This season, the Toyota Alvark have played under a new head coach, Takuma Ito, and they’ve had remarkable success.
The 33-year-old, who had been an assistant under sideline supervisor Donald Beck the last five seasons, has led the Alvark to an NBL-best 46-8 record through Tuesday’s game. The powerhouse team has clinched the No. 1 seed for the upcoming playoffs, which begin on May 13.
Ito insisted that his team wouldn’t play to achieve the best record during the regular season, but that the championship is the only goal.
“It’s great that we’ve been winning,” Ito said. “But what we’re focusing on is to make sure we’re growing as a team and able to compete in the playoffs in May.”
Ito’s uncompromising attitude is one of the things that he learned from Beck, who led the Alvark to the JBL (the predecessor of the NBL) championship in the 2011-12 campaign, until the American became the head coach for the WJBL’s Toyota Antelopes last summer.
Among the many elements he’s inherited, Ito said Beck’s defensive philosophy would give the team stability and a better chance to win a championship.
“(Beck) doesn’t compromise about his defense no matter how (big) a lead his team builds,” Ito said. “I’m trying to be the same. It’s not about how many points you are ahead, it’s about how well you’re playing your defense. You’ve got to maintain your defensive intensity no matter how many points you’re ahead and no matter how many minutes are left in the game. That’s one of the things I’ve learned from him.”
Ito still talks to Beck on a regular basis, getting some advice from him when he has coaching struggles.
Ito admitted that he’s still immature as a head coach and is fortunate that his team is full of talented players, both Japanese and foreign, as well as his young coaching staff.
But Beck thinks that Ito, who attended Maryland’s Montrose Christian High School and Virginia Commonwealth University (he served as a team manager for the Rams), is qualified to lead the team.
“There was not a lot I needed to say to Takuma when I decided to leave for the women’s job,” Beck said in an email. “Once he made his decision to follow the coaching path he aggressively took advantage of the opportunities that he created for himself at Montrose Christian and VCU. At both places, he was exposed to extremely talented players and coaches and he worked on his coaching skills from there. He used these experiences to observe and learn about the game and managing people and situations.”
Capitalizing on what he’s absorbed from his mentor, Ito attempts to establish his own coaching style for the team.
Keijuro Matsui, a Toyota guard/forward, said that the team had played how Beck strictly instructed it, but now under Ito, it has a little bit more flexibility, especially on the offensive end.
“Now we’re more like, we play set plays when we have to, but we also play flexibly according to the situations,” said Matsui, the league’s best 3-point shooter at 45 percent. “We play with the mix in between. I think that’s been working out. We’ve been able to score well this year.”
The Alvark lead NBL with 82.7 points per game, while they have allowed the second-fewest points with 70.1 points just behind the Link Tochigi Brex (69.2), who will be the second seed in the postseason with a 41-10 record.
Beck said that the Ito-led Alvark “play a unique and refreshing style that fits their personnel.”
“(Ito) has many strengths,” Beck said. “He knows the game, and more importantly, how he wants his team to play. He understands people and players and how they need to be managed and he’s a great communicator. I think his future is bright.”
Postseason is another season: The Chiba Jets have clinched a playoff berth, but their results have been disappointing to many of their fans.
Going into the season, the Jets, a team loaded with talent, were considered a club that might compete for the championship. But they were unable to post a winning record. They are 22-31 with two more game remaining in the regular season.
But the Jets look at the bright side. Despite their season results, they still qualified for the eight-team playoffs as the eighth seed. Chiba will face Toyota in the first round at Tokyo’s Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2.
“No one goes into a season, thinking they’re going to not play well,” Jets center Rick Rickert said. “We had high expectations? Yes, we did. But with that said, we know our situation we are in right now. The bottom line is, we are in the playoffs. So we have to focus now on what we need to do to get prepared for the first round against Toyota.”
Unable to complete the season: The Kumamoto Volters, who have not played a game since the massive earthquake hit Kumamoto Prefecture on April 14, have finished their season, canceling their remaining five games after the disaster.
The Volters, who played their last contest against the Toshiba Brave Thunders (a 73-70 defeat) in Tokyo one day before the initial earthquake happened, compiled a 13-36 record. Their final placement in the standings will be determined by the winning percentage of the 49 games they’d competed.
Some of the team’s players and staff suffered from the disaster, and they have had to remain at shelters or sleep in their own cars.
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