
Road trips are a fact of life for high school basketball teams from sea to shining sea. But except for a few of the larger states with fewer teams, few might face the hurdles that DODDS-Japan League teams must handle during the season.
Only a month into the season, E.J. King’s boys and girls teams from Sasebo Naval Base have logged the most bus miles. The boys have braved two trips to Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station and the girls one, while both teams made one journey each to the Osaka area and this weekend to Nagoya.
“That’s some long travel,” E.J. King boys coach Daren Schuettpelz said of highway journeys of as much as 600 miles each way. Drivers must stop every two hours for breaks and the only food available at truck stops is of the junk variety.
“And then right off the bat, you have to jump off the bus and go play a game, then another and another and just like that, you’re back on the bus headed home,” Schuettpelz said.
That’s four times in five weeks for the boys and three for the girls, if you’re scoring at home. Bus trips normally begin on a Thursday, with games on Friday and Saturday and the trip home Sunday.
“It’s hard to get the intensity level back up on Monday after a long weekend,” Schuettpelz said. “You have three practices, then comes the weekend. You really need some down time after those.”
Some trips go well. E.J. King swept two Nov. 16-17 at Matthew C. Perry, then split two with Yokota at Iwakuni on Nov. 30-Dec. 1.
They lost three times at Osaka last weekend with senior starters Fernando Rico, Keith Williams, Gabriel Singletary and Dominique Johnson taking ACT tests back home.
“That’s a weekend I want to block out of my mind,” Schuettpelz said.
With the four back in the lineup on Friday, the Cobras routed Nagoya International 71-43. “Huge difference,” Schuettpelz said. “They’ve been playing together for so long, they know their abilities and strengths, and the team plays better with them. It’s a real plus.”
Aside from sleeping arrangements that aren’t five-star and the helter-skelter nature of the playing and travel schedule, what is the most irritating part of the road trips?
“As comfortable as they try to make them, the buses are not conducive to good sleep,” first-year coach Michael Adair of Nile C. Kinnick’s boys said. He split two games at Robert D. Edgren, 10 hours from Yokosuka Naval Base, on Nov. 17-18. “You’re tired already once you get there; then you have to play.”
Keeping the players well-nourished is another challenge, E.J. King girls coach Michael Seitz said.
“The hardest thing is making sure the girls get a decent sit-down meal,” Seitz said by phone from Japanese udon noodle shop across the street from Nagoya International School.
“You want them to eat properly, stay away from junk food and having to play right after that. You want them to have enough rest between games to eat a good meal and digest it properly before you play,” Seitz said.
Schuettpelz says so many trips so early in the season is rare.
“It seems we have less of that after the first of the year,” he said of a Jan. 11-12 trip to Yokosuka, the last one the Cobras make. “This is definitely unusual, to have this many trips right off the bat.”