Sunday, January 22, 2012

Akita Northern Happinets 99 at Chiba Jets 78 - January 21, 2012

The last bj League game I attended was in February 2011 when I watched the Tokyo Apache take on the Osaka Evessa. Two weeks later saw the terrible catastrophe that wreaked death and destruction in the Tohoku area, and which eventually resulted in the Apache folding tents and disappearing for the remainder of the season. The owners chose to sit out this season as well, and when it was announced that they weren't planning to restart operations next year either, I realized that I would need to look elsewhere for basketball.

Fortunately, the bj League had expanded to two nearby locations, with Chiba and Yokohama both starting new franchises for 2011-12. The league is notorious for using multiple arenas for each team during the season, and it took me several weeks to find a game that I could attend on a weekend. It turned out to be in Yachiyo, a small town in Chiba, where the Chiba Jets would host the Akita Northern Happinets. Get it?! Like Happiness but with -nets instead of -ness. 'Cause they play basketball! Turns out this wacky nickname would be the highlight of the day.

Yachiyo Municipal Gymnasium

Tradition dictates that I put a brief review of the venue in this post, but like most bj League arenas, this is just a local gym co-opted for a professional basketball game. Located near Yachiyo-chuo station on the rarely-used (by me at least) Toyo Rapid Railway, the gym is actually fairly easy to get to from central Tokyo, as some trains on the Tozai subway line go straight onto the Toyo Rapid Railway. Leaving the station and embarking on a 10-minute walk through a bit of Japanese suburbia brings you to a dull, grey, featureless building.

There are three types of seats here, with the "upper" level consisting of four rows of benches for 2,000 yen, while floor level seats are 3,000, unless you want to first class treatment, which sets you back 7,500 for a courtside view. As you can see below, the 3,000 seats are pushed well back from the court, so take the 2nd floor seats to get a better angle on the action.

There are a few food options, with coconut curry looking the best. However, I'd recommend stopping by the Mos Burger near the station on the way to or from the game. One of Japan's best fast food restaurants, try the unique Kalbi Yakiniku Burger with strips of sauced beef served between rice patties. Messy but tasty and relatively healthy too.

I sat in the second row of the upper deck and had part of my view blocked by a pole that was used for volleyball nets or some other purpose. It wasn't a significant problem, but shows just how the league is forced to use facilities that aren't well-suited to the game of basketball.

The other thing that was rather annoying was the constant noise throughout the afternoon. They have an emcee who leads the crowd through pre-game cheering practice and then screams out during every possession of the game, either "Go Jets" on offense or "D-Fence!" when Akita had the ball. Coupled with the ridiculously loud horn that signaled every substitution or timeout and this was two hours of auditory overload. Nothing new though, if you have read previous reviews of my bj League trips, you will know that each venue tries very hard to be the loudest in the league.

The Jets have a rather bland nickname, particularly by Japanese standards, but they do go cutesy when it comes to the mascot, Jumbo, a pink elephant. I trust that the club doesn't know the fairly obscure meaning associated with the term.

The Game

The teams were playing the second of their weekend doubleheader, with Akita winning handily the day before to take the lead in the East while Chiba languished down in 8th in the 10-team conference. It didn't take long for the Happinets to pick up where they left off, sinking their first two three-pointers on their way to an 11-1 lead. Although Chiba fought back, they were unable to get close as the Happinets were clearly the better team, carving up the Jets defense as Mychal Kearse demonstrates below.

The Happinets had a 25-17 lead after one and won the second quarter by another 8 points to take a 45-29 stranglehold by the half. It was not a pretty game, and Jets' coach Eric Gardow was clearly upset with his charges (that's him pointing in the bottom right below as Takaki Ishida completes a layup).

Chiba started the second half on a 7-0 run and I thought we might have a game, but the Happinets had different ideas, stifling the Jets' attack and maintaining their double-digit cushion with ease.

Midway through the third quarter, the refs blew a call, nailing a Jet for a foul when the Akita player merely bobbled the ball. Gardow became apoplectic and continued to berate the officials until he was given a technical foul. Normally that would be enough, point taken (literally with the free throw) and all, but Gardow continued to run his mouth, following one ref up and down the court. Finally, with just over a minute left in the frame and the Jets down by 11, the ref sent Gardow packing with his second technical. The Jets promptly collasped, giving up 7 points to end the quarter down 69-51.

Maurice Hargrow topped all scorers with 23 points

I figured Gardow had seen enough of the garbage his team was serving and wanted to get home early, but in all seriousness, he needed to remain in charge because once he left, the team checked out. The fourth quarter was just garbage time, with teams trading baskets back and forth as Akita won 99-78 to sweep the weekend set.

There were two key stats that summarize the Akita advantage. They went 16/27 on three-pointers, while committing only 9 turnovers to Chiba's 23. The Jets were simply outplayed; I felt like the Happinets played basketball within a system while the Chiba players weren't fully committed to each other, often choosing bad shots when a pass was the better option. Their perimeter defense was also rather weak, allowing far too many open looks from beyond the arc. The result was an embarrassing blowout, Chiba's 10th loss in 16 home games. Even then, they are only two games out of the playoffs, so if they can learn to play together and with some intensity on defense, they might still have a shot to sneak in to the postseason tourney. I'll let you all know how that turns out.


With just over a minute to go, Akita allowed Yu Yushimoto to play. Listed at 5'7", he certainly seemed much shorter, and it was fun to watch him guard the much taller Maurice Hargrow (above). Yushimoto did nail a three from the corner to round out the Akita attack.

Tokyo will have a new team from next season as the bj League continues its relentless expansion plans. If I'm still around, I'll pay them a visit. Until then, my next game in this league will be in Okinawa in March as the Golden Kings host the Evessa in a battle of the top Western teams.

Next up

Before that though, I'll be quite busy. Next week, the Asia League Ice Hockey returns to Tokyo for another weekend doubleheader with two Japanese teams taking on a couple of clubs from Korea and I'll stop by for one day.

The following weekend sees the final games of the 2011-12 Top League Rugby regular season and I'll visit Chichibunomiya for that as well. A few days later, I'm off to North America for a whole bunch of hockey and some basketball and even baseball! It will be a busy start to 2012, so please check back often for updates.



1 comment:

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