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From B2 to B1: Saga Ballooners Rising to the Challenge for 2023-24

After capturing the B.League second-division title in the 2022-23 season, the Saga Ballooners seek to build off their past success.



Saga Ballooners
The Saga Ballooners, the B.League's 2022-23 second-division champions. (B.LEAGUE)

Read the full story on SportsLook - From B2 to B1: Saga Ballooners Rising to the Challenge for 2023-24

The start of the 2023-24 B.League season is finally upon us ― Thursday, October 5. With the Shiga Lakes and Niigata Albirex BB relegated to B2 (second division), the spotlight shines on two newcomers to B1, the Nagasaki Velca and Saga Ballooners

In this two-part preview, we'll dive into these fresh additions to the league. We started with the Velca, and now turn our attention to the Ballooners.


The Road to B1

Founded in 2018, the Saga Ballooners marked their inception five years ago. The team welcomed former NBA champion and Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Sasha Vujacic as their ambassador, with his brother Al Bjekovic taking on the dual role of player and head coach.

Their journey began in a corporate league, and eligibility for promotion to the B.League hinged on several criteria, including performance in the corporate league and the team's operational setup.

After meeting all necessary conditions, the Ballooners made their entry into the B.League's third division (B3) in 2019.

Following this transition, Bjekovic stepped down from his role as player-coach, paving the way for the appointment of Luis Guil, a former assistant coach for the Spain national team, as the new head coach.

In their inaugural season, the Ballooners faced an initial setback with a loss in their opening game. However, they quickly rebounded, showcasing their resilience with an impressive eight-game winning streak.

Despite a brief dip in the standings that saw them fall to seventh place, they launched a strong resurgence in December, achieving not one but two remarkable winning streaks of 10 and 11 games.


By February 2020, they had ascended to the top spot in the standings with 30 wins and 10 losses, a position they held until a league game was canceled on March 27 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, their outstanding performance throughout the season earned them the B3 championship title, and promotion to B2.

Coach Guil acknowledged the achievement of the club, "I want to congratulate my players and staff for this unbelievable goal. It’s the result of a lot of hard work during many months. Thanks to all for the commitment that made us get 21 victories out of the 22 last games to reach the first position."

In their initial two seasons in B2, the Ballooners displayed promise during the regular seasons, finishing in sixth and seventh place overall. However, their playoff campaigns ended prematurely on both occasions as they exited in the first round.

The 2022-23 season proved to be a remarkable turning point for the Ballooners. They executed a stunning transformation, securing the top position in the Western Division and jointly holding the second place overall in the regular season standings with an impressive record of 45-15. During the postseason, their performance soared to unprecedented levels as they emerged as the undefeated B2 champions. They clinched victory in the finals against their neighboring team, the Nagasaki Velca. This achievement marked their historic promotion to B1, a first in the franchise's history.

Saga Ballooners
Saga Ballooners head coach Yuta Miyanaga (B.LEAGUE)

Getting to Know Ballooners Head Coach Miyanaga

Yuta Miyanaga, a former professional basketball player and coach, embarked on his career journey in the sport. As a student-athlete, he showcased his talent at various levels, from junior high to university.

Miyanaga transitioned to the professional league, playing for teams like the Link Tochigi Brex (currently the Utsunomiya Brex) and the Chiba Jets. During his career, he also took on the role of player-assistant coach and contributed to the Toyama Grouses.

After retiring as a player in 2018, he continued his involvement in basketball as an assistant coach for the Fujitsu Red Wave in the Women's Japan Basketball League (aka WJBL). In 2020, Miyanaga became the head coach of the Levanga Hokkaido and later took on the role of head coach and general manager for the Saga Ballooners in 2021. Earlier this year, Miyanaga re-signed with the Ballooners.

Continue reading the full story on SportsLook.


Author: Galileo Ferrari

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