/

Oba blossoming as assistant coach

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Yasuhiro Oba is exceptionally tall, but he is a humble and gentle man who never talks big.

You’ll see him on the sidelines of Tokyo Apache’s games. He wears dark black suits and glasses and shaves his head just like the team’s head coach, Joe Bryant, as if they’re an object and its shadow, older brother and his younger brother, father and his son.

If Bryant yells at questionable calls by refs, he yells as well. If Bryant welcomes his players with high-fives, he follows him in the same respect.

Oba, the bj-league team’s sole assistant coach, said the best description of his relationship with the former NBA player and WNBA coach is more of an apprentice-master type.

“Apprentice and master? Yeah, I guess so,” Oba said. “We’re doing comfortably anyway.”

Oba, who started his bj-league career as a player and later became a player/assistant coach, is only 29 years old and never dreamed of putting on suits and leather shoes on the sidelines when he was in his jersey, running on the floor.

“I wasn’t thinking of this at all,” the 198-cm ex-forward said. “Although I was thinking that I had to pay basketball back one way or another.”

A native of Yamagata Prefecture, Oba was anointed as a player/assistant coach after Taketo Aoki, the team’s then-player/assistant, was traded to the Oita HeatDevils during the 2006-07 season. Oba’s limited playing time factored in the move, as was dealing with an injured left knee.

Oba entered this season as an assistant coach, putting his jerseys and shoes aside.

“I basically wanted to be a player,” Oba said of when he was offered the assistant coaching job.

The transition from a player to a coach wasn’t easy. It’s been a brand new process for him.

“It’s like I’m studying, listening to what Joe has to say as his assistant coach,” Oba said of his current duty.

Asked if he can offer his own opinions or strategies in the game, Oba humbly responded: “No, I’m far from that. . . . although I say things like, ‘Are we going to take a timeout?’ I think there’s a big gap between Joe and me regarding experience. So I don’t dare to advise him for anything yet.”

Despite Oba’s modest comments, Bryant thinks his assistant is helping him out a great deal, revealing what he is doing in the background for the American coach.

“He’s (Oba) grown into his role as an assistant coach,” said Bryant, who led the Apache to Sunday’s wild-card game at 3 p.m. against the Niigata Albirex BB at Yoyogi National Gymnasium Annex after finishing second in the Eastern Conference in the regular season.

“He’s been helpful to me, breaking down DVDs and editing them for me. He helps us make our scouting reports for certain games.”

Bryant added that Oba keeps track of the bench players’ scoring totals. It enables him to maximize the team’s rotation and find the right combinations to put out the court.

Oba still sees a chance to take his uniform out of the drawer and go back to play next season. But, meanwhile, he said seeking a career as head coach is not a bad idea, although he didn’t really proclaim that he wants to lead a bj-league club some day.

“Maybe I should start thinking about it,” the soft-spoken Oba said. “But I only do what I can do at hand, and continue to study from it.”

Staff writer Ed Odeven contributed to this story.