By JORDAN IKEDA
Rafu Sports Editor
For those who read my writing, you know that I am a basketball junkie. So when I received an email from the Compton Cobras of the ABA telling me about a 5’6” Japanese point guard who was averaging 20 points and five assists per game, I naturally had to check it out.
Now, when I say ABA, I’m not talking about the league that made Dr. J famous (or vice versa) and was later absorbed into the current NBA. I’m talking about the new ABA, the one formed in 1999, that features around 50 teams from Pikeville, Kentucky to Elmira, New York, to Folsom, California and everywhere in between. A league with teams named the Whirlwind and the Beach Ballers and Pegasus and Fuel.
The only thing that remains the same is the red, white and blue ball.
The Cobras, Compton’s first and only professional basketball team, was a part of the 2009/2010 ABA expansion. In they’re first game of the season, the Cobras played at Grant High School near my apartment, so I figured I’d go check out this high-scoring, starting guard from Japan.
The guard in question is Jangki Che Omura, who everyone associated with the team calls Shouki (“The Shark”). He hails from Saga near Kyushu and attended Osaka College. He just turned 24 on Dec. 8.
Grant’s gym was nearly half full, most likely because the Cobras were playing the L.A. Slam, a team that features popular westcoast rapper The Game as its starting small forward.
While I was quite certain there was no way a player shorter than me could be averaging 20 and 5 against semi-pro athletes, I reserved hope that he was lightning quick and great at distributing the ball.
I should have tempered my expectations even more. While Omura is quick and plays harassing defense, he’s really small and got overpowered by the bigger more athletic players. He saw maybe two minutes of game time, during which he turned the ball over twice and didn’t shoot. Needless to say, I was quite disappointed.
In all honesty, the new ABA is not a stable enterprise. Two years ago, 20 teams folded within the first five weeks. Last year, the league’s most successful franchise by attendance, the Halifax Rainmen, left the ABA because too many teams didn’t show up for games.
Case in point, the league’s official website has been expired and the stats page has been shut down due to a financial dispute.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t value there. While the two games I went to watch were reffed about as differently as humanly possible, basketball is basketball in all of its flawed forms. ABA basketball is all about scoring. Teams like to toss up threes early in the shot clock and fast break at every opportunity. Games routinely finish with scores like 131-118. Defense can and will extend the full length of the court, but rarely continues once a defender gets beat. Play-heavy, NCAA college ball it is not. Games can get chaotic, but it is within this chaos that viewers can find gems of beauty.
Guys talking trash. A sweet dime. A shooter catching fire and hitting five triples in a row. The crowd getting hostile. The announcer tossing out trivia questions and shouts outs. And of course, the novelty of a 5’6” Japanese guard trying his damndest to fight through screens and defend players nearly a foot taller than him.
“The difference is size and power,” Shouki told the Rafu Shimpo. “Japanese style is more pass, pass, move. Here, it’s more one-on-one. I will never have size, but I just have to run more than anybody.”
Omura lifts weights every day and trains on the beach with Yuta Imada, the strength and conditioning coach for the Cobras. He puts in the hard work because he already has his sights set on loftier goals.
Next year, he wants to try for the NBDL (NBA Development League), and then, like all aspiring basketball players, this “shark” dares to dream about the NBA.
And while unlikely is the first word that springs to mind, I reserve the right, as does Shouki, to dream big. With the changing of the hand check rules in the NBA, and the sudden rise of quick point guards who can pass or athletic combo guards who can score, who knows what the future has in store?
After all, beauty can also be found in the form of accomplishment.
“My dream was to play professional basketball here in the States,” Shouki said.
Omura’s doing just that, living his dream and he’s doing it in the ABA.