Since the bj-league’s inception in 2005, the Saitama Broncos have never been a model franchise.
As the league has rapidly grown from six teams for its inaugural season to its present 24-squad setup, Saitama, one of the league’s two charter clubs, has been negatively affected by nonstop personnel changes — a revolving door, really, of players and coaches. And defeats.
The team’s win-loss record is stunning — 135 wins, 339 losses and zero playoff appearances or winning seasons since the league’s launch. The Broncos went 5-47 in the 2013-14 season, then 6-46 during the 2014-15 campaign. And remember this: At one stretch over the two past seasons, Saitama dropped 42 of 44 games. (Saitama has been assigned to the third division of the Japan Professional Basketball League for the inaugural 2016-17 campaign.)
Despite all of the above, the Broncos made a rare winning move in recent days, when they announced they are dedicating jersey No. 24 to the late Chris Uhle (his college jersey number) this season, with his name appearing on a black stripe on the right shoulder of the players’ jerseys. In addition, the team said it will send a Broncos jersey to the Uhle family.
It was the right decision.
Uhle, 22, passed away suddenly on Aug. 19 of an apparent heart attack in Atlanta, just days before his planned departure for Japan to join the Broncos for preseason training camp. The autopsy revealed Uhle had an enlarged heart.
He was about to embark on his rookie season as a pro. The 211-cm Uhle had wrapped up his college career at NCAA Division II Rollins (Florida) College in the spring. As a senior, he averaged 9.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks for the Sunshine State Conference school in 26 games.
In June, Uhle attended a Crossover Exposure-organized combine in Atlanta, planting the seeds for his future as an overseas pro player. He also spent some time with the Florida Flight of the semi-pro Florida Basketball Association.
Craig Uhle, Chris’s father, who played college basketball at Virginia Commonwealth, reflected on his son’s passing in an email to Hoop Scoop.
“We grieve Christopher’s death,” the elder Uhle told Hoop Scoop. “But we do not grieve his life. Christopher understood the value of trust and honor. We are so proud of the young man that he was. He loved his life and knew that he was loved. He touched so many people with his kindness and humility. He left this world with all of his dreams intact. And he left in his father’s arms.
“In sadness it’s difficult to rejoice. But please remember what a fabulous person he was (and) how he lived his life. And how he loved his family and friends.”
Craig Uhle issued a statement of gratitude, too.
“The Uhle family wishes to thank the Saitama Broncos and all of Japan for making Christopher’s dream of becoming a professional basketball player a reality,” he said. “Our biggest regret is not being able to watch him take the floor with his new teammates in a magical new land.”
Jerone Amari Bey Dodd Jr., who represented Uhle for Phoenix Management Group (a subsidiary of Universal Phoenix Group, LLC), told Hoop Scoop that his client made a lasting impression, even though they first met in June at the aforementioned Crossover Exposure combine.
“I remember seeing his highlight tape and was very excited to check him out,” recalled Dodd, a post player who suited up for the now-defunct Tokyo Apache during the 2005-06 bj-league season.
That helped spark a business partnership that led to Uhle landing a contract in July to play for the Broncos
“It was a joyous time for us and the family to get Chris a solid job fresh out of school,” said Dodd, who described Uhle as always having “a twinkle in his eye and you knew there was something special about him.”
And this extended to their brief time working toward a common goal: preparation work for Uhle’s first season in Japan.
“When we decided to bring him to Atlanta to do further training before the season started, I was amazed at how quickly he had progressed in only a few days under trainer Markeal King,” said Dodd, a former Morehouse College player. “We were all very excited and even began looking at a strategy to get Chris a look at the NBA. Chris worked hard and had a high basketball IQ. . .
“Mr. Uhle was already a professional shooter and I think he left everyone he came in contact with, (with) the same feeling of admiration. I am happy that he got the chance to realize his dream of being a professional, even if he didn’t get the chance to play a game.
“I am proud of what Saitama is doing in honoring him on their uniforms and I think it speaks volumes to their integrity and sincerity.”
Away from basketball, the elder Uhle can’t forget a fishing trip he took with his son and his cousin Jacob just weeks before Chris died.
Instead of trying to reel in as many fish as possible, Chris Uhle was relaxed, in a serene state.
“We were very successful catching fish,” Craig Uhle recalled. “I noticed that Christopher had put his fishing pole down and was sitting with his eyes closed. I asked him why he wasn’t trying to catch more fish. He told me that he was pleased with the amount of fish he had already caught and was enjoying the moment.
“Christopher understood that his life was full of goodness. He knew how to appreciate the beautiful things that life presented to him.”
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