Basketball / B. League | B. LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Many Japan alumni a part of marquee summer event

by Ed Odeven

The Basketball Tournament has grown in prominence as a new summer tradition during its brief history.

Since its inception in 2014, numerous pro players with ties to Japan have competed in the single-elimination tournament.

Consider: Nagoya Diamond Dolphins star Justin Burrell is one of the leaders of the powerhouse Overseas Elite squad, which saw its four-year championship reign come to an end in the tourney semifinals last weekend, 71-66.

In Tuesday’s TBT final at Wintrust Arena in Chicago, Carmen’s Crew, primarily comprised of Ohio State University alum, defeated the Golden Eagles (mostly Marquette University alum) 66-60 for the winner-take-all $2 million prize. It featured 64 teams this year over a three-week period.

Utsunomiya Brex standout Jeff Gibbs joined Carmen’s Crew for this season’s tourney. He put 11 points on the board — all in the second half — and grabbed five rebounds in nearly 25 minutes in the final, adding a block for good measure. ESPN televised the final and other games during the final week. (A press release summed up the high-level competition by noting it featured “more than 60 players with NBA experience, 23 college alumni teams and international professionals playing in top leagues around the world.”)

“Jeff Gibbs was a huge pickup for us,” Carmen’s Crew guard Aaron Craft told reporters.

The undersized power forward attended Otterbein University near Columbus, Ohio, where he earned NCAA Division III Player of the Year honors in 2002. He celebrated his 39th birthday in the run-up to the final.

“Obviously I’m not dunking on people like I used to,” Gibbs admitted in an interview with otterbeincardinals.com that was published before the TBT title contest. “Now I just see two points as getting two points. But outside of that, I approach things exactly the same as I did at 19 or 29.”

As for his hefty slice of the $2 million paycheck, Gibbs had this to say in advance: “It would be invested and just allows me to help my family. But the competitors in us want to win the tournament just as much (as) wanting the money. These guys lost a double-overtime game back in the 2017 semifinals, so everyone is motivated to finish the job this time around.”

Ex-Buckeyes post player Evan Ravenel, who has starred for the Ryukyu Golden Kings, Akita Northern Happinets and Fukushima Firebonds in recent years, provided two points and three boards in 21-plus minutes, while William Buford paced the victors with 17 points.

For the Golden Eagles, Dan Fitzgerald (ex-Sendai 89ers and Northern Happinets forward) served as team general manager. Joe Chapman, also a former Marquette player, coached the squad for the second consecutive summer. Chapman’s 11-year pro career included stints with the Bambitious Nara and Shimane Susanoo Magic.

In a Facebook post, Chapman reflected on this summer’s experience coaching in TBT.

He called it “a great experience coaching this group of men.”

“(We) came up short but wouldn’t trade the experience at all,” Chapman commented. “We didn’t finish the job but we will be back for more. Thank you to Marquette men’s basketball fans for traveling strong. It was great to see all the support.”

Former Marquette forward Lawrence “Trend” Blackledge didn’t appear in the final. Blackledge has suited up for several Japan teams over the past decade.

Ex-University of Nevada guard Mo Charlo, an integral part of the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix’s 2014-15 title-winning bj-league club, also competed for the Golden Eagles in this year’s TBT.

Golden Kings reunion

Anthony McHenry, a Ryukyu legend who joined the Shinshu Brave Warriors in 2017, will face his former team in a pair of preseason games on Aug. 27 and 29 in Okinawa City. Tipoff is 7:35 p.m. both days.

For a decade (2008 to 2017), McHenry helped lead the Golden Kings to numerous impressive feats, including four bj-league championships.

Ex-teammate Narito Namizato is excited about facing McHenry and Shinshu, the defending B2 champion, in a few weeks.

“I’m really looking forward to being close and able to meet again (on) the court,” the Kings point guard said in a news release.

