Tokyo Z finished the 2020-21 B.League season with a record of 13 wins and 46 losses. The Earthfriends were second to last in the East bracket and second to last among 16 teams in Division II.
The current season thus far is turning out to be a replication of their team’s performance last year. The ball club is off to a 0-4 start, remaining the only winless team along with last year’s tail-ender Aomori in the entire Division II.
Filipino fans are puzzled why the Tokyo Z’s coaching staff, headed by Hugo Lopez, has not maximized the talent of University of the Philippines product and Gilas playmaker Juan Gomez De Liaño who has seen inconsistent minutes in the four games that the team has played.
Gomez De Liaño is on the floor an average of 10 minutes a game. He played just three and a half minutes in their first game and a minute and a half in their third game.
It is not uncommon in the B.League for Asian reinforcements to not get lengthy playing time.
Jaemin Yang, a 22-year-old from South Korea who is on his second season in Division I of the B.League, is part of the regular rotation of Shinshu but is averaging a mere 13.5 minutes. This is an improvement from last season when he played just nine minutes per game. The 6-foot-7 Korean is putting up 2.8 points and 2.5 rebounds for Shinshu which has a 2-2 record.
Chinese import Weijia Wang is contributing 2.7 points for Akita who are off to a 3-1 start this season. The 6-foot-6 Wang played eight minutes in their first game, was not fielded in during their second game, saw action for a little over a minute in their third game, and had his longest stint last Sunday when he was on the floor for 16 minutes.
Another Asian reinforcement, 6-foot-6 Chihwei Lin from Chinese Taipei, has played just two games for Nishinomiya in Division II and is averaging a point per game in five-and-a-half minutes of action.
Yang, Wang, and Lin are all big men who have had to share playing time with Western imports who are usually frontliners. This explains why they have not really had a lot of opportunities to play.
With Tokyo Z, Gomez De Liaño need not have to share floor time with their other imports.
The squad, however, has a “deep” guard platoon.
Five-foot-eleven team captain Kotaro Hisaoka usually has the task of manning the backcourt. And he has delivered with averages of 6.8 points and 2.3 assists in 24.5 minutes of play.
Six-foot Japanese-American Mark Burton, who played for US NCAA Division II school Fayetteville, is playing close to 17 minutes per game and is scoring 8.3 points and dishing out 2.5 dimes.
Five-foot-eleven Tsubasa Kurihara, a holdover from last year’s squad, is the third point guard in the rotation who gets over 23 minutes of action and is leading the team in assists with 4.0 a game.
Out of the eight players who are averaging at least 5.5 points per ballgame for the Earthfriends, Gomez De Liaño sees the least action.
Despite that, he averages 5.8 points per outing. In the two games he had the opportunity to play more than 10 minutes, he has averaged in double figures.
It is worth noting that Tokyo Z obviously needs some help on the offensive end. The team is averaging just 68.3 points this season while giving up 88.5 points. In their last two games, the team averaged a paltry 53 points.
The only player in the roster who is scoring in double figures is 6-foot-8 forward Marc-Eddy Norelia. Norelia, a native of Haiti who grew up in the US, is putting up 16 markers per outing.
Six-foot-eleven center Joshua Crawford, a transferee from Aomori, is contributing 9.5 points and 7.8 boards while Pat Andree, a 6-foot-8 forward from NCAA Division I school North Carolina State, is giving the squad 9.0 points per game.
It is hard to second-guess the rationale of the coaching staff in not bestowing enough trust in Gomez De Liaño’s ability to contribute more to the team. The club has a highly-respected mentor in Lopez who brings with him an impressive resume that includes coaching Baloncesto in the Spanish Liga ACB. He was named Coach of the Year by the Canadian National Basketball League in 2016 when he handled Halifax. He is also currently the coach of the Swedish national team.
At this juncture in the season where the Earthfriends find themselves at the bottom of the standings, the team obviously requires a shot in the arm to get itself back in the playoff race. It might not be such a bad idea for Lopez to take a chance on Gomez De Liaño who has a track record in his young career of being a sparkplug for the teams he has played for.
If there is one aspect in Gomez De Liaño’s game that is of certainty, it is his ability to put the ball in the hoop. He is a scoring point guard who can light it up from outside and take the ball strong to the basket. But these things will be hard to come by if he is not on the floor a lot and the ball is not in his hands which takes away his ability to create for himself and for his teammates.
Maybe, just maybe, Gomez De Liaño is the missing element that could turn things around for Tokyo Z.