It’s easy to overlook Darongphan Apiromwilaichai and what he brings to the court for the Mono Vampire Basketball Club.
Your very first impression is you notice that he wears one of the most unique numbers ever worn by any player in any basketball league or tournament ever.
It’s a unique number for obvious reasons and you just can’t help but wonder why.
“Ever since before when we were only allowed to wear the numbers 4-15, my twin brother wore 9 and I wore 6,” Apiromwilaichai starts to explain. “Then ever since we started playing in the professional leagues, my brother wore 96 and I was left with 69.”
“That’s really it. There’s nothing more to that.” Apiromwilaichai says with a chuckle knowing what everyone else always thinks when they see the number he wears.
Once you get past that hurdle, you are then stuck trying to figure out how to pronounce and remember his last name — all of it’s 6 syllables and 15 letters.
Everyone has their alternate way of referring to Apiromwilaichai, whether it is “the 69 guy” or “the guy with the twin” or “Apiwnwvonscdscs”. Even Mono Vampire Basketball Club Head Coach, Douglas Marty, jokingly calls him “the good-looking young father”.
It’s just so easy to lose focus on the basketball things that Apiromwilaichai does when there’s just so much else to focus on. The truth is that you’ll be missing out on a lot if you don’t start paying attention.
While you focus on his jersey number and wonder why he’s wearing that ridiculous number, he’s already cutting in through the defense for an easy layup. While you are googling how to pronounce his name, he’s already gotten into the head of his defensive assignment and throwing them off their game. Apiromwilaichai avoids the flashes and frills on the basketball court, and excels — or at least works hard towards — doing the little things on the court that completes his team.
“He works hard on his sleeve and he plays that way too,” Coach Marty highly praises. “He plays physical defense which is important in this league because they allow physical play. He’s a team player and he has experience, so he’s a glue guy.”
“Our chemistry is really good when he’s on the floor. He brings that experience to floor especially on the defensive end.”
Though Apiromwilaichai has always been productive in his role throughout his career, there just seems to be a little something more that he has added to the Mono Vampire Basketball Club this season that solidifies his value on the court. With career averages of 18.5 minutes, 5.9 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 0.8 steals, it’s not like Apiromwilaichai is doing anything extra individually. His season average of 16.2 minutes, 6.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 0.9 steals pretty much mirrors what he’s been doing his entire ABL career.
Yet, since the beginning of 2018 there’s been a shift within the Mono Vampire Basketball Club that has turned the team around. Sure, the addition of Mike Singletary and Samuel Deguara has been a huge factor but there’s also the underrated move to put Apiromwilaichai into the starting line up.
A move that has initially paid off for the team.
“Coach wanted to emphaise more on defense,” Apiromwilaichai says. “So he switched up [starting] Teerawat Chantachon for myself, who is more defensive-minded and it speeds up the game as well.”
“First of all, we wanted to change our defensive rhythm,” Coach Marty futher explains. “With [Apiromwilaichai] on court, we’re a better perimeter defensive team. We’re a bit smaller and [Chantachon] is a good defender too when he was starting, but we were having trouble defending the three-point line.”
“Our defensive scoring average wasn’t very good and we made the change [to start Apiromwilaichai] .”
“The other issue was Chantachon and Deguara were on the court together and both were getting in foul trouble at the same time, so we had to protect one of those guys.
“Those were the two main reasons. We really needed a defensive boost, basically.”
The scheme has worked so far for the Thailand-based squad. Since inserting Apiromwilaichai in the starting lineup in 2018, Mono Vampire have seen their allowed points average drop from 99.3 PPG to 94.2 PPG. Their allowed field goal percentage has dropped from 44.8% to 42.1%.
But more significantly, it’s been the effect on defending the three-point line — just as planned.
Opposing teams have made less three-pointers (dropping from 12.0 allowed per game to 10.0 allowed per game) and have connected on a lower rate (dropping from 34.3% allowed three-point shooting to 30.3% allowed three-point shooting).
It’s a really subtle change. The headlines are more focused on the addition of hulking big man Deguara and super-forward Singletary as catalysts of the recent Mono Vampire surge that it’s so easy to understate how big of an impact Apiromwilaichai has made.
But he’s used to that already. Though everyone is always overlooking his game for the number he wears or his name, Apiromwilaichai doesn’t mind.
As long as he helps the team win.
*Stats are updated as of February 7, 2018