From Hoyas to NeoPhoenix

Ex-Georgetown University big man Jessie Govan will begin his pro career with the San-en NeoPhoenix, it was announced on Wednesday.

The 210-cm New York City native joins a rebuilding San-en squad under new bench boss Brian Rowsom.

Govan wrapped up his college career with a standout senior season, averaging team-high totals in points (17.5) and rebounds (7.5) for the Hoyas in 33 games (all starts) in 2018-19. He also knocked down 47 of 114 3-point attempts (41.2 percent).

“I am very excited and thankful to be joining the San-en NeoPhoenix,” Govan said in a statement. “I am happy that I get to start my professional career playing in Japan and I am ready for the experiences and relationships that I am about to build. Playing for a team with a great reputation was definitely a deciding factor for me and I found that with the NeoPhoenix. I can’t wait to get to work with Coach (Brian) Rowsom and have a successful year and a lot of wins.”

Since the college season ended, Govan received his sociology degree from Georgetown. He’s also kept busy preparing for his pro career. He took part in the Reese’s NABC College All-Star Game, which was held during Final Four weekend in Minneapolis. He also participated in the Portsmouth Invitational and played for the Toronto Raptors during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.

Basketball Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing, Govan’s Georgetown mentor for the past two seasons, said he’s excited about what lies ahead for him.

“This is an excellent opportunity for Jessie and I am very happy for him,” Ewing said of Govan in a news release. “He left his mark in the record books at Georgetown and I think he will only continue to excel as he begins his professional career in Japan. I wish him nothing but the best.”

At a school with a rich history of standout big men, including Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo, Govan is 12th all-time in scoring (1,664 points), No. 7 in rebounding (842) and 11th in blocked shots (140)

No contract for Williams

Despite playing a vital role for the Alvark Tokyo on their back-to-back championship teams, veteran forward Jawad Williams is out of the picture for the 2019-20 campaign.

The ex-University of North Carolina and Cleveland Cavaliers player was not offered a contract for the upcoming season nor did the Alvark contact him to inform him he was out of the team’s plans, The Japan Times has learned.

Williams ruptured his right Achilles tendon in late March, forcing him to miss the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs. Weeks after the injury, he began a vigorous physical rehabilitation program.

He also returned to Japan to support his teammates during the playoffs and attended the final in May at Yokohama Arena, celebrating with them after they defended their title.

The 36-year-old averaged 10.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists as a key backup before sustaining the injury.

In three short videos posted on his Twitter feed earlier this week, Williams is seen working on his perimeter jump shot at a UNC gym.

New opportunity

Daniel Ochefu is at the stage of his basketball career where he wants some financial security.

Bouncing around the NBA G League, where players make $35,000, is not ideal.

Which is why Ochefu finalized a contract last week with the second-division Ibaraki Robots.

Speaking to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the ex-Villanova University and Washington Wizards big man explained his decision to pursue an overseas opportunity.

“I’d played in the NBA,” Ochefu told The Inquirer. “I played really good in the G League the following (two) seasons as well. I had that behind me as well. I just felt that if I pursued the NBA too much it’s taking a toll on my body and mind. Also, on my bank account.”

The 211-cm, 25-year-old Ochefu suited up for Villanova for four seasons (2012 to 2016), helping the Wildcats top North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament championship game as a senior.

Before preparing for the long grind ahead in the B. League, Ochefu was recently back in Philadelphia working out at his old stomping grounds.

“It’s crazy man, because I’m there and I feel old, but I still feel young because I saw a guy like Harold Pressley,” Ochefu said of one of the 1985 NCAA title-winning players from the Rollie Massimino-coached squad, according to The Inquirer.

He continued: “Then I see Mikal Bridges. I was a junior when he was a redshirt freshman. It’s like, my little brother, basically. But he’s a grown man now, playing in the NBA (for the Phoenix Suns). He’s about to play with Team USA. It’s great to see.”

Feedback

Contact the reporter: edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp