/ |

Kyoto’s Allred has unique perspective on game, life

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

The Japan Times periodically features interviews with players in the bj-league. Lance Allred of the Kyoto Hannaryz is the subject of this week’s profile.

Position: center
Age: 31
Ht: 211 cm
Wt: 122 kg
Hometown: Salt Lake City
College: Weber State (first attended Utah)

Noteworthy: Allred represented Kyoto in the 2011-12 All-Star Game at Saitama Super Arena. His well-traveled career has included stops in the NBA Development League, France, Spain, Italy, New Zealand and a brief stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2008. Allred’s autobiography “Longshot: The Adventures of a Deaf Fundamentalist Mormon Kid and his Journey to the NBA,” was published by Harper Collins in 2009. … As the NBA’s first legally deaf player, Allred also participated on Team USA’s silver-winning squad in the 2002 World Deaf Basketball Championship in Athens. This season, he averaged 12.2 points and 8.6 rebounds in 44 games for the Hannaryz.

* * *

Regardless of what happens this weekend in the Final Four, the Hannaryz have elevated the franchise’s status by outlasting Osaka in a tough conference semifinal series. So how important has a mature, veteran nucleus been to the team’s consistent play throughout the season?

Because of our veteran experience, our team has allowed us to play through ups and downs all season and stay the course. Whether we are ahead or behind, we stay calm and run our offense the same as if it were the first quarter, and defend as if it were the fourth quarter.

We don’t change, no matter what the circumstance, because we know habits carry over to the next game. That is why we are veterans who still keep getting jobs, who play to win, not for stats.

And who do you believe has been the team’s MVP to date? Why?

Jermaine (Boyette, the team’s leading scorer at 14.2 points per game and Allred’s ex-Weber State teammate) has been the MVP for the season without a doubt, for he has been the most consistent player night in and night out. He knows he will not be in the second quarter, but then with that, he knows his time to have a flow will be in the second half, and that is where he always explodes, to which he consequently is always so instrumental in helping us close out the games at the end. He is my guy, and it was such joy to have him as my teammate again.

Having yourself, first at the University of Utah before finishing your collegiate career at Weber State, Jermaine Boyette (Weber State) and Lee Cummard (BYU) all playing overseas after successful college careers in the same state, what kind of amplified attention, if any, is Kyoto basketball receiving in Utah?

I know our home state newspaper has mentioned us being teammates in Kyoto this season. And hopefully they mention more of that if we pull out the victories this weekend. Because not only do people like to see their alumni moving on to professional ranks, but to have three players from the state all playing on the same team is a pretty unique experience, and deserves some decent coverage, as our familiarity with each other and our backgrounds and upbringings allows us to have a whole different level of trust than we normally get to have with teammates in the professional ranks.

In your own words, briefly summarize how basketball has been a blessing and a challenge to you, growing up hearing-impaired and making the adjustment from living in a polygamous Mormon sect in Montana to a more mainstream upbringing in Salt Lake City?

Basketball has allowed me to experience the world, various cultures, meeting many amazing people. And I love it. But what it does the most, which I both love and hate, is that it forces me to be pushed out of my comfort zones. If it weren’t for basketball, I probably would have turned into some asocial librarian, shielding myself away from the speaking, where I could just read and not have to socialize with English-speaking people, let alone others who speak completely different languages, which is very scary for me.

By nature I am scared to speak to people, but having to travel to other nations, where people speak broken English, if they speak English at all, has forced me to just be more confident and get through the discomfort and awkwardness that I mostly accrue upon myself with my own doubt. And because of that, I have become a far more confident, socially adept person than I could have ever predicted myself becoming.

You and Hannaryz big man Rick Rickert, who was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves but didn’t play a regular-season NBA game, have unique stories to share in terms of successes and disappointments at basketball’s highest level. So do you feel work ethic and desire to improve have carried you both to long, productive career in basketball?

Rick and I are similar in that we are both very skilled and cerebral big men. Because we are not one-trick ponies so to speak, we have made ourselves appealing to teams, because they know we can do any job you ask us to do. It maybe won’t be perfect, but we will do it aptly to the best of our ability. …

As well, Rick and I are both very, very competitive people. We both have a chip on our shoulder, having been in the NBA but no longer there. And with that NBA logo on our resumes, we know that most people are going to want to give us their best shot, to bring us down a notch, and because of that, we have become very assertive in standing our ground.

We have very similar professional paths, with lots of ground covered, and countries seen. But the fact that both Rick and I are unafraid to try new things and play in even more foreign settings, is another reason we have established longevity in our careers.

In a city with a rich cultural history, how has basketball been received by Kyoto residents? How have they made you and your teammates feel welcome and appreciated in the team’s third season of existence?

I love Kyoto. To experience all of the world heritage sites, and live so close to them for a year, I consider myself spoiled. I will never have another experience like this. And I will always remember it. Just as I will always remember our die-hard fan base of about 200 fans that are just with us to the bitter end, no matter the result. I love them.

