This is Part 15 of a series on Toyota Motor Corp.'s extensive involvement in sports.
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The summer, Kosuke Takeuchi signed a professional contract to play basketball for the Toyota Alvark in the JBL Super League.
What seemed at first glance as just another offseason acquisition was actually a major shift in policy for Toyota.
Until they lured the 205-centimeter center away from the Aisin Seahorses in June, the company, in principle, did not approve of signing Japanese athletes to professional contracts.
The contract means that Takeuchi does not belong to any specific division within the company, and is able to concentrate on hoops full time. The big man is paid a big salary and is allowed to gain additional income from commercials and other media appearances.
It was probably just a matter of time. The Alvark have already been close to a professional team. The team is based in Tokyo, a prime location for recruiting players. Eleven of the 14 Alvark players have employment contracts that exempt them from office work.
Toyota had long demanded that its athletic employees juggle work and sports training. But the company is now being forced to change its policies because most sports teams in Japan are now signing athletes to professional contracts.
"We can't get good players if we offer them a full-time, full-benefit contract that requires them to juggle office work and sports," said Mutsuyuki Fujiwara, head of Toyota's sports strengthening group.
As the lone professional Japanese player on the team, Takeuchi is now expected to lead the Toyota team to a league championship.
"I want to win two titles," Takeuchi told reporters at a news conference where he was introduced as the newest Alvark, "the Emperor's Cup and the Japan Basketball League."
So far, Toyota is doing well this season, with a 12-4 record since the start of the JBL in October.
"We want to win the league title no matter what this year," said assistant manager Eiji Seino, "because we've been so far from a league victory since winning the Super League in 2005 and 2006."
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