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Diminutive Aoki playing big for Tokyo

by Ed Odeven

His team had lost sixth straight games and its leading scorer, John Humphrey, who also happens to be the bj-league’s top point-getter, was not in the starting lineup for Sunday’s game against the Niigata Albirex BB.

News photoKohei Aoki
TOKYO APACHE PHOTO

That’s enough to give any player the blues, but Kohei Aoki of the Tokyo Apache handled the situation impressively.

Aoki had his best performance of the season, scoring 36 points, but his team’s winless ways continued as it dropped a 108-83 decision to the host Albirex.

During the Apache’s recent nose dive, Aoki has asserted himself as a major scorer for Joe Bryant’s club. He has topped the 20-point mark in each of the last four games, picking up the slack for the injured Humphrey (left wrist) and the departed Tony “Go Get It” Jones.

In Sunday’s scoring outburst, Aoki went 14-for-14 from the free-throw line. His 91.3 percent success ratio at the charity stripe is No. 1 in the league.

The 167-cm Aoki is the league’s shortest player, but he is also one of the league’s most daring and aggressive individuals. He attacks the basket and takes the physical punishment that comes with it.

It’s no secret that Aoki, a Fukuoka product, has earned the respect of players from around the bj-league.

“He has a big heart,” Saitama Broncos veteran forward David Benoit said in a Sunday interview. “You can just see it when he’s playing and that’s what basketball is. It’s not how big you are or how high you can jump or if you can dunk. It’s how you play the game.”

The way Aoki plays basketball is helping him gain a solid following around Kanto and The Land of the Rising Sun. And it’s not a far-fetched idea to expect Aoki’s No. 11 jersey to become one of the league’s top-selling items in the coming years.

“Every game he gives 100 percent,” Benoit said of Aoki. “I was really, really impressed with him when I saw him.”

Aoki is the type of player Japanese youngsters should model their game after, Benoit said.

FLASHBACK: David Palmer sparked the host Osaka Evessa to a 101-86 win over the Sendai 89ers on Sunday, scoring a season-high 42 points before 4,339 spectators.

The win keeps the Evessa (25-19) four games ahead of the Takamatsu Five Arrows (21-13) in the standings.

The Albirex (20-14) are in third place, followed by the Oita HeatDevils (19-15), Sendai 89ers (16-18), Saitama Broncos (13-21) and the Apache and Toyama Grouses, both of which have 11-23 records. In Sunday’s game, Palmer was 15-for-22 from the field, including 6 of 9 on 3-point shots.

Matt Lottich had 25 points and Lynn Washington poured in 13 in the victory.

Sendai’s Michael Chappell put 23 points on the board.

A day earlier, center Jeff Newton was the Evessa’s catalyst, scoring 20, grabbing 12 rebounds and making eight assists in a 99-88 triumph.

Takamatsu, meanwhile, ended the weekend with a 72-59 win over the Toyama Grouses.

Osaka native Makoto Kita had a team-best 19 points, while Reggie Warren (16 points, 15 rebounds) and Hiroyuki Kikuchi (13) also made major contributions for the Five Arrows.

Jerod Ward led the Grouses with 22 points and 17 boards, and Han Dae Kyun added 21.

Center Julius Ashby, a former University of Colorado player, scored 29 points as Takamatsu opened the weekend with a 115-77 win over the Grouses. The Boulder (Colo.) Daily Camera recently ran a feature story on Ashby.

In Niigata’s aforementioned 108-83 win, Nick Davis had a team-best 33 points, Matt Garrison added 20 and Naoto Kosuge scored 10.

The Albirex’s offense ran like a well-oiled machine. They had 30 assists, with seven players making three or more.

Niigata won the series opener 96-72 on Saturday. Davis was the high scorer in that one, too, with a 26-point effort.

Saitama split its series with the Oita HeatDevils, grinding out a 92-78 victory on Sunday.

Taishiro Shimizu (22 points), Andrew Feeley (21) and Gordon James (20) were the Broncos’ offensive sparkplugs.

Andy Ellis had a team-high 29 points for Oita.

The HeatDevils grabbed a 93-80 win over Saitama on Saturday. Ellis scored 31 and Mikey Marshall had 19 points.