Basketball / B. League | B. LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Ryumo Ono playing pivotal role in Chiba's success this season

by Ed Odeven

Ryumo Ono doesn’t receive the same recognition as talented teammates Yuki Togashi, Michael Parker and Gavin Edwards. But the veteran forward is an integral part of the Chiba Jets Funabashi’s success, including back-to-back Emperor’s Cup titles, since the league’s inception.

Ono, an energetic presence, has started all 48 games for the playoff-bound Jets (37-12), who sit atop the six-team East Division with six consecutive victories. The Alvark Tokyo (36-13) are right behind them in the standings.

The 197-cm Tokyo native is averaging 11.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists a game. Last season, he posted similar numbers (12.3, 3.1 and 2.4) while starting in all 60 regular-season games.

Ono scored a season-high 25 points on Jan. 2 against the Yokohama B-Corsairs, making 10 of 14 shots from the floor. A gifted passer, he notched a double-double (15 points, 10 assists) on Feb. 10 against the Toyama Grouses. He’s also had seven- and eight-assist outings this season.

Ono is No. 8 in the B. League in 3-point shooting accuracy (38.2 percent). He’s connected on 76 of 199 shots from long range.

Jets assistant coach Calvin Oldham described Ono as an indispensable team leader.

“The first words I would use to describe Ryumo is a pro’s pro — without a lot of words, gets the job done,” Oldham told The Japan Times in a recent interview. “Always willing to help every player on the team. We call him ‘Cap’ (Captain) because he is the leader of our team on and off the court. Smart with a high basketball IQ.

“He understands all aspects of the game and always (stays) calm in big moments.”

Parker, with more than a decade as a leading figure in Japan pro ball, recognizes that Ono has special talents.

“He is a great player,” Parker commented on Wednesday. “He always has a mismatch because of his size and shooting ability. He is very important to our success. He has a very good 3-point shot as well as being very gifted as a post player.”

Oldham commended Ono for his athleticism and versatility, noting he has the ability to make a smooth transition between small forward and power forward.

He’s the “best SF/PF combo in the B. League,” Oldham said of Ono, who joined the Jets in 2013 after playing for the Alvark in the JBL era. “He shoots like a two-guard and has the best low-post footwork in Japan. His ability to pass is an overlooked skill. He is a difficult matchup for every Japanese player in this league and teams scheme their defense to slow him down.

“Cap is the glue to the Chiba Jets’ success.”

Because Ono is one of the top passing forwards in the league, the Jets reap the rewards of having one of the highest-scoring offenses (83.8 ppg, No. 2) and elite assist units (21.1 a game, No. 3).

The team also makes a genuine commitment to playing tough defense, with Ono filling an important role. Chiba is allowing the third-fewest points per game (72.1) in the 18-team B1.

“During our pursuit to win back-to-back Emperor’s Cup championships this year, Ryumo stepped up defensively and led our team through the tournament,” observed the 57-year-old Oldham, a former Virginia Tech forward who played pro ball for years in Germany.

“In the two seasons of working with him it has been an honor and pleasure and he continues to surprise me with his array of moves.”

The Jets’ roster depth has been one vital part of the team’s success. UConn alum Edwards, a former SeaHorses Mikawa star who joined Chiba in the offseason, leads the squad in scoring (18.4 ppg, No. 4 in the league) and is also fourth in the league in blocks (1.3). Frontcourt mate Parker is in the mix as always among the league’s top 10 in steals (top of the chart with a 1.9 average) and blocks, and is a double-double threat in every game.

Aki Chambers, another newcomer this season after suiting up for the Sunrockers Shibuya in 2016-17, is coming off perhaps his finest offensive performance as a pro. The veteran small forward, a University of California-Merced alum, had a season-best 24 points on 11-for-14 shooting on Sunday.

Energizing force Togashi, sidelined by a leg injury that forced him to skip January’s All-Star Game in Kumamoto, missed nine games before returning to action on March 3. In Togashi’s absence, the team didn’t skip a beat, though, as fellow guards Kosuke Ishii, Fumio Nishimura and Tomokazu Abe played important minutes and continue to make key contributions.

Case in point: Ishii dished out a team-high seven assists in the team’s latest victory against the Levanga Hokkaido in Sapporo.

Togashi remains a potent spark plug for the offense, as evidenced by his 14.8 points and 5.2 assists per game. He buried 11 of 15 3s in a 42-point outburst against the Alvark on Nov. 15.

And backup forward Leo Lyons, averaging 10.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 30 games , has blended in well with his new team since joining the Jets in December.

“Our team is comprised of many different parts and each player gets their chance to shine,” Oldham said. “Ryumo has no problem taking on a supporting or leading role, which is very essential in a top team succeeding.”

The Jets face a big test at Funabashi Arena this weekend: the SeaHorses (41-8), who have won a top-flight record 17 straight games. The SeaHorses are 20-5 in road contests.

A look ahead

This weekend’s other series matchups are Ryukyu vs. Kawasaki, Yokohama vs. Nishinomiya, Tochigi vs. Hokkaido, Shibuya vs. Tokyo, Shiga vs. Kyoto, Niigata vs. Nagoya, Toyama vs San-en and Shimane vs. Osaka.