TOKOROZAWA, Saitama Pref. — Fathers and sons have worked together on countless sports teams since games began. And now a new variation of this story begins in Japan.
New Saitama Broncos coach Bob Nash and his son, Bobby, look to help transform the bj-league’s Eastern Conference club into a success story this season after five disappointing, non-playoff campaigns.
The elder Nash, one of Hawaii’s “Fabulous Five,” players in the early 1970s who has spent much of his adult life as part of the program’s coaching staff, knows it won’t be an easy task. But the father and son share a burning desire to be catalysts of change for the Broncos, whose fans crave a championship.
“Our goal coming in is to try to make the playoffs, but we are trying to change the culture,” Bob Nash said after a recent practice. “And I think to change the culture you have to have players believe in themselves that they can be successful and putting them in situations where it’s a shared responsibility.”
Saitama, which went 17-35 last season, is the only one of the bj-league’s original six teams — the Tokyo Apache, Oita HeatDevils, Niigata Albirex BB, Sendai 89ers and Osaka Evessa are the others — to never qualify for the playoffs.
That pitiful fact is something Bobby Nash and his father want to eradicate as the sixth-year circuit, now with 16 franchises, gets under way in mid-October.
“We came here with the mind-set that we are going to win,” said shooting guard Bobby Nash, who played at Hawaii from 2003-08.
“It was just a good fit. It was an up-and-coming team, great guys and great management. It was just a cherry on top when he (Coach Nash) said he was going to do it, and he wanted to pick the guys that he wanted to pick and I just got lucky and he said, ‘Come on board and let’s see if we can’t turn this thing around.’ “
The elder Nash, who turned 60 on Aug. 24, was fired in March after three seasons as Hawaii’s bench boss. He was 34-56 as head coach.
Nash now has his first head coaching job at the pro level, but he is sticking to the fundamentals that have proven to work at all levels.
“If we learn to trust each other away from basketball, on the court it will be much easier,” the coach said.
The revamped Broncos roster includes a former NBA point guard in Kenny Satterfield and fellow newcomers in forwards Bruce Brown and Gordon Klaiber, as well as returning Japanese players Kazuya “J” Hatano, Yuki Kitamuki, Daiki Terashita, Yasuaki Arai and Haruhito Shishito.
Coach Nash, who speaks in a direct, rapid-fire, upbeat manner during practice, delivered a simple, direct message to Japanese players during summer workouts. And now that the team has added its foreign players, Nash tells all of them what he believes Saitama needs to do to become successful.
“Anything that we do is going to have to be by committee,” the coach said. “Everybody’s got to be involved. It’s not going to be where one guy’s going to score 40 points or 30 points for us. It’s going to be a shared responsibility.”
In addition, Nash expects his son, who played for the Shiga Lakestars from 2008-10, to be a steady contributor on the court this season.
“The reason why Bobby’s on our team is because I think he’s a good basketball player and a good fit for our team,” Bob Nash said, “and that’s the No. 1 reason why he’s here.
“The other thing is he’s a young guy I understand inside and out and I think he brings a lot to the table for our team. Being able to bond with the Japanese players and American players, I think he has that ability.
“To have that opportunity to coach him is an honor for me. And I look at it now as more of a business decision than a personal decision. He’s a good player and I think he can help us win, and I’m fortunate to have him on our team.”
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Bob Nash was the Detroit Pistons’ No. 9 overall pick (three spots ahead of Julius “Dr. J” Erving) in the 1972 NBA Draft. He averaged 4.7 points in 219 NBA games for the Pistons and Kansas City Kings and also played for the ABA’s San Diego Conquistadors. He joined Hawaii’s men’s basketball coaching staff in 1981 and never left until being fired in March.
Nash worked under three Rainbow Warriors head coaches — Larry Little, Frank Arnold and Riley Wallace — and said he learned something from each of them.
“Each one of those men had different strengths,” he said. “One was a great organizer, one was a great diplomat, and one was just a fiery man who got the most of out his players. So I bring all of that ability plus what I learned as an NBA player, as a college player, I bring all of that experience here and try to share it with these players.”
In his playing days, Nash said he was an aggressive rebounder who was known as an enforcer. “I had to set the tone for the game,” were the words he used to describe himself.
“As a college coach, I wanted to bring some of those same qualities, (but) in my first stint as a head coach I may have been too reluctant to be like the guy that preceded me,” he said. “He was a tough guy and I tried to be somewhere in between that and I kind of lost my identity. But I have to go back to being a guy that’s demanding of my players and don’t settle for anything that’s less than their best.”
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Coach Nash’s wife, Domelynne, is a loyal supporter of her son’s sporting endeavors but a perpetual critic, too. Bobby insists his mother, a former Hawaii cheerleader, has always been his toughest coach.
“She’s watched my dad at the highest level,” he said. “. . . So she knows what good basketball is. She’s seen good basketball.
“She has a very critical eye. I love somebody that’s not going to be soft on me, that’s going to be hard and she’s great. She’s a tough coach.”
Bobby Nash said his mother’s keen insight has included the following phrases:
• “Why did you get no rebounds?”
• “Why weren’t you boxing out on a certain person?”
• “There was a play where you didn’t get back.”
• “Your feet weren’t set on a shot. You were rushing a shot.”
While other mothers may be content to bake a child’s favorite meal on game day, Domelynne Nash has always been an active participant in her son’s basketball career.
“I was a senior in high school and I had a bad shooting night and my mom got me up right after the game and took me to the University of Hawaii gym and rebounded for me for an hour and a half,” Bobby recalled. “The next day, we won the state championship.”
Together, Bob and Bobby Nash will have prominent roles this season for the Broncos. Bobby pointed out he’ll always be available to help out with scouting reports, passing on accrued knowledge from the past two seasons.
Hatano, meanwhile, expects the elder Nash to make a strong impact as the team’s new coach.
The All—Star forward admitted it’ll be an interesting challenge for him, suiting up for a foreign coach for the first time.
“I’ve always been coached by Japanese coaches,” said the Brazilian-born Hatano, a fan favorite and hardworking member of the Osaka Evessa’s three title-winning teams. “So I was wondering what kind of a guy he would be before he came over here. And honestly, I was kind of scared. But once he got here, I found he’s a real nice guy and he is so meticulous.
“Each and every thing a player lacks, he explains it for him. And he goes, ‘We are going to play the Saitama Broncos brand of ball and I’m not here to produce stars from foreign players and grow particular Japanese players. I’m here to give the Saitama Broncos wins.’ That was the first message he gave us.”
Hatano concluded by saying, “We all knew he has that mind-set and made us feel like we have to live up to his expectations.”
Without hesitation, Bobby Nash will echo that same sentiment.
Just ask him.
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.