I have never had this sort of unwavering and unconditional love from fans before in my career. I have never received more gifts and genuine gratitude from people whom I should be the one giving gifts to.

Traveling around Japan and competing against 18 other bj-league teams this season, which Japanese players, including Kyoto’s, have caught your eye due to their talent and/or potential to be really good players in this league — or elsewhere at an even higher level — in the years to come? Can you rattle off a few names and anecdotes about them?

To be unbiased, I will not mention my teammates, though I consider them all legitimate threats on any team they were to play for.

As far as other teams:

*My favorite Japanese player this season is Miyazaki’s Taishiro Shimizu. That guy can cover floor as good as anyone. He is big and broad-shouldered, but fast. He knows when to strike and when to wait, and whenever he makes a shot, it always seems to be a dagger at the perfect time. He is dead on with his 3-point shot, but then he can create so much space for himself with his size to finish so well around the rim or draw and kick to an open teammate which he created. He is deadly in both half-court and fast break settings. I can’t really say enough about him.

*Shimane’s Junpei Nakama is a great player. That guy just knows where to find shots, and he is strong enough and athletic enough to finish those plays. He is just a nice, strong solid player. Doesn’t really make mistakes.

*Iwate’s Makoto Sawaguchi is fearless. He makes mistakes, but he isn’t afraid to try. And I respect that a lot. He doesn’t care who is standing in the paint waiting to block his shot, he is going to go in. He single-handedly defeated us in our very disappointing home loss to Iwate two months ago.

*Ryukyu’s Naoto Kosuge is, in my opinion, the best physical athlete of all the Japanese players in the league. He is just a nuisance. You always have to watch where he is, because he does such a good hand of finding his way in to tip out rebounds and then running wide in the open floor to come in for strong layups. On top of all that, the guy can shoot ball. A nightmare to play against, because you are not only worried about who you are guarding, you are also are watching for Kosuge too. Thus, basically you are always personally guarding two players when he is on floor. Such is the attention he demands.

On the court, people see Kyoto coach Honoo Hamaguchi’s in-game intensity and fiery demeanor. What’s he like off the court, away from the gym, away from practice?

Honoo is his name: Fire (the kanji represents a flame). But he is also very old school in his approach to basketball and the concept of the team. In practice and in social gatherings he is perhaps the most well-mannered and respectful person I have ever played for. But he has a time and a place for everything.

When it comes game time, he is all about winning. He doesn’t care who he has to play, he will play whoever he has to, in order to win. Honoo and I actually are very similar, and that is why we have butted heads a few times this season, sometimes we are almost too much alike, and adding fire to fire can sometimes give a sudden burst of heat that is a little too hot.

Honoo is very altruistic. He believes in the purity of the game, before individual stats, and that is very important to him, even above winning. He is very reserved, polite and calm, but then there is that competitive fire in him that will go off like the flick of the switch, which almost seems to be a split personality.

And as I am describing these traits about Honoo, I may as well be describing myself. We haven’t always agreed on how to do it, but at the end of the day, we want winning more than anything else. Yet, for as fiery and competitive as we both get, Honoo has always shown patience and grace with me time and time again this season as I battle through injuries and frustration, which is far more than I have deserved.

Do you consider yourself a role model for athletes and non-athletes with hearing limitations? If so, what’s the message you try to give time after time?

My message to every one of them is this: You only have one life, so you may as well go and live it on your terms. And who cares if you fail? The end result means nothing. It is the journey and you have already won, for far more important than whether you fail or succeed, is simply whether you try.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf spent the previous two seasons as a fan favorite during his time with Kyoto, and other former NBA players have demonstrated how to prepare and excel at the game at the highest level. As the league continues to expand and develop, what more can be done, in your opinion, to establish a greater commitment to utilizing NBA talent and skills — playing, coaching, officiating, game promotions, etc. — to raise the bj-league’s profile in Japan?

The very first thing I would do, is create the illegal-defense rule, like the NBA does, where teams can get penalized for standing in the paint for too long, guarding the hoop, while their defensive assignment is standing on the other side of the court. This is how teams figured out to guard me and Rick: they zoned us, but always had one guy leave our point guard and stand there in the key, to prevent or double-team any pass that went to the inside. Many people argue that the NBA style of illegal defense causes teams to play bad lazy defense. This is not true. With the illegal defense rule, it would force teams to be more honest, and require teams to be more disciplined on defense. Yes, it does lead to more open spacing to create more room for offensive scoring, it does also require teams to be more focused on their individual defensive assignments. There is a lot more personal accountability in this style of play…

Whereas as it stands with the current defensive rules, teams can gamble and play poor defense, because they know a guy most likely will be standing under the rim to bail out their poor defense anyway. But with all the sloppy defense there is, teams are still scoring a lot of points. So really, would you rather have a high scoring basketball game with sharper one on one defense? Or would you rather have a high scoring basketball game with reckless and sloppy defense, because they know the paint will always be protected? I like to keep people personally accountable for their defense, and in the NBA illegal-defense system, people can’t blame others or point fingers. Either you guard your man, or you don’t. Simple as that. And I feel the fans would love this well.