Newcomer Kaine Roberts is by far the youngest member of the Earthfriends Tokyo Z and has the chance to grow into an elite player.
Although the 18-year-old’s time on the floor has been limited, Roberts has been able to display some of his potential. He’s been playing 7½ minutes per game and is averaging 2.3 points and 1.3 rebounds a little over two months into the season.
After Roberts, the next-youngest players on the team are 23. The squad has four players already in their 30s. Roberts, though, fits in as if he’s been part of the team for a long time.
“When I first came here, they (had) open arms, they took me in and helped me learn to get to where I want to get to,” Roberts said after his team’s 74-71 win over the Sendai 89ers at Ota City General Gymnasium on Nov. 29. “They were open-armed and it’s easy to get along with everyone because there’s no problem, we don’t fight, we don’t argue. Yes, within games there might be some things we don’t see the same way, but it doesn’t really affect who they are as people.”
That was an emotional win for the team and its fans, as it was only the Earthfriends’ third win of the season. The team had been annihilated 107-65 by Sendai the previous day. After this past weekend’s games, the team has the second-worst record in the B2 at 4-15.
Roberts is proud to be part of the team nonetheless, insisting the record doesn’t reflect the team’s true ability.
“We have a good amount of guys, we have the ability to become the best team,” Roberts said. “(There are) a lot of ups and downs within the season. I don’t want our record to reflect how we are thought of as a team. We are really good. We have a lot of young members, good vets, good knowledge between everybody on the team, good coach.”
Tokyo Z guard and captain Kotaro Hisaoka said the rest of the team has seen the work Roberts has been putting in.
“We’ve seen that, so once Kaine hits the court, we support him,” Hisaoka said. “And he’s got physical attributes other players on the team don’t really have. He’s got the ability to go fast vertically and he’s shown that during our practices. I mean, he’s (five) years younger than myself, but it doesn’t feel like that. He’s so composed like an adult.”
Roberts, who was born to a Japanese mother and American father, played at Nile C. Kinnick High School on the Yokosuka Naval Base and then spent last season at Santa Margarita Catholic High School in California. He looks to compete in the NCAA and if that happens, he’d be the first player to do so after playing in the B. League.
He’s been impressive from the start in the competition.
In the very first game he played with the Earthfriends, Roberts dashed to the basket and made an electric one-handed put-back dunk after a teammate missed a 3-pointer. The play drew a ton of attention on social media and served as a coming out party of sorts.
“After the game, I got a lot of recognition,” recalled Roberts, who played a season-high 21 minutes in a 69-51 win over the Kumamoto Volters on Sunday. “People were like, ‘Oh wow, who’s this kid on Tokyo Z? Who had the put-back, he’s only 18 years old?’ A lot of people’s eyes were opened to what I can do.”
Before Sunday, the longest Roberts had spent on the floor in a game was 16 minutes. Tokyo Z head coach Shunsuke Todo hinted he would utilize Roberts more going forward.
“We should probably use him more,” Todo said. “He’s our best pick-and-roll defender as well. It’ll be us, the coaches, who will need to turn him into a better player. So we want people to expect better out of him.”
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