The Japan Times will be featuring periodic interviews with players in the bj-league — Japan’s first professional basketball circuit — which began its fourth season in October. Dokun Akingbade of the Niigata Albirex BB is the subject of this week’s profile.
Ht: 207 cm; Wt: 108 kg
Hometown: Riverdale, Md.
College: George Washington
Former team: Vermont Frost Heaves (the team won the 2007-08 ABA title)
Last Saturday you had a terrific game, scoring 30 points and pulling down 19 rebounds. How would you rate that performance?
It was my best game ever, pretty much. They said I was the MVP for the game. All I could do was thank my teammates (afterward). Without my teammates, it couldn’t have been possible.
After that, I focused on Sunday’s game and forgot about it.
You are averaging a team-high 22.0 points per game and the Albirex enter this weekend’s games against the Sen
dai 89ers with a 4-4 record. How would you assess the way the team has played and the way you’ve played in the season’s first eight games?
I think we are in a learning phase right now. We are a young team. We come out and try to play hard every game but we still need to learn a few more things. We still need to work on a couple of things in practice to improve.
(This includes) communication on defense and rebounding as a team.
I would say I want to keep consistently playing hard through the whole game, keeping my effort high and energy high.
What is different about the style of ball in the ABA and the bj-league?
It’s kind of similar if you think about it. It was up-tempo and so is the bj-league. The bj-league is more up-tempo and has better low-post players than the ABA.
Is the fan support similar in both leagues?
There’s way more support here in Japan than compared to the ABA. (The Albirex) have a great fan base that’s been traveling to every road game that we have so far, and home games have been pretty much sold out this year.
Niigata forward Yuichi Ikeda is having a breakthrough season (he’s averaging 17.5 ppg). How important has Ikeda-san’s effort been for the club?
At times, he’s really carrying us. He’s pretty much putting our team on his back. He’s really had big games so far. So we’ve got to keep giving him open looks, setting screens for him and doing whatever so he can get his shot off.
As a native of Nigeria, how old were you when you arrived in the United States? And when did you begin to realize you had a chance to play Division I college basketball?
I was 6 months old. It was in my senior year of high school. Before that, I was just playing basketball pretty much for fun and just concentrating on my school work.
Mom really stressed schoolwork for college, academics and not sports. (He has five older siblings.)
As I reached my senior year in high school, my coach (Deo Djossou) told me I showed a lot of improvement. He said if you played well there will be a lot of scouts, and so I focused a little bit harder and worked harder on my game. I got a good opportunity to go to George Washington University.
(Akingbade averaged 13.0 points, 12 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game as a senior and was named Bladensburg High School’s Most Improved Player and Defensive Player of the Year. He walked on to the GWU team and received a scholarship after two seasons.)
What is your favorite basketball memory from your days at GWU?
I would have to say winning the Atlantic-10 Conference championship my senior year (2006-07) because the year before I sat out and redshirted. And that year we had the best record in school history (23-9).
(Before the season), they said it was a rebuilding team and were unsure of our post play and they didn’t know what I’d be able to do, but I was able to come in there and help lead the team to a second A-10 championship.
(Akingbade scored 15 points in the A-10 tournament final.)
Who is your favorite player in the NBA? Why?
Ever since high school my favorite player has been (Los Angeles Lakers superstar) Kobe Bryant. He’s a shooting guard and I’m a center but I just like his intensity and his work ethic, and I know that every time he steps on the floor he’s always read to work and play hard. I try to do the same when I step onto the court.
But the big man I try to emulate would be (San Antonio Spurs star) Tim Duncan. He has really good footwork and he uses both hands really well. I try to emulate him.
In what ways has Albirex coach Masaya Hirose helped you grow as a basketball player?
I would have to give a lot of credit to Coach Hirose. After practice I may be tired, but he says to me let’s get some extra work in. He’s really helping me with my work ethic. And in the games, I may be tired, but I’ve got to keep on pushing.
After practice, we work on footwork, low-post moves, jump shots . . . he’s really helping me a lot.
As a man born in Africa, can you tell me how you feel about Barack Obama being elected the 44th president of the United States?
I felt great about it. It really means a lot to the United States and Americans.
Moving there at a young age and being raised there, I’ve learned in school about the history of America and what happened 50 years ago and before that.
So it’s good to see that America can move past racial discrimination and racial issues and raise a new light for the United States.