Basketball / BJ-League

Akita routs Chiba in preseason opener

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Newcomer Casey Crawford scored 30 points, including 5-for-7 from 3-point range, and guard Michael Gardener added 23 points and four 3s in the Akita Northern Happinets’ 98-78 preseason victory over the expansion Chiba Jets on Saturday at Funabashi Arena.

A crowd of more than 2,000 fans witnessed the first game in Jets history, as well as bench boss Kazuo Nakamura’s first game leading Akita. He had guided the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix to back-to-back championships.

It was the first exhibition game of the 2011-12 bj-league season.

After the game, Chiba coach Eric Gardow held a news conference that lasted about 45 minutes and included an estimated 35 media members.

Akita shot 14 of 28 from 3-point range, a statistic that impressed Gardow.

“They are well coached and they have strong import players and a solid system in place,” Gardow said of the second-year Happinets. I pick them to be in the playoffs.”

Maurice Hargrow paced the Jets with 21 points, followed by George Leach’s 13-point, 14-rebound effort. Tomoya Nakamura added 15 points and six rebounds off the bench. Starting point guard Kensuke Tanaka sustained a nose injury early in the game but returned to action to help his team.

Chiba shot 3-for-15 from beyond the 3-point arc and had 19 turnovers. In addition, the team missed 11 free throws.

“Eighty percent of our mistakes tonight were fatigue-related,” Gardow said, “and that is curable with hard work.”

The Jets’ next preseason game is on Sept. 17 against the host Saitama Broncos.

In the meantime, Gardow has time to steer his team in the right direction.

“We will always have a lot of work to do this first season,” he said. “I like my team and believe that conditioning and fitness is our biggest challenge. I like to play full-court offense and defense and we are not in shape yet to do that.

“We have six more weeks to prepare and today, not looking at the score, it was a step in the right direction for us.”

The Jets open the season on Oct. 15 against the two-time defending champion Phoenix.