The Japan Times will feature periodic interviews with players in the bj-league — Japan’s first professional basketball circuit — which is in its second season. Head coach Kensaku Tennichi of the Osaka Evessa is the subject of this week’s profile. He led the Osaka Evessa to the bj-league’s first championship last spring and coached the West squad at last Saturday s All-Star Game in Okinawa.
OSAKA EVESSA PHOTO
High school: Habikino H.S.
College: Nippon Sports Science University
Playing career: Panasonic Super Kangaroos (1989-2000)
Player highlights: 1994, 1996 national champion titles; 1996 All-JBL first team; 1996 national championship all-tournament team Coaching career: Panasonic assistant (2001-02), Panasonic head coach (2003-04), Osaka head coach (2005-present)
Q: How enjoyable was it for you to be coaching in the inaugural bj-league All-Star Game last Saturday?
Tennichi: That was the first time for Japanese basketball to have a real All-Star game, so that was a very exciting for us, for me, and I really enjoyed working with the other payers like (Tokyo Apache star John) Humphrey and (Oita Heat Devils forward) Andy Ellis and (Apache) coach (Joe) Bryant . . . yeah, everybody. It was really fun.
On a scale of 1 to 10 rate the fans’ level of enjoyment for that game?
Close to 10, I think. Really close to 10. So many American guys dunked the ball in the hole . . . and (Toyama Grouses guard Takanori) Goya dunked. I think there were many good plays in that game. It was really fun.
As an All-Star coach, what do you tell all your players before the game that’s different than, say, what you tell the Evessa guys before a regular-season contest?
It’s totally different for our team and our season than the All-Star team (talk).
What I did is just tell them to play hard, and that is good for fans, good for our league and good for the players themselves. They cannot slack (off) on the court.
Specifically what did you tell the players?
Make two plays to their one play. (Coach Bryant made that suggestion to Tennichi and the West players that during their pre-game talk.)
Which young player on Osaka has the most potential to be a great player someday?
I think (All-Star small forward Kazuya) Hatano is going to be a (special) player, way better than now after two years.
He improved his outside shot for this year and he’s always aggressive on the boards and he is a very good defensive player.
He is kind of a defensive star for our team. That is a big part of his job for this team. He can be way better, I think, than now.
In your own words, how would you describe your personality as a coach?
I’m not a strict guy and I’m not a funny guy, but what I am trying to do is just work with the players. And I always try to talk to players about what we want our players to do on the court with 100 percent effort. That’s what I’m trying to do.
Which coach has influenced you the most during your basketball career?
(Tennichi talks at length about the way ex-Panasonic coach Paul Westhead helped him. Tennichi worked as Westhead’s assistant for two years before becoming a head coach. Westhead was the Los Angeles Lakers’ head coach in the 1979-80 season when then-rookie Magic Johnson led the club to an NBA title.)
He changed my mind really. His style of basketball, I think, is great. His effort to that team was so great, so pure, really so great.
So he influenced me a lot. And I tried to use part of his system, the fastbreak system. He changed me.
Who is your favorite NBA player?
And who is your favorite NBA coach?
Coach, why do you think it was important for you to become fluent in English?
If you have a translator, your opinion or what you want to say is eventually changed. . . . I had experiences like that before when I coached (at Panasonic).
When I moved to this team, I think I had to move myself and that challenge is getting me better (at English).
The advantage is you can contact your main player directly, like (Evessa power forward) Lynn Washington and (center) Jeff Newton.
You can contact your main player, your main scorer, your main rebounder. You have to talk to them directly, I think.
If you can be bilingual, that should be an advantage.
How do you improve your English skills nowadays?
I read books and buy some magazines in book stores and see basketball clinic videos.
What are your hobbies?
I really like rock ‘n’ roll — the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC. I listen to music when I’m driving around.
I always put the music on in the car and also enjoy movies, action or something where there are explosions every 10 minutes.