The Chiba Jets have been hit with a severe reality — that much is certain. But that’s something they expected when they defected from the bj-league to the NBL before this season.
“We understood there would be a challenge,” Jets head coach Reggie Geary said recently. “And there would be a learning curve to figure things out.”
The Jets shocked fans early on, winning their first four games to open the NBL season. They swept the Hitachi Sunrockers and Link Tochigi Brex in their first two series.
But that was the high point for Chiba, which quickly hit the wall.
An epic 20-game losing skid followed that four-game winning streak and the Jets are currently in last place in the Eastern Conference with a 9-27 record.
Although both Geary and Jets president Shinji Shimada said that they want to win more games, they weren’t too optimistic.
They knew the team wouldn’t be able to match up with the NBL’s elite clubs in their first year, because those clubs, especially the corporate teams, had played with the same core members for much longer and had the edge in terms of team chemistry and long-term financial backing. (Chiba played just two seasons in the bj-league.)
The Jets, meanwhile, only have a few returnees from last year’s team and have had to develop chemistry from scratch.
They’ve also already had to deal with changes among their import players, three have been released, with forward Alan Wiggins the lone foreign player to have been with the team since its season opener.
“Most of the elite teams in the NBL have been together for a number of years,” said Geary, a former NBA guard who guided the Yokohama B-Corsairs to the bj-league championship last year. “They know what they want to do in certain situations, and we knew it was going to be tough to overcome.
“. . . The new kids on the block (like us) are working hard to figure it out as quickly as possible.”
Geary asserted that the team was in the “first round of a fight.” But as far as establishing better team chemistry, he noted with a bitter smile that “it could take a whole decade.”
“Team chemistry is not something you can have in three weeks,” he said. “We have a number of NBL guys coming from a number of different directions. And we have Americans. Unfortunately, we have changed Americans a lot. So to be one of the top three teams in the (conference), it just doesn’t happen overnight.”
Wants more play time but…: The Aisin SeaHorses’ Shinsuke Kashiwagi said that he would like to be on the floor longer.
The 32-year-old is a starting point guard but has averaged just 24.3 minutes per game this season, mainly due to the addition of youngsters Kosuke Kanamaru and Makoto Hiejima, who lead the team in that department with 30.6 and 31.3 minutes per game, respectively.
The emergence of fellow point guard Ryoma Hashimoto (17.6 minutes) has also been a factor.
Kashiwagi is mature enough to understand that the team needs to give playing time to as many players as it can to keep everyone’s legs fresh in hopes of giving it a better chance to capture a championship.
“Well . . . that’s how our team and head coach have planned it,” Kashiwagi said. “We have a long season, and you just can’t play for nearly 40 minutes (every game) to give you a better chance to peak in the playoffs. The most important thing is to give yourself the best condition for the playoffs.”
But Kashiwagi also expressed his true feelings of being a competitor: he would rather like to run up and down the court in stead of observing his teammates from the bench.
“As much as I have no problem obeying my team and head coach, as a basketball player, I feel like I should play longer while my body still moves,” he said.
Despite the team’s on-court struggles, the Jets are making strides in public support.
Its average attendance for its home games has been 1,432, ranking fourth in the 12-team league.
Inspired by a legend: At age 43, Takehiko Orimo has had to battle a series of injuries, and the idea of retirement is seemingly stuck in his head all the time.
Of the 36 contests the Levanga Hokkaido have played so far this season, Orimo has missed 11, including the last six.
But the star forward looks to have gained some mental energy from a fellow middle-aged athlete: ski jumper Noriaki Kasai, who earned a pair of medals, silver and bronze, at the Sochi Olympics.
“Retirement has flittered across my mind,” Orimo, who is friends with Kasai, said during an interview on an NHK news show.
“But seeing someone of the same generation put up performances like that, I felt I was so encouraged.”
Orimo, one of the best shooters Japan has ever produced, is averaging 10.1 points per game.