Hobbs embraces challenge of being Japan new men’s hoop coach

by Kaz Nagatsuka

The Japan Basketball Association officially introduced former University of Alabama coach David Hobbs as the new men’s national team head man on Tuesday.

“I’m very happy to be the head coach for the Japan national team,” Hobbs, 59, said at a Tokyo news conference. “I look at it as a great honor and I’m looking forward to the challenge of being the head coach.”

Hobbs agreed to a one-year contract to coach the team.

After beginning his coaching career at Lee-Davis High School in Mechanicsville, Va., and then at Virginia Commonwealth University, Hobbs moved on to Alabama in 1985 to become an assistant on Wimp Sanderson’s staff. He was promoted to head coach in 1992. He posted a 110-76 record before resigning in 1998.

He then served as an assistant coach on Tubby Smith’s University of Kentucky team from 2000-07.

“In 26 years of Division I basketball, the teams went to 20 NCAA tournaments,” said Hobbs, who has tutored numerous players who had successful NBA careers, including Detroit Pistons forwards Tayshaun Prince and Antonio McDyess and Robert Horry, who played on seven NBA championship teams.

“I was very happy and fortunate to coach so many players that had their career in the NBA and we were very proud of being able to help them develop so they could play in the NBA.”

It has been almost a year and half since the JBA dismissed ex-coach Kimikazu Suzuki following his squad’s dismal eighth-place performance in the 2007 FIBA Asia Championships in Tokushima, which was an Olympic qualifier for last year’s Beijing Games.

Curiously enough, the nation’s basketball governing body didn’t name a new coach right away. Instead the JBA opted to wait, searching for what it felt was the right man for the job.

“If you look at the present situation of Japan’s basketball, we saw disasters in both the Olympics and (2006 FIBA) World Championship,” said Osamu Kuraishi, the chief of the men’s national team. “So we’re aiming at making the (2012) Olympics and (2010) World Championships. We have an ardent heart that we must win in Asia.”

Kuraishi said that the JBA looked into several candidates for the national team head coaching job and actually held interviews, and there were others that have had splendid careers on their resumes. But Hobbs seemed to be the most convincing and fitting man because of his enthusiastic mind-set and attitude for coaching Japan’s national team.

Hobbs knows that there are bumps in the road as he is about to set out on a new journey, but admitted that he embraces the opportunity.

“It’s a challenge but at the same time it should be an interesting challenge,” he said with a smile.

Hobbs, who arrived in Japan about 10 days ago, declined to talk about specific players who could play for the national squad. But he has already seen a couple of JBL games in person.

“Right now the most important thing that I’m doing is watching JBL basketball games since that’s where many, if not all, players we will have on our national team come from,” he said.

Hobbs already acknowledged that Japanese players lack size and body strength. Yet he thinks that those deficiencies can be overcome by instilling a tough mental focus and enthusiastic team spirit, and that many of Japanese hoop players have these qualities.

“What I’m looking for as I watched those players was, not only they have talent, obviously talent is very important, but I want guys around us to work hard, be enthusiastic and to be willing to be teammates,” Hobbs said. “That means they’re willing to give up something they would like to do to make the team better. And they have pride to play for Japan.”

Hobbs’ main work will be to watch and go to JBL games to identify which players can play for the national team, which last earned an Olympic berth for the 1976 Montreal Games.

A JBA official said that the national team will hold a training camp around April before Japan plays in the subzone qualifier of the FIBA East Asia region (the dates and venues are to be announced later) to play in August’s FIBA Asia Championships (top two teams qualify).