The Alvark Tokyo have demonstrated that their roster depth is an essential key to their success this season.
While the physical grind of the B.League's 60-game season is a challenge for all teams, the Alvark have not skipped a beat despite the recent loss of backcourt standouts Justin Cobbs (left ankle sprain) and Daiki Tanaka (lumbar disc hernia).
Cobbs was placed on the league's injury list on January 18. He's eligible to come off the injury list on February 17. Tanaka went on the injury list on December 27, and is expected to work his way back into the rotation soon.
Tokyo completed a weekend sweep of the visiting Niigata Albirex BB with a 67-63 victory on Sunday, January 29 in Tachikawa. As a result, first-year head coach Dainius Adomaitis' team extended its winning streak to eight.
Niigata slipped to 5-29. Only the Shiga Lakes (4-30, including a current 17-game losing streak) have fewer wins.
Niigata Albirex BB head coach Conner Henry talks to his players on January 29. (B.LEAGUE)
New Coach Pleased with Albirex's Effort
Albirex coach Conner Henry, a former NBA guard for the Houston Rockets, Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings in the 1980s, commended his rebuilding team's effort. Henry was hired as advisory coach in November 2022, then took over as head coach in mid-December.
"We played a very talented, disciplined team two nights in a row, and we made them work very hard," Henry told reporters. "So I was proud of the overall effort of the guys."
One of the cornerstones of Niigata's rebuilding efforts is center Kofi Cockburn, a University of Illinois alum and one of the B.League's top young players. The Jamaican-born rookie had 25 points and 14 rebounds in the series finale.
Alvark forward Ryan Rossiter sets up for a shot against the Albirex. (B.LEAGUE)
Slimmest of Leads
Tokyo led 32-31 at halftime, then extended the margin to 52-46 entering the fourth quarter.
"In the first half, it could've been one our best defensive efforts of the year, if not our best," Henry commented. "And in the second half we hung in there, and if it weren't for about five possessions in the game, the game could have changed dramatically. So I think everybody can realize that the team is together and committed and we keep bouncing back even though we are near the bottom of the standings."
Conversely, the Alvark (28-6) are two games behind the Eastern Conference-leading Chiba Jets (30-4, including 16 wins in a row) in the standings.
Tokyo sharpshooter Shuto Ando (B.LEAGUE)
Alvark Highlights from the Weekend
On Sunday, Shuto Ando paced the Alvark with 21 points and nine assists, while Sebastian Saiz contributed 20 points and 14 rebounds. Alex Kirk had 14 points, Zack Baranski scored eight and Ryan Rossiter pulled down 10 rebounds.
"He did a really great job passing the ball to his teammates," Adomaitis said of Ando.
Backup guard Ihor Boiarkin (also spelled Igor Boyarkin in various news reports) appeared in the fourth-game of his one-month stint with the Alvark on loan from the Kanazawa Samuraiz, a B.League third-division team. The 182-cm Ukrainian finished with one assist in 13 minutes while providing high-energy play at both ends of the floor.
Ando was Tokyo's top offensive performer on Saturday, knocking down 7 of 11 3-point shots in a 27-point effort in the hosts' 90-79 win over the Albirex at Arena Tachikawa Tachihi. Saiz had 17 points, Baranski finished with 16 and Boiarkin provided six points, four rebounds, three assists and a steal in 21 solid minutes off the bench.
After Sunday's win, Adomaitis took stock of his team's latest performance.
"I think it was a very good win because we started the game really flat ... not [big] energy," he stated.
"We were missing good shots but still playing good defense, and good defense gave us the win," Adomaitis said.
The Alvark's depth was a pivotal aspect of their back-to-back victories over the Albirex, and Adomaitis was clearly satisfied on Sunday night that his rotation (sans Cobbs and Tanaka) remained intact over the weekend.
"We have our problems," the coach said. "I'm happy after every weekend that we survived [the] weekend, and I'm happy that no one got injured."
Up Next for the Alvark
Tokyo plays host to the Osaka Evessa (17-17) on Saturday and Sunday, February 4-5 at Yoyogi National Gymnasium.
Adomaitis has a laser-sharp focus for the upcoming games, telling reporters, "The most important thing is to prepare the team best for the next game and for the players to understand everything ― where they need to be for the next weekend.
"We want to control the rhythm of the game."
Before getting ready to face the Evessa, Adomaitis assessed the play of Boiarkin since he joined the Alvark. This included a nine-point, two-assist effort in 16 minutes in his Tokyo debut on January 21 against the host Hiroshima Dragonflies.
