Bryant, Apache look forward to start of bj-league

by Kaz Nagatsuka

With a laugh, Joe Bryant says that to be back in the country where the city he named his son for is located is like a spiritual homecoming.

News photoJoe Bryant, head coach of the Tokyo Apache, gives instruction to forward Taketo Aoki during practice on Thursday at Tokyo’s Ariake Coloseum. The Apache will open the inaugural bj-league season at home on Nov. 5 against the Niigata Albirex.

“You know, his name comes from the city of Kobe, so it’s a perfect fit,” Bryant said.

The father of Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and head coach of the Tokyo Apache in Japan’s new bj-league, says his superstar son is excited about the league and Dad’s new job.

“No, he wasn’t worried,” Joe quipped during a workout session at Ariake Coliseum in Tokyo on Thursday, before the inaugural season tips off Nov. 5.

The 51-year-old Bryant has most recently been the interim head coach of the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks.

Questions were raised when the Apache installed Bryant as their head man this summer.

But his low-key approach off the court belies an intense passion, and his desire to win once he steps on to the floor is obvious: His eyes become hawk-like as he closely guides the players.

“Our goal is to win the championship, first of all,” Bryant said. “Winning is our trait. We know how to win.”

Besides having Bryant at the helm, the Apache have also acquired two powerful and versatile players from the U.S.

John “Helicopter” Humphrey, a 188-cm guard, has extraordinary leaping ability. The former ABA player won an NCAA slum dunk contest title when he was at Middle Tennessee State.

William Pippen is a forward, also from Middle Tennessee State. He is the nephew of former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen.

Like his uncle, the 203-cm William has long arms and is an all-around player.

Asked what his uncle said about him playing for Bryant, William said, “He is a good friend of Joe’s. So he’s excited that I will play for a good coach.”

Both Humphrey and Pippen said they are honored to be the first Americans to play in the inaugural season of Japan’s first pro league.

But at the same time, they understand the work the league faces in attracting fans to the games.

“A lot of pressure,” Humphrey said. “But it’s our job with the other teams to make the league good.”

With the athletic duo on board, the Apache are set to be one of the most powerful and entertaining sides in the six-team circuit, and a solid candidate for the first championship.

Bryant is confident in both winning and drawing fans to the arena. He said his team is in good condition and it’s now time for strategy.

His plans an up-tempo, fastbreaking style of play.

“We’ll play like the Phoenix Suns,” he said. “Play fast and put pressure in both offensively and defensively. We’ll play like crazy,” Bryant said.

“But the most important thing is that the players enjoy their basketball. I want the players to express their personalities when they play.”

The Tokyo Apache open the season on Saturday, Nov. 5, at Ariake Coliseum against the Niigata Albirex.