Basketball / B. League | HOOP SCOOP

Alvark coach Luka Pavicevic instills confidence with his approach

by Ed Odeven

There was a recurring theme game after game during the Alvark Tokyo’s march to their second consecutive B. League title.

Trust amplifies winning.

As much as anything, trust defined the 2018-19 Alvark squad.

Head coach Luka Pavicevic set the tone with savvy game plans and confidence-building strategies. Players followed instructions. The results were impressive: 44 wins in 60 regular-season games.

It was a no-nonsense approach that echoed memories of their 2017-18 title-winning campaign.

The Alvark took a difficult path to the final, entering postseason play as the No. 7 seed. They knocked off the Central Division champion Niigata Albirex BB on the road, then traveled to Okinawa City and eliminated the Ryukyu Golden Kings in a challenging three-game showdown. Then they dug deep and found a way to outplay the Chiba Jets Funabashi in the final, winning 71-67 on May 11 at Yokohama Arena.

Other teams may have been intimidated by the Jets, who were 52-8 in the regular season (and beat the Alvark five of six times). Tokyo never backed down against Chiba. The Alvark’s aggressive play was a key ingredient in the championship game triumph.

This season, injuries to Genki Kojima, Daiki Tanaka, Jawad Williams and Milko Bjelica complicated matters, but Pavicevic’s handling of the team’s day-to-day affairs, impromptu adjustments in timeouts and at halftime and in the crucial hours between back-to-back games was no small feat.

When you watch the Alvark closely, you see a team that prioritizes the daily grind above ancillary matters, a team that pushes itself to the max for 40 minutes every game. You see players compete with purpose, pay attention to detail and revel in each other’s success.

It all begins with trusting one another and trusting the process — the grand vision, really — that Pavicevic outlined in the preseason and repeated from time to time throughout the long season.

“All the hard work we put into the season last year did contribute to this year’s success,” center Alex Kirk told Hoop Scoop. “The trust we have got us out of those tough moments throughout the year. And eventually led us to winning four games on the road in the playoffs and a win in Yokohama.”

Once again, the University of New Mexico alum believes Pavicevic did a masterful job running the show this season.

“Yeah, coach is very consistent and hard working,” Kirk reveled, “always pushing us and the other coaches to give every bit of energy we have left. We spend lots of time practicing and the coaches spend lots of time preparing and he is there during that. He is very similar to my college coaches in how important the preparation is each week before a game.”

In 2010, Pavicevic was described this way by Eurocupbasketball.com: “An old-school coach, Pavicevic’s teams play in his mold — tough on defense, patient on offense and incredibly determined.”

After two seasons now at the helm in Tokyo, it’s easy to see that this is a spot-on description of how he coaches.

He left Yugoslavia and attended the University of Utah from 1985 to 1987, playing sparingly on Utes coach Lynn Archibald’s team before embarking on a long, successful playing career as a point guard in Europe. Early on, he experienced remarkable success, starring for Jugoplastika/Pop 84 during its three-peat in the FIBA European Champions Cup (the forerunner of the EuroLeague) in 1988-89, 1989-90 and 1990-91. (His former Pop 84 head coach Zeljko Pavlivecic said in a recent interview that “I think Luka is at the best age for (completing) some great results. . . . I hope in front of him is the next big step to take something even bigger.”)

Years later, Pavicevic’s coaching methods have worked to steer Alba Berlin to a German League crown and German Cup title in 2007-08 and 2009, respectively. He guided Buducnost to a Montenegrin Cup title in 2016.

At the B. League Award show last week, Pavicevic humbly expressed gratitude for the Alvark’s successful season.

He commended his players, praising them for their dedication, inspiration and motivation while working together as a team.

“Thank you for trusting in me and letting me coach you,” the 50-year-old Pavicevic remarked.

He didn’t omit team management from his message at the banquet, saying, “Thank you for giving me opportunity and giving me a platform to coach basketball in the best possible way.”

In April, Kojima discussed the impact of Pavicevic’s coaching acumen with Basketball Spirits magazine, describing his disciplined guidance as “high quality.” He added, “(Luka) is always seeking close to perfection and being careful to every detail.” He admitted that adapting to Pavicevic’s style of play wasn’t easy and he lost his confidence early this season, but the coach built his confidence back up with words of encouragement.

In the post-game euphoria that followed their second consecutive title, guard Seiya Ando praised his teammates for “playing together.”

That message was repeated by various members of the team, with some expressing it in more elaborate ways.

Williams, who’s recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered in March, was asked what it meant to watch his team from the sideline as it repeated as champion.

“It means a lot,” he said. “To go back-to-back in any form or fashion is very tough. . . . I was happy that I was able to come back and support my teammates.”

For the accomplished pro, sitting on the bench for the final was not a big deal. Instead of focusing on the what-ifs of being in the spotlight on the court, he exhibited pride in rooting for his team.

“It was easy for me to be out there cheering my teammates on,” Williams told Hoop Scoop, adding, “just the fact that I was here to cheer them on was enough for me.”

He continued his broader point this way: “We take pride in being tough on and off the court. We have injuries all year long. . . . We started off not as great as we wanted to begin the season. . . . But the thing is we worked so hard together. We have a bond that’s bigger than basketball.”

Above all, trust sets the tone for this model franchise.

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