"He gives us game organization, he really helps us on defense," the coach said, calling him a "good player."
Having followed Boiarkin's career in Europe, including the 2019 FIBA Europe Cup, when he suited up for Ukrainian SuperLeague club Cherkaski Mavpy and the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup European qualifiers, Adomaitis expanded his analysis of the Ukrainian's on-court presence for the Alvark in helping run the offense.
Boiarkin had a pair of turnovers on Sunday and shot 0-for-4 from the floor. Adomaitis said effort-wise Boiarkin is making good plays, but "maybe sometimes he's putting too much pressure on himself."
Ukraine's Ihor Boiarkin competes in a 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup European qualifier against Slovenia. (FIBA.BASKETBALL)
Ukrainian Players Contribute for Samuraiz
As the war in their homeland rages on, three Ukrainian players have suited up for the Kanazawa Samuraiz during the 2022-23 season. All three men have made an impact for the club.
Center Oleksandr Antypov is averaging 22.0 points and 10.2 rebounds in 31 games, including a pair of 37-point games. Shooting guard Yakiv Titov is scoring at a 7.0 points-per-game clip in 23 games, while Boiarkin averaged 10.4 points and 4.9 assists in 28 games (21 starts) for the Samuraiz before joining the Alvark for a temporary stint.
Boiarkin's deal with the Alvark, a one-month rental contract paid by the B1 club, gives him a chance to showcase his skills against a higher level of competition.
Ihor Boiarkin shoots a jumper on January 29. (B.LEAGUE)
In a brief conversation with JAPAN Forward after Sunday's game, Boiarkin said he's grateful for the chance to play basketball in Japan this season.
"Of course it's great that we won two games," he said, then adding this viewpoint about his own play: "For my basketball [performance], not so great, but it's not important because we won, and I'm not a selfish player."
Boiarkin added, "I showed the home fans not my best basketball [because] I was a little nervous."
Which is why he's looking forward to his next opportunity to suit up in his Alvark uniform against Osaka.
"But I have a chance to show my best performance, so I'm not thinking too much about this," Boiarkin said. "I think about more, like, just win. If we win, everything is OK. … Of course, I'll watch the [game] video with the coaches and fix my turnovers and some mistakes and try at the next home game."
While living in Nanao, Ishikawa Prefecture (population: about 50,000), Boiarkin said walks near the sea, visits to onsen and shopping helped him pass the time.
Living in Tokyo, he admitted that he welcomes the chance to find lots of people who can speak English. "It's one of the best cities in the world and I live in it, plus it's amazing," he said, smiling.
Boiarkin Describes His Basketball Skill Set
Asked to analyze his skills as a basketball player, Boiarkin mentioned that he understands how to "control the rhythm of the game."
For him, developing rapport with his Alvark teammates after only one or two practices wasn't easy. But that didn't stop him from trying.
Nor did it stop him from focusing on what he says are his other primary tasks: creating scoring opportunities for teammates and defense.
"I'm coming to Tokyo for only one month and I don't want to break something (the team's rhythm), so it's better I give the pass than shoot."
He's, of course, motivated to make a strong impression during his stint with the Alvark, possibly attracting other B1 and B2 teams to offer him a contract for next season.
"If I play good in B1, there's a good chance for me in the next year," Boiarkin said. "So it's a little bit hard because I come to [a top team], and I don't want to break nothing for this team, so I don't want to take, like, crazy shots."
He added: "If I had a longer time, maybe it's not so hard to show my basketball."
After every game, Boiarkin sends messages via Instagram to his family in Ukraine letting them know how he played.
"So I played bad today," he mentioned, citing the most recent example.
But encouragement from his wife is something he really appreciates. In one recent message, she reminded him: "Show your best performance. We pray for you."
Sunny Side Up Signs Allen Hachimura
Sunny Side Up finalized the contract with Hachimura on January 23.
Los Angeles Lakers forward Rui Hachimura is his older brother.
Hachimura has appeared in 28 Crane Thunders games (one start) this season. He's averaging 4.2 points and 1.5 rebounds.
"I am very honored to be a part of Sunny Side Up," Hachimura said in a statement. "Through this contract, I would like to carry out activities that give courage and excitement to everyone from children to adults."
He added: "In the basketball competition, I will never forget my gratitude to those who have supported me until now.
"I will do my best to become a player who can compete not only in Japan but also in the world. First of all, as a Gunma Crane Thunders player, I would like to contribute to the victory of the team one game at a time."
In its press release, Sunny Side Up stated that "we will do our best to support Hachimura so that he can become an athlete who is active not only in Japan but also in the world."
Author: Ed Odeven