The latest Japan pro basketball notebook, featuring an interview with Uruguyan forward Mathias Calfani of the Kawasaki Brave Thunders. Also, in remembrance of coach Eric Gardow, who died last week, interviews with former Chiba Jets players and comments from others, too.
By ED ODEVEN
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.
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.”