Basketball clinics increasing coaches’ knowledge of game

Toyota's Beck established monthly event to pass along ideas

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

This season, Donald Beck put in overtime work away from his obligations with the Toyota Alvark basketball team.

Nobody made him do it.

But he loves doing it for goodwill and the development of the game in Japan, where he has been the NBL club’s head coach for the last four years.

The 60-year-old American held monthly basketball clinics during the 2013-14 regular season between November and April, inviting coaches and those associated with Japan’s basketball circles, at Toyota’s practice facility in Fuchu. His Alvark staff assisted him as well.

Clinic themes included Toyota’s offensive and defensive concepts, individual coaching and training.

The clinics weren’t designed to have those in attendance just sit around and listen to the speakers. Instead, Beck hoped they would provide opportunities for participants to exchange thoughts and pass along their knowledge to one another, because basketball coaching methods are unlimited.

“I wanted to try to begin a dialogue,” said Beck, who guided the Alvark to the JBL title in the 2011-12 season. The JBL was replaced by the NBL for the 2013-14 campaign.

Beck added that he eventually wanted to make the project more established in the near future.

“I am trying to build the basketball academy here at Fuchu,” said Beck, who previously coached in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. “The academy would include training coaches and hopefully, in the future, training players.”

Bringing high school coaches and players to work with his Toyota staff and players to develop them would be a part of Beck’s plans.

The lecturers didn’t feature only Beck and Toyota personnel. Beck also invited coaches from other clubs, including Tom Hovasse, an assistant for the WJBL’s JX Sunflowers, and Antonio Lang, bench boss for the Mitsubishi Electric Diamond Dolphins.

Some might be surprised to hear that Lang was there. After all, he coaches one of Toyota’s rivals. But these foreign coaches insisted that it was not an astounding fact since it’s commonplace in the United States and Europe, although the clinics are usually held during the off-season in those places.

“You have to understand the mentality of the American and European coaches,” Beck said. “They understand how difficult their jobs are. There’s a great deal of spectacles between the foreign coaches. So it’s not like a secret.”

Lang, who played under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke University and Pat Riley and Mike Fratello in the NBA, said that it was only a positive for basketball coaches to attