Basketball / B. League

High-flying Jets seek to build off preseason success, maintain status as East contender

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

The Chiba Jets Funabashi are riding a wave of positive momentum.

They defeated five teams in as many days last week to capture the title at The Super 8, a new international tournament in Macau.

Coach Atsushi Ono’s club completed its impressive run with an 83-73 victory over the Chinese Basketball Association’s Zhejiang Gunangsha Lions on Sunday at Studio City Macau. Before the title game, the Jets’ winning margins were seven, 32, seven and 15 points. They exuded confidence throughout the five-day marathon challenge.

For Chiba, is this preseason success a sign of things to come in the 2017-18 season?

Time will tell.

But the Jets, who compiled a 44-16 record this past season, have several reasons to maintain an optimistic outlook.

They have a balanced offensive attack, versatility, accomplished defenders, speed, size and strength. In other words, they have a well-conceived roster.

In an interview posted on the Japanese website basket-count.com on Monday, Jets president Shinji Shimada said the team aims to “collect players with (the) mentality that can fight as a team.”

The Super 8 provided a glimpse of the team’s collective fight and potential this season.

Newcomer Gavin Edwards, an inside anchor for the SeaHorses Mikawa (and the team’s predecessor known by its company name, Aisin, in the NBL days) from 2013-17, is a potent force near the basket. The University of Connecticut alum averaged a team-best 20.8 points and tied Michael Parker for the lead in rebounds (7.6) in The Super 8, and was third on the team in steals (1.2) and second in blocks (1.2).

High-energy guard Yuki Togashi, the B. League All-Star Game MVP last season, provided 15.0 points and a team-high 5.4 assists in the tournament. The former NBA Development League player had 15 points, seven assists and five rebounds against the Lions.

Togashi’s flashy crossover dribble, quick forays to the basket and expanding skill set are a major component of the team’s mass appeal to hoop fans throughout Japan.

Sharpshooter Ryumo Ono, who pumped in 16 points against the Lions, chipped in with 10.8 points, the third-best output for the Jets, in the tourney.

Fumio Nishimura poured in nine points in 11 minutes, 31 seconds of court time in the final, while Parker finished with eight points and eight boards.

Big man Tony Gaffney, an offseason acquisition, notched a double-double (20 points, 11 boards) against the Fubon Braves on Sept. 21. The University of Massachusetts alum was No. 1 on the club in blocks (1.6) in Macau and fifth in scoring (8.6). He shattered the glass on the backboard on a powerful slam dunk early in the tournament, too.

In addition to his aforementioned rebounding total, Parker contributed averages of 9.4 points (fourth-highest) and 1.4 steals (No. 2). Parker’s contributions and hard work inspired his teammates last season as the Jets ascended to the upper echelon of the league.

Few players in any professional league do what Parker did last year, which, in fact, is what he’s done throughout his career in Japan since joining the Rizing Fukuoka in 2007. To recap, in 2016-17 he was in the top 10 in B1 in rebounds (8.5), second in blocks (1.8) and third in steals (1.7).

With an Emperor’s Cup title in January and The Super 8 conquest last week, the Jets are assembling the building blocks for longterm success. But in the tough, rugged East Division they will face stiff competition from a trio of likely title contenders in the defending champion Tochigi Brex, Kawasaki Brave Thunders, who left the Central Division after this past season, and Alvark Tokyo. Like the Jets, all three teams won more than 40 games last season.

Tyler Stone, who paced the Jets in scoring (18.3 points, fifth-best total in the B. League) last season, moved on to play for the Israeli Premier League’s Hapoel Gilboa Galil.

Joining Gaffney on the newcomers’ list is guard Aki Chambers, who suited up for the Sunrockers from 2014-17. The University of California Merced alum turned 27 on Sept. 19, and has worked to be an asset on the wings and at either backcourt position.

Kosuke Ishii remains one of the B. League’s specialized offensive weapons. He had the second-best 3-point shooting accuracy (42.3 percent) in the 18-team top division last season.

To usher in the new season, the Jets visit the Nishinomiya Storks in a two-game series that starts on Saturday.

“Please come support us,” Togashi said, addressing fans while looking ahead to the 60-game campaign in a recent video posted on the team’s YouTube channel.

Noteworthy

In addition to Stone’s departure, former NBA center Hilton Armstrong left Chiba and signed with the Ryukyu Golden Kings in the offseason.

Coronavirus banner