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Strong fitness helps Apache during grueling stretch

by Kaz Nagatsuka

The Tokyo Apache wrapped up a hectic eight games in 14 days with a 79-78 overtime victory over the Takamatsu Five Arrows on Wednesday.

Apache coach Bob Hill said after Wednesday’s overtime victory that fatigue was not much of a problem for the club, which ended the stretch with six wins and two losses, including six home contests.

“We’ve had a lot of practices,” Hill, a former NBA coach, said with a laugh. “We started in September in Texas. We had a lot of practices. So our team is in good shape.

“Now, it’s a matter of maintaining that. We can’t practice real long and hard now. So it’s maintaining the conditioning that we have. And I think that paid off for us in this stretch.”

The Apache had a spectacular, entertaining comeback in Wednesday’s game. The team trailed 30-13 after the first quarter, but eventually erased the deficit around Cohey Aoki’s offensive contributions — he scored 18 points — and their gutsy defense, which held Takamatsu to 28 second-half points.

Floor leader Byron Eaton sank a game-tying 3 at the buzzer in the final period, before they outscored the Five Arrows 7-6 in overtime at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2.

“Coming back from (17) points down, it takes courage, it takes fighting fatigue, it takes a little bit of luck. I mean, (17) points is a lot of points,” Hill said.

Jumpei Nakama, one of the team’s captains, said that he’d personally never had such a tough stretch before as a pro player, though he recalled tiresome times from high school.

“We’d play consecutive games in a tournament such as the Winter Cup (All-Japan High School National Championship), but I’d never had that in a season.”

But at the end of the day and a tiring stretch for these athletes, wins are the best tonic for their exhaustion. On Wednesday, Tokyo extended its winning streak to five and improved to 12-8 overall.

“Since we’re winning, we’re not feeling that much fatigue,” said Nakama, who had 10 points and seven rebounds.