Broncos hope to ride Benoit’s leadership

by Kaz Nagatsuka

David Benoit has traveled all over the world to play basketball. And after years on the road and countless leagues, including the NBA, he reckons he has the game figured out: you win as a team.

Benoit, co-captain of the bj-league’s Saitama Broncos, has never been a selfish player — the glory-hunter type who hogs the ball. The wily forward knows the importance of teamwork.

He points out Michael Jordan as a great ballplayer, but even he couldn’t win a championship for the first six years of his career until his supporting cast was in place.

“You could have a super player, but if you don’t have a full team, you can’t win,” said 37-year-old Benoit at a workout session for the team at Tokorozawa Municipal Gymnasium on Wednesday.

“That’s the key. That’s what I’ve always thought about. I’d watched all those guys before me, like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas, who won championships because they were team players.”

In his eight seasons in the NBA, Benoit spent most of his time on the Utah Jazz, with Karl Malone and John Stockton among others. Benoit didn’t win a championship in Salt Lake City, but with his front-court partnership with Malone, the Jazz were considered one of the strongest and most consistent teams in the league.

Benoit, a former University of Alabama player who was never drafted by the NBA, played in Spain in 1990-91 and in Israel in 1998-99. He also won a championship as a teammate of now-Houston Rockets center Yao Ming with the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association in 2002, before playing the last two years for the Hitachi Sunrockers in the Japan Basketball League.

Benoit’s move to the Broncos has been made easy by his teammates, who have warmly accepted him. The soft-spoken veteran is excited that he is part of the inaugural season of the bj-league, the first professional basketball league in Japan. He hopes he can enhance the league with his vast knowledge of the game.

“If I’m blessed to play a couple of years in this league, that’ll be great,” he said, “because 20 to 30 years from now, I want people to say that we started the league. So we’ re actually making history, making a little history every minute.”

In the backcourt, 24-year-old point guard Ryuzo Anzai is co-captain along with Benoit. Anzai said that Benoit is good at guiding the players in what they should do on court.

“He is so much different from other foreign players,” Anzai said of Benoit. “He instructs us what to do gently, and we learn a lot from him.”

Anzai, who was selected in the first round of the draft this spring, said that playing in a pro league is like a dream come true.

“I never dreamed of this two years ago,” the 178-cm Anzai said. “No matter what sport you do, it is your ultimate goal to play as a pro. So, without a doubt, I’m excited.”

The Broncos open their season on Saturday against the Sendai 89ers in Sendai.