Toyota Motors’ Gibbs proves desire, athleticism can compensate for smaller stature

by

Staff Writer

The Toyota Motors Alvark (16-6) are currently in the second place in the NBL’s Eastern Conference through the weekend, putting themselves in a good position for a playoff spot and championship.

On the talented squad led by head coach Donald Beck, Jeff Gibbs, a tireless dynamo who does everything on both sides of the ball, is arguably the most valuable asset.

It’s a little odd to be listed at forward/center with at 188 cm, but Gibbs often plays underneath the basket to compete against much taller big men, such as a 210-cm center Nick Fazekas of the Toshiba Brave Thunders.

It’s not like Toyota is short of bigger men. It does have taller guys in 203-cm Philip Ricci and and 206-cm Kosuke Takeuchi. But Beck relies on the 33-year-old veteran, who previously played in the NBA Development League for the Sioux Falls Skyforce and a few German clubs, because the player’s got superior physical tools.

Gibbs, who’s scored 15.3 points per game this season, said that he grew up idolizing Charles Barkley and modeled his game after the former NBA All-Star.

And, like Barkley, Gibbs has a thick, strong body frame, helping him make up for his lack of height, that he gained from another sport: football. Gibbs played basketball and football at Otterbein University in Ohio. He played tight end and wide receiver in the latter.

“Football is a physical sport, I love physical contact,” said Gibbs, who ranks eighth in the league with 10.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game while he’s averaged 1.5 steals (tied for sixth).

“I always tried to bang anybody. It helps a lot. A lot of guys I’d go up against, they looked at me like, ‘Oh, he’s not strong enough, I post him up. But once they actually got to go against me, they’d always tell me something like, ‘You are stronger than I thought.’ ”

Gibbs said with a grin that people around him would often tell him that he was a better football player than a basketball player. But he may possess some things that may be better suited for the wooden floor. He revealed that he’s got a 7-foot (213 cm) wingspan, which he added is longer than Takeuchi’s. Plus, although he didn’t know what it was today, his vertical jump would hit 99 cm as his best. He frequently shows monster dunks, including ones that are over the heads of taller men. Now it makes sense.

Gibbs said that he had a couple of workouts with some NFL teams, but it didn’t work out.

“I was too short for a tight end,” he said with a laugh.

But his rare physical tools certainly are helping the Alvark’s run for the inaugural NBL title.

Intriguing matchups: While there were some eye-catching games as interconference play began last weekend, the Toyota-Aisin SeaHorses series that will be held on Friday and Saturday at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2 is perhaps the marquee matchup before the break for the All-Star Game and All-Japan Championships.

Toyota defeated Aisin 3-1 in the 2012 JBL Finals, but the Alvark will have to face tough time against the Western Conference club.

The SeaHorses made major upgrades to their roster this year as they added young guns in sharpshooter Kosuke Kanamaru from the Panasonic Trians (predecessor of the Wakayama Trians), rookie phenom Makoto Hiejima and half-American Japanese forward Sean Ichioka, formerly of Toyota. The Aichi Prefecture-club has the league’s best record at 21-1 with a 95.5 winning percentage.

It will be interesting to see how much Toyota’s league-best defense (71.0 points per game) can hold Aisin’s elite scoring. The SeaHorses’ 87.6 points per game ranks second in the NBL.

Monthly accolades: The league office announced the players of the month for November earlier this month. Link Tochigi Brex star point guard Yuta Tabuse was selected from the Eastern Conference, while his ex-teammate and swingman Takuya Kawamura of Wakayama was chosen from the Western Conference.

Kawamura, a four-time scoring champ in the JBL, averaged 21.3 points and 5.8 assists in the month.

“Not just in shooting, I would like to keep up posting the good number in assists as well so I can continue to contribute to the team,” said the 27-year-old, who’s the only Japanese player to be ranked in the top 10 in scoring average (20.0), in a statement.

Tabuse, a former NBA player, averaged 13.5 points and 5.3 assists in the same span and helped his team post a five-game winning streak.

Editor’s note: This is the debut of staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka’s NBL Notebook.