KAWASAKI – Mathias Calfani’s passion for basketball is evident on every possession.
He’s an active presence on both ends of the floor. On defense, his arms constantly move with purpose to distract opposing players. His eyes never stop focusing on what’s happening around him. He exudes confidence in his teammates and displays solid fundamentals for the title-chasing Kawasaki Brave Thunders.
On Sunday, Calfani wasn’t the top standout for the Brave Thunders, but he had an effective outing: 12 points, six rebounds and three assists off the bench.
The 27-year-old Uruguayan forward also demonstrated determination after a disappointing sequence. After missing two free throws with 40.4 seconds left in the third quarter, he grabbed the offensive rebound and scored on a putback while getting fouled again. Then he made the next freebie, which put his team ahead 72-57. Moments later, he buried a spot-up 3-pointer. Calfani also took a charge in the third quarter, sticking to his defensive assignment in the post. The Brave Thunders went on to defeat the Ryukyu Golden Kings 98-75, improving to 15-3 on the season.
It was the type of game that showcased Kawasaki’s wide range of skilled players from gutsy guards Ryusei Shinoyama (14 points, seven assists) and Naoto Tsuji (11 points, five helpers), to perimeter marksmen Naoya Kumagae (14 points) and Yuto Otsuka (eight points) to dynamic big men Jordan Heath (18 points, including 15 in the first quarter) and Nick Fazekas (12 points, seven rebounds, five assists).
“I think we have a good team and a good opportunity to win the championship,” Calfani said after Sunday’s game at Todoroki Arena. “We need to work. We need to improve, but I think we have a good team (to compete) for the championship.”
Through Sunday, Calfani has started seven of 18 games, but he’s also a valuable backup. Like former Detroit Pistons standout Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson, the 204-cm Calfani provides instant energy off the bench. He’s averaging 10.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.1 blocks. He’s also drained 52.6 percent of his 3-point shots (20 of 38).
And he’s grown acclimated to the Brave Thunders’ scrappy style of play, which includes a lot of pick-and-rolls on offense and aggressive defense.
“I feel better, because I think at the beginning I have a little nervousness for the start of the season, for the start of play,” admitted Calfani, who suited up for San Lorenzo in the Argentine League in the previous three seasons. “But I think now I feel better, I feel more comfortable with the team. All the team feels more comfortable together.”
Calfani confirmed that he’s become comfortable as both a starter and backup for first-year bench boss Kenji Sato.
‘Yes, it’s true,” he said, “because the coach makes a lot of changes. It’s difficult for the other teams with us because we always start different people, a different five. I think it’s like a surprise for another team because when they make their scouting (reports) they never know who will start. I think when I come off the bench I give good energy for my team and Jordan, too.”
Asked about his commitment to making hustle plays, putting himself in position to swat shots, poke passes away from their intended target and dive on the floor for loose balls, Calfani declared that he takes pride in these elements of the game.
“Yes, I try all the time because the other guys attack hard to the basket,” he said. “Sometimes they push, but I try to touch the ball when I’m losing the physical (encounter) because they have more (size) and more muscle. I need a different (approach): be quick or fast or try to make denies or when here is the ball (within reach) try to steal it. . . . I need to improve, but I like to play defense and I like to play when another team think they have an advantage. I like this.”
Growing up and following the overall rise of Argentina on the global basketball stage has inspired Calfani. He was aware of the neighboring nation’s impressive results in the biggest tournaments, including Olympic gold in 2004 and bronze in 2008 and a FIBA runner-up finish in 2002 and a silver in the renamed FIBA World Cup in September.
“When we were younger, we knew (Luis) Scola, we knew Manu Ginobili, we knew all of these guys,” he said, citing the proximity of Argentina to his homeland. “And we said, ‘Hey, we can play with these guys. We can play together. We can take our dreams.’ “
“Motivation,” he said is the best way to describe how he views the state of Uruguayan basketball through the kaleidoscope of Argentina’s success story.
“It’s motivation for my country and for my team,” added Calfani, who achieved success early in his career with the Uruguay national team at the 2010 FIBA South America Championship (third place). “Because if you work hard and if you give your 100 percent all the time for the team, you can win. You can make big goals.
“In Uruguay, the first sport is soccer and basketball is now the second sport. We need the people to like basketball more. We need the people training more in basketball. But we need motivation for these people.”
And how have the careers of Ginobili and Scola and other Argentines who’ve enjoyed success in the NBA and Europe helped Calfani never stop pursuing his dreams?
