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Maki, Joho provide solid backbone for Apache’s march to success

by Ed Odeven

It’s their job to bewilder opposing guards by trying to get them to break their concentration and make hasty, ill-advised decisions with the basketball.

In November, Darin Satoshi Maki and Masashi Joho played aggressive defense for the Tokyo Apache. Two of the top backcourt antagonists in the bj-league, the pair helped the Apache win six of eight games in the month and rise to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

Maki and Joho are The Japan Times’ Defensive Players of the Month in the bj-league.

The Apache were coming off a pair of blowout losses (54 combined points) to the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix at the end of October. But they seemed to find their defensive pulse the following weekend against the Sendai 89ers. Credit Maki and Joho for playing a pivotal role in that turnaround.

Maki had three of the Apache’s 10 steals in a five-point victory over the 89ers in the series opener on Nov. 1. Two games later, Joho had a six-steal effort in Tokyo’s nine-point win over the Saitama Broncos on Nov. 15.

Both players apply strong on-the-ball pressure, but are quick enough to rotate and play stifling defense on shooting guards.

“Having Joho and Darin, they just play great defense,” Tokyo coach Joe Bryant said. “They put pressure on you, and for any offensive player to see that two nights in a row, that’s a lot of pressure. You have to be in great shape to be able to withstand that pressure that Joho and Darin puts on you.”

Fast forward to last Sunday, a day after the Apache outlasted the Ryukyu Golden Kings, who entered the series as the league’s top team and sent the game into overtime before Tokyo could pull off the win. In the series finale, Maki was the defensive energizer for the Apache, getting four of his six steals in the opening quarter. He had four steals in the opener, finishing the weekend with 10 in 42 total minutes, a remarkably efficient number for any guard in any professional basketball league.

“Darin is one of the best defensive players in the league,” Bryant said. “He’s fast, he’s quick and he’s got quick hands.”

Joho, meanwhile, has maintained the defensive rhythm that led to six steals against the Broncos.

In four of the past six games, he has three or more steals.

Working together to cause confusion for opponents, Maki and Joho have made teammate John Humphrey’s job easier. One of the league’s most explosive players, Humphrey leads the Apache with 22 steals, two more than Maki and four more than Joho, and gets many of his takeaways with a little help from his hard-nosed teammates.

Golden Kings forward Jeff Newton, a shot-blocking menace to foes and a terrific rebounder with a knack for making more steals than most big men, also garnered heavy consideration for the accolade.

Rizing Fukuoka forward Michael Parker is the Offensive Player of the Month.

Averaging a league-high 25.5 points per game, Parker has scored in double digits in each of his team’s 14 games this season. Parker has carried his team offensively as it began the first several weeks of the season looking to find its identity as a team, coming off an expansion season in which three standouts — Josh Peppers, Michael Gardener and Jeffrey Price — joined other teams.

Parker, in fact, is scoring nearly one-third of his team’s total points (76.3 per game). He scores slews of points in transition and is one of the league’s top finishers on the fast break, but also causes fits for opponents when he releases his stop-and-pop jumpers.

Without Parker’s big-time offensive production, Fukuoka (5-9) would be out of the playoff picture already. Instead, the team is fighting to remain in contention.

Humphrey, the league’s leading scorer (24.8 ppg) also got serious consideration for the award. After all, he began the month with a 44-point game and ended it with a lights-out effort from 3-point range (6-for-8) and helped power the Apache past Ryukyu in the team’s most important series sweep of the season.