In Japanese basketball, teams usually ask import players to provide size and scoring ability. But what Tommy Brenton supplies is much more than that.
Brenton is averaging just 8.7 points per game this season, but he has still found his comfort zone in his third season with the Link Tochigi Brex and helped the team post the second-best record (20-6) through last weekend’s games in the 2015-16 NBL season.
Letting his high-scoring teammates take care of the point production, Brenton, a forward, embraces his role by contributing for his team in all facets of the game. The unselfish Brenton insisted that he likes to set the table for his teammates.
In fact, Brenton currently leads the 12-team circuit in assists per game (6.2), ahead of superstar teammate and point guard Yuta Tabuse, the NBL assist leader last season.
“It’s one of the things I’ve done since high school,” Brenton, 26, said of his fondness for making passes and playing defense, after a recent game in Tokyo. “I just love passing and getting people started (on) their game.”
Brenton also ranks fourth in the NBL in rebounding (11.7). Standing 196 cm, he’s by far the shortest man in the top five of that category.
Brenton, a Maryland native, played for Stony Brook (New York) University. He was the American East Conference’s Player of the Year and was the Lefty Driesell Award winner, which is given to the most outstanding men’s basketball defender in the NCAA Division I in the 2012-13 season (Anthony Davis, now a New Orleans Pelican, was the recipient the year before when he was at the University of Kentucky).
Brenton said that playing alongside Tabuse and observing how he plays over the past three years has paid off.
“First year here, just seeing Yuta, how he plays, I learned a lot from him, how he attacks the rim and finds open players,” said Brenton, who was named December’s Most Impressive Player by the NBL. “So I’ve learned a lot from him, watching him play, being with him. And he trusts me and wants me to do (assisting).”
Ryan Rossiter, Brenton’s fellow American who’s currently the league’s top scorer (26.2 points), said that Brenton’s presence means much more than his stats indicate.
“He does so much for us. You see it in the stats, he’ll have 10 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists,” Rossiter said. “But then, he does so much more. It doesn’t even show up in the stat book. You know, good defense, just hustle plays, he makes a lot of plays, he’ll make the pass before the assists as well.
“So he’s such a team-oriented guy. He comes up with tons of plays for us. Some casual fans won’t notice unless you really know the game. I mean, he’s just as important as any other players on this team.”
Brenton’s intangible contributions also help the team. Some of the club members said that he serves as the life of the party both on and off the floor.
“I like to be funny and joke around when the time is right,” Brenton said with a smile. “I look at it as my job to play basketball. So I’m the happiest guy in the world. I don’t have to sit behind the desk, like some of my friends back home. I get to do the thing I love. There’s no reason to be sad or upset, so I’m just always having fun with the guys, joking around. I think it helps our team chemistry out there, too.”
Brenton’s mother is half Japanese, and he’s currently in the process of becoming a Japanese citizen.
He said that his mother was born in Japan and grew up here until she was 13 years old, and his family history affected his decision to sign with the club three years ago, when he could’ve chosen to play somewhere else like in Europe.
“She hadn’t been in Japan in over 40 years until my first year with the Brex,” Brenton said. “So part of the reason I wanted to play basketball in Japan was to just experience her childhood, and see what she went through.”
Flying low: As the All-Star Game was held a couple of weeks ago and the season entered its second half, teams are going to put up even more heated battles toward runs for the postseason and championship.
The Toyota Alvark are presently on top in the standings with a 20-4 record, capitalizing on their solid defense and their depth on the bench. Link Tochigi, reigning NBL champ Aisin SeaHorses (18-6), Toshiba Brave Thunders (18-7) and Hitachi Sunrockers (16-9) follow Toyota.
Meanwhile, one of the teams that has stunned the fans is the Chiba Jets, who have unexpectedly sunk to eighth place with a 9-15 record. On paper, the Jets were thought to have potential to be a title contender this year as the Funabashi-based club had made some key acquisitions like Clint Chapman, Yusuke Okada and Yuki Togashi, while they also hired former Japan men’s national team head coach Zeljko Pavlicevic.
But some of the upgrades were made right before the season tipped off and it didn’t enable the team to have substantial preparation as it entered the campaign.
Pavlicevic stated on the club’s official website that the majority of the squad had been set before his signing, and it gave him hard times in building the team he wanted to have. The club brought in former Los Angeles Laker Brian Cook, but he was let go just a month into the season in November.
Furthermore, some of the Jets’ core players have suffered major injuries.
“When you look at the members on the paper, it makes you think it’s a good squad,” Pavlicevic said on the website.
“But we didn’t necessarily have enough time to continuously pile up practice to get ourselves prepared.”
Pavlicevic emphasized that his team would have to stabilize its defense to make a rise in the remainder of the season.