“It’s awesome,” said Calfani, the 2015 Uruguayan League Finals MVP while playing for Malvin. “Because I’ve always watched Manu . . . and Scola. I like so much (Andres) Nocioni.”
Why is he a big admirer of these Argentine standouts?
“Because they play with their heart and also they play hard all the time, and they go for the win all the time,” Calfani noted. “As for now, the new generation of Argentina, I think they never think they can win the World Cup in the beginning. But they work hard and they believe in the team . . . and they stayed close (to Spain in the FIBA World Cup final), and we (in Uruguay) watched this and it’s like motivation for us.”
Former Jets coach dies at 51
Eric Gardow, the first head coach in Chiba Jets history, passed away last Friday in Wisconsin, according to published reports. He was 51.
The Leader-Telegram, a Wisconsin newspaper, cited depression as the factor that led to his death.
The obituary reported that family and friends plan to meet on Sunday in Gardow’s hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, with a memorial service to be held at a to-be-announced date.
Gardow led the Jets in their inaugural season in the bj-league, 2011-12. Before coaching the Jets, the American had coached at the high school and college levels in the United States and also worked extensively in Qatar. In 2007, he became the Qatar men’s national team head coach, then coached the Qatar Sports Club (2008 to 2011) in that nation’s pro league before being hired by Chiba. He later served as an associate coach for the now-defunct Wakayama Trians of the NBL in 2014.
He was a co-founder and managing partner of BE Basketball, a hoop academy in Qatar, which was established in 2016.
In the aftermath of Gardow’s death, former Jets players and team supporters and individuals with ties to the high school and college hoop scene in Wisconsin posted heartfelt messages on social media about him.
This reporter also reached out a number of ex-Jets seeking comment about Gardow.
In a Facebook post, Shiga Lakestars assistant coach Kosuke Yahata, one of Chiba’s original players, mourned the death of his ex-coach.
“I just cannot believe it that you just past (passed) away. . .,” wrote Yahata. “Great coach, great person, great dad. You have inspired a lot of people. It was (an) honor to play for you as a first member of (the Chiba Jets). I’m going to miss you, we all going to miss you. Thank you for everything you have done for basketball. Praying for his family and his basketball family.”
Basketball announcer and sports personality Chris Sasaki, who also saw time in the Jets backcourt during their first season, commented on his ex-coach’s life and legacy on Wednesday.
“I was very surprised to hear the sad news,” Sasaki told this newspaper. “I just hope his wife and kids are OK and have the support from their family. May his soul rest in peace.
“I just remember him as a fighter, who battled cancer even before he joined the Jets, at such a young age. I think he had a strong will that he can do anything as long as he believed in it. That’s something I can relate to even now as I try to live my life each and every day.”
Guard Maurice Hargrow, who suited up for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers before a globetrotting pro career, including in Qatar, has fond memories of his mentor.
“Coach E, I will forever remember all the great games we played in. All the great memories we created together,” Hargrow told The Japan Times on Tuesday. “You will forever be missed, coach. May your journey continue to be as great as the life you led.”
In August, Gardow traveled to South Asia to conduct a series of clinics at the BE Sri Lankan Basketball Camp, which attracted 600 attendees over three days. While in Sri Lanka, he spoke to the Daily News, one of the island nation’s English-language newspapers, about his passion for teaching the game.
“I talk about the kids because I am here because of the kids,” Gardow told the Daily News. “I am here to share knowledge to anybody that takes it, doesn’t matter who they are. I love you with the game of basketball,”
Gardow, who previously held hoop clinics in Sri Lanka in February 2017, explained the philosophy behind his love of basketball to the Daily News.
“The main point of my mission is to give back what the game of basketball has given to me,” he told the newspaper. “I’ve been able to meet lots of people. I tell all the kids, basketball doesn’t know color, religion, nationality, boy or girl, skinny or fat, tall or short. The ball is what brings us all together and it’s been peace for me. I use that ball because it has helped me and my family. I use that ball to build relationships with people around the world.”
The Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association, which has more than 4,000 members, tweeted: “Coach Gardow was a Great Coach and Mentor to so many all over the World. He had a passion for kids and helping them achieve their Goals and Dreams! He will be sorely missed.”
Gardow battled testicular cancer as a young man. In recent years, he coped with other health-related issues, including hip surgery in the summer of 2018.
He attended the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and competed in the NCAA Division III and NAIA Final Fours as a college basketball player. From 2000 to 2005, he worked as an assistant coach for the NCAA D-III University of Wisconsin-Stout men’s team.