Basketball / B. League

Alvark spark plug Yudai Baba rises to occasion in B. League final

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

On the talented Alvark Tokyo team, youngster Yudai Baba has been more like a sidekick who comes off the bench to provide the team with the spark it needs.

But in Saturday’s B. League final, the 23-year-old rose to the occasion as one of the team’s main players.

Baba put up a solid all-around performance for the Alvark with 12 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in the team’s 71-67 victory over the Chiba Jets Funabashi.

Baba was spurred on by the memory of January’s semifinal contest in the All-Japan Championship, in which Tokyo allowed the Jets to get off to a 20-13 start and eventually lost 80-79. He said his team didn’t want that to happen again and had planned to attack Chiba through pick-and-roll plays around himself and fellow Japanese star Daiki Tanaka.

That certainly worked out for the Alvark, who led 16-15 at the end of the first quarter. Despite Tokyo allowing the Jets cut into the lead they’d built in the final period, a satisfied Baba said the Alvark “had a better game overall.”

Baba made some big plays himself that helped power the Alvark: a dunk after his own steal in the first quarter and a couple of jumpers late in the final quarter. He didn’t react after any of them, quickly moving on to the next play each time.

“I was thinking it was going to be a game that we had to play the whole 40 minutes, not 38 or 39 minutes,” said Baba, who only started in 12 of the 59 regular season contests he played this year. “So I didn’t get complacent after any of those plays and my attitude showed that.

Having now captured a second league title in as many years, the second-year pro looked back at the 2018-19 season as “such a tough year.”

“We entered the playoffs in a wild-card spot and it was tough for sure,” said Baba, who averaged 10.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists this season. “Niigata (Albirex BB) won the Central Division and Ryukyu (Golden Kings) won the West Division. That said, it was a tough postseason for us (to have taken on those teams before the final). But we still got a boost from our fans while competing in those situations, and it’s only made us stronger.”

But Baba has no intention of resting on his laurels for too long. During the offseason, he has another important task: helping the Japan men’s national team during this summer’s FIBA World Cup in China.

“Our 2018-19 season is over now,” the Toyama native said. “I’ll take a little time off and begin working for the national team. I want to keep working hard to contribute to the team so that Japanese basketball will be changed.”