Team-player Pippen doing Uncle Scottie proud in bj-league

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Just like his uncle, William Pippen runs everywhere from the top of the key to underneath the basket. And the efforts have paid off so far.

News photoThe all-action William Pippen is leading the scoring during the inaugural season of the bj-league as of Dec. 24 with 25.5 points per game.

Pippen, who plays for the Tokyo Apache, is leading the bj-league in scoring at 25.5 points per game, as of Dec. 24.

But Pippen is not the kind of guy who wants to hog the ball. He just wants a victory.

“I’m not going to keep watching the stats or anything,” the 25-year-old Pippen told The Japan Times.

“I don’t care if I score 12 points as long as the team’s winning. Whatever it takes to win, I’ll do it. If the team wants me to sit on the bench, I’ll sit on the bench.”

His uncle, Scottie, is a former Chicago Bulls forward who won six NBA championships alongside superstar Michael Jordan in the 1990s, and the younger Pippen is exhibiting a similar game to that of his uncle, capitalizing on his long arms and utility skills.

William Pippen, who played during the summer league and preseason in 2003 and played in Mexico last season, appreciates the style of the ball head coach Joe “Jellybean” Bryant has imported here.

Interestingly, all the Apache players, including Pippen, are listed as “UT (utility players)” in the media guide instead of specific positions.

Their game is to simply overrun opponents and overwhelm them by showering shots.

“We call it ‘Runnin’ n’ Gunnin,’ ” Pippen said.

For Bryant, Pippen is one of the most reliable players on his squad. Pippen certainly has big numbers in scoring, but he also voluntarily does dirty work such as grabbing boards, providing dimes, dribbling, and playing stingy defense.

“I hate to compare, but he plays like his uncle,” Bryant said with a grin.

Pippen’s versatile basketball skills weren’t the only reason that Bryant brought him to the Far East.

Bryant, a former NBA player who also spent many seasons in European leagues as a player, said he asked Pippen to come to Tokyo because he thought Pippen would be able to handle playing and living in a totally heterogeneous atmosphere of a foreign country.

“It’s always a challenge when you go to another country,” Bryant said. “I think that’s very important because, in basketball, it’s important to build up relationships with your teammates.

“It’s also important to be good human beings, being able to laugh in good times and bad times. And William is a perfect fit for that.”

Pippen has been adapting well to Japan and to its first pro basketball league.

His love for the game and humble manner on and off the court are making Pippen a valuable player.

But in spite of Pippen’s hustle, the Apache have been struggling. They are 4-7, dropping six of the last seven games through Saturday.

While the Apache have a high scoring capacity, mainly from Pippen and John Humphrey, they lack firm defensive power. As of Dec. 24, the Apache have allowed 91.4 points per game, worst in the league, while averaging 86.3 points in offense, second in the league.

So although his individual numbers have been almost as good as they get, Pippen isn’t 100-percent satisfied.

“I’m not going to say satisfied,” he said. “Because the team’s been losing. I feel like there are things we as a team, can do to win, and me, as an individual, can to do better.”

The style of play and competitive mind Pippen shows on the floor might have been inherited from his uncle.

Pippen said he “worked many of the summers” with Scottie in Chicago and absorbed a lot of techniques from him. The Bulls retired Scottie Pippen’s No. 33 jersey Chicago’s United Center on Dec. 9.

Pippen said he could see it on TV and was proud. He and his uncle have been keeping in touch on the phone and via e-mail on regular basis, and Scottie always pushes him and gives him extra boost.

Pippen laughed when asked if he was bothered by the frequent comparisons to Scottie, who was chosen as one of the 50 greatest NBA players in 1997. Pippen thinks that it is rather a big honor.

But in time, he wants to be recognized as William Pippen himself, not as Scottie Pippen’s nephew.

“Once the fans see me, they’ll realize, ‘Hey, this guy can play. He’s not Scottie. He’s William,” he said.