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Time for Apache to do right thing with Bryant

by Ed Odeven

It’s been 2 1/2 months since the Ryukyu Golden Kings defeated the Tokyo Apache in the bj-league championship game.

To reach the final in two consecutive years was a remarkable achievement by Tokyo coach Joe Bryant’s team. And it reflected favorably on the veteran floor boss’ leadership and the way he molded his team into a cohesive, efficient unit that played its best basketball at the right time — for the stretch run.

Apache management, however, has not publicly displayed a commitment to winning this offseason. Basically, it has left the team’s returning players, potential newcomers and its fans without a clue about its future.

The reason?

No announcement has been made if the team plans to bring back Bryant, the only coach in team history, for the 2009-10 season.

If the team truly understood the value of generating positive news about its current and future goals, it would have issued a news release weeks ago.

The message of the release should be this: We want Bryant to be our coach next season. He is a proven winner in the bj-league. He is a coach who has helped generate a strong fan base in Tokyo. And he is a coach who has shown he truly cares about his players and developing the game of basketball in Japan.

Or, the team could have opted for Plan B, releasing a statement such as this one: We are weighing our options for next season and plan to make a coaching announcement in the coming weeks.

Instead, the Apache essentially have done nothing from a PR standpoint.

It’s been a foolish decision.

Do the Apache honestly believe they will make it to the championship game for a third straight season if a new coach replaces Bryant?

Do the Apache think they will retain their playoff test nucleus, including John “Helicopter” Humphrey, Nick Davis, Julius Ashby and Dameion Baker, if Bryant doesn’t sign a new contract?

Do the Apache feel the team’s fans will be as passionate and interested in the team if Bryant isn’t the man on the floor, guiding the club next season?

The Apache went 20-20 in 2005-06, 12-28 in an injury-plagued 2006-07 season, 27-17 in 2007-08 and 33-19 last season. Those numbers — 92 wins, 84 losses — have produced the following indisputable fact: Bryant has been a quality coach for the Apache since Day One, the face of the franchise and the most recognizable name in the bj-league.

If, as one might assume, the financial terms of a new contract for Bryant are creating difficult negotiations, the team should let the media and the fans know about it.

How should this be done?

Post the information on the team’s Web site.

Fans often make plans to attend games months in advance. Therefore, fans deserve the right to know what direction a team will take in the upcoming season. To leave them waiting and wondering and “in the dark” is not the proper way to do things, especially in a league that is struggling to make itself relevant in this sports-crazed nation.

And clearly, the bj-league needs to generate as much positive publicity as possible in order to meet its financial obligations and also to attracted desperately needed new sponsors.

If Bryant returns to the Apache, he and the team should figure out a way to include the veteran coach’s son Kobe, one of the five most popular athletes on the planet, as part of its promotional strategy for the upcoming season.

The promotion could be simple. For example, Kobe autographs 200 Apache T-shirts and 10 shirts are given away to random fans in 20 of the team’s home games.

The promotion could also include taped commercials of Bryant and his son talking hoops or playing a game of one-on-one, commercials that should be aired on the team’s Web site and several TV stations around Tokyo. (Their words, of course, could be translated into Japanese for the masses.)

Bryant, who played in Italy from 1984-91, has been offered a job as head coach of Nuova AMG Sebastiani Basket Rieti but has yet to sign a contract with the team. It is clear that he feels an obligation to his Apache players and is waiting for Tokyo’s best offer. But the clock is ticking, with training camp beckoning next month.

The Apache are a better team with Bryant as coach. He has shown his commitment to the club, now it is time for Tokyo to step up and do the same.

* * * * *

According to several league sources, two-time MVP Lynn Washington is expected to sign a contract with Tokyo for the upcoming season.

Washington, a terrific power forward, has played for the Osaka Evessa in the past four seasons, helping the team win three championships.