The Japan Times will be featuring periodic interviews with individuals in the bj-league — Japan’s first professional basketball circuit — which began its fourth season in October. Head coach Kensaku Tennichi of the three-time defending champion Osaka Evessa is the subject of this week’s profile.
High school: Habikino H.S.
College: Nippon Sports Science University
Playing career: Panasonic Super Kangaroos (1989-2000) Coaching career: Panasonic assistant (2001-02), Panasonic head coach (2003-04), Osaka head coach (2005-present)
Team update: The Evessa (24-14) are currently in third place in the Western Conference.
Two-time league MVP Lynn Washington, the team’s mainstay at power forward, is widely recognized as the team’s best player.
So who do you consider the team’s second-best player this season?
(Point guard) Nile Murry (19.7 points, 5.2 assists, No. 3 in the league, and 2.1 steals per game). He is running the offense, our basic offense, is in charge of scoring and sometimes he defends our opponent’s top player. . . . He’s working a lot on the court, I think.
Since he suited up in his first game three weeks ago, what impact has newcomer Ryan Blackwell, the former Syracuse University and Sendai 89ers standout, brought to the table for your team?
The reason why I picked him up is he obviously has a high basketball IQ, so he can adjust to many things on the court, which sometimes is hard to anticipate from outside of the court, even for a coach. He adjusts to many things on the defensive end and on the offensive end.
He can score (18.7 ppg in six games) and he can grab many rebounds (22 boards against the Takamatsu Five Arrows on Feb. 22.)
Analyzing last season’s championship club and this season’s returning roster, who do you think is Osaka’s most improved Japanese player?
Ryuichi Horikawa. (Note: The forward, averaging 3.8 points per game, had a season-best 14 on Valentine’s Day).
At the time that he came here, he didn’t have much time to play on the court at Saitama. He worked on his conditioning in the spring, was shooting a lot during the spring and summer and even in the season. He came to the team early and is taking a lot of shots with Lynn Washington.
He knows he can improve his shooting skills and he has improved his shooting skills, so sometimes he came from off the bench and made 3-points shots or did something else to help our team.
Are you disappointed that your team has a 10-8 record in road games?
Well, this team this season is kind of a brand new team. Jeff Newton (now plays for the Ryukyu Golden Kings), Matt Lottich (in Germany), Mikey Marshall (in Kuwait) and Haru (point guard Haruhito Shishito, now playing for the Toyama Grouses) are gone.
I don’t get surprised by that, yet we just show up on the court and just play — and sometimes we win and sometimes we lose.
What are the team’s main objectives between now and the start of the playoffs?
Right now we focus on our basic offense and our basic defense; today, for example, we focused on our basic offense.
We’ve changed our players a lot this season and added Ryan two weeks ago. So as a unit, as a team, we’re improving our basic stuff, retraining rather than having too much preparation for our opponent.
How do you think you and your coaching staff have changed — or adjusted — since the bj-league had six teams in the first season? Is it more difficult for you to make scouting reports now?
Actually, I am really bad at that — scouting. (He laughs.) But right now we are OK at handling the other 11 teams, and maybe we should be OK with 12 teams next year because the league always gives us all game DVDs. We can see the DVD easily.
What do you think are this team’s biggest strengths?
When we are running on the court very well, we are a very strong team. We can attack the basket with the pick-and-roll with Nile, and on the early (fast) break with Lynn Washington and get some jumpers from our shooters.
On the defensive end, we have recently starting pressuring the ball from the backcourt, and I think that should be one of our strongest strengths.
Do you think the Evessa, the 2009-10 expansion club, the Kyoto Hannaries, and the Shiga Lakestars can form a strong three-team Kansai rivalry in the future?
Our boosters often come to Otsu to see the games against Shiga and cheer for us. So, yes, it’ll be good, I think.
If money didn’t factor into the decision, and you could add only of these brilliant young NBA stars — Chris Paul, LeBron James or Dwyane Wade — to your team, who would you pick? Why?
LeBron, I would take Lebron! Because he has 6-foot-8 (203-cm) size, he’s big and can block shots, he can play outside and on the defensive and he can also post up and take outside shots. . . . Now we don’t have a (true) big man right now, and sometimes we struggle on handling the other team’s big man, so that is the reason why.
In your assessment, who are the top head coaches in the NBA today? And what makes them the best of the bunch?
Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who is running his team very well, should be named first, I think, and I really like Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s (brand of) basketball. I would pick Gregg Popovich, too. When I watch the Spurs, I am always looking to learn something from their offense.