Midway through their first preseason training camp under the capable guidance of veteran bench boss Bob Hill, the Tokyo Apache are making solid progress in suburban Dallas.
Reached by phone on Monday evening (Texas time) after the team’s fourth straight day of two-a-day workouts, Apache general manager Conor Neu had this to say: “It’s been very good. The guys are all working very hard.”
The new-look Apache, who went 22-30 last season and earned the fourth and final playoff spot in the bj-league’s Eastern Conference, are currently training at the Integrated Athletic Development complex in Carrollton, Texas, before returning to Tokyo this weekend.
Indeed, the team is in the spotlight this season as Hill, the first former NBA head coach to lead a bj-league team, works to build a championship-contending team.
“I think the guys came into camp in pretty good shape so that’s good to see,” Neu said. “I think they are coming together as a team in terms of being able to communicate and they seem to get along well together; plus, on the basketball side, coach has been able to put in a bit of the offense and defense so far and they are picking it up quickly.”
The Apache’s morning practices are 2 1/2 hours long and include normal contact and the slightly shorter evening sessions are less physical in nature. But since the start of camp both sessions have featured good tempo and lots of hustle, said Neu, a former basketball player at Princeton University.
“Having two-a-day practices, they are definitely tired,” added Neu.
With a new coach in place, Tokyo, featuring its third pilot in as many seasons, needs time to adjust to Hill’s way of doing things. The Apache also have several new players, including 216-cm Robert Swift, a former NBA center who’s still only 24 years old; point guard Byron Eaton, who starred at Oklahoma State; and ex-University of Louisville forward Kendall Dartez.
“It’s very easy to follow Coach Hill’s instructions,” Neu said. “He makes everything very clear and the players have been very responsive to everything he’s put in and taught them so far.”
Without the benefit of playing any games up to this point to use as a measuring stick for the club, which begins its sixth season in October, the rebuilt Apache haven’t clearly defined roles for their players.
“It’s hard to identify anyone as a leader just yet,” Neu said. “I’m sure it’ll come up soon, but it’s just a few days in. It’s not easy to tell.”
He did say, however, that Cohey Aoki, one of the original Apache players, Swift and other veterans appear willing and able to help set the tone.
In their effort to transform the Apache into a first-class organization and a model of consistency in the bj-league, new team president Chris Hetherington, Neu and Hill have told players the team has lofty aspirations.
“The message has been very much that we want to create a very professional franchise, a professional atmosphere and a professional team where everything is extremely organized and everything is done correctly from the top down,” said Neu, recounting some of his words from training camp.
From the start, Hill’s message has been clear, but Neu expects it to become more nuanced and complex as the season progresses.
“I think his main (point) is that everyone needs to work hard and work as a team,” Neu said. “I think he’s going to have other more defined messages after seeing how the team interacts, to decide how to go about directing the team.”