FUNABASHI, CHIBA PREF. - While the Chiba Jets Funabashi are loaded with a roster filled with talented players, the team is built around a diminutive point guard: Yuki Togashi.
His performance on the court in Game 2 of the B. League Championship semifinals against the Tochigi Brex was a clear example. The 167-cm, who was had held to seven points and five assists in Game 1, scored a game-high 21 points and dished out eight assists to help the Jets complete a sweep of their East Division rival and earn a spot in the league title game for the second consecutive year.
While Togashi has provided much joy and excitement for Jets fans, he has also impressed his former coach from the United States with his own development as a player.
Tyler Gatlin, the associate head coach for the G League’s Stockton Kings, was in the stands to see Togashi play for the first time in person since they were on the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League, the G League’s predecessor.
Speaking to The Japan Times before Game 2 on Sunday, Gatlin said that it is “awesome” to see that his old pal has become such a big star in Japan.
“For me, it’s an honor to be here and to be able to see him play in his home country in front of the fans,” said the 31-year-old, who is also a friend of Calvin Oldham, one of Chiba’s assistant coaches. “The fans here in Chiba are very, very exciting. They have a lot of passion and you can see when Yuki is on the floor, everybody is focused on Yuki and what he does and how he’s making an impact on the game.”
With a goal of becoming an NBA player, Togashi signed with the Legends, where Gatlin was an assistant coach, for the 2014-15 season. Gatlin said that he and the team’s staff “got a lot of information,” “playing style” and “background” about Togashi.
For the Legends, Togashi was a bit of a mystery compared to Americans because he had played at Montrose Christian School in Maryland and didn’t attend a U.S. college after that. Instead, he opted to play for the Akita Northern Happinets of the bj-league. Plus, his height, regardless of which pro league he plays in, could be a factor.
But once he took the court, Gatlin said, Togashi “alleviated a lot of concerns” by proving that he’s capable of playing the game.
“I knew from right away, he was going to be OK because he’s competitive, he’s very much like always getting into the scrimmages and practices being a guy taking initiative to show what he can do instead of being reserved and staying out of the drills and out of live competitions,” Gatlin said.
“So from the start of the year, from training camp, he set the tone,” Gatlin noted. “He’s going to be a guy that’s capable. He can make shots, he’s going to be very aggressive with the ball in his hands.
Togashi’s defense also impresses Gatlin.
“You cannot take advantage of him on defense because he’s tough and he’ll take a charge or he’ll foul if he has to, or he doesn’t get mismatched when you try to single him out because of his size,” the coach observed.
But at the same time, the Niigata Prefecture native is a player with a defined role and purpose. He was only 21, 22 years old when he was with Texas, and Gatlin said his immaturity was a bigger “concern” than his size.
“He was a young kid, and he hadn’t played D1 college so that was a bigger concern than being 5-6 (168 cm),” Gatlin said of Togashi, who averaged 2.1 points in 24 games for the Legends.
But Gatlin certainly sees drastic improvements in Togashi, who is now 25. While he thinks the Togashi has polished many aspects of his game, Gatlin said that the Jets star has especially developed in terms of his “maturity level” and “confidence” as a team leader.
“Even though, maybe, some aspects of his game this year, statistically were lower than last year, think he’s having a better, overall season because of his team’s performance and how he makes his teammates better,” said Gatlin, who has aspirations to become a G League head coach and work in the NBA in the future.
Togashi averaged 15.7 points and 5.3 assists in 2017-18 and 14.0 and 5.5 this season.
Gatlin also said that Togashi was “just going fast” getting into the paint “shooting floaters or catch-and-shoot 3-pointers” when he was in Texas. But he added that is now poised and is now able to “control the tempo of the game” with better anticipation.
Togashi said with a smile after Sunday’s game that he was happy to be able to perform well in front of his old coach.
“It’s been five years or so and I believe I was able to show how much I’ve improved,” Togashi said, adding that he didn’t raise his profile while with the Legends.
“I talked to him after yesterday’s game and he told me that he was surprised to see I was taking a leadership role, speaking to my teammates, including our imports. I think that that’s what I’ve gotten better at the most in these five years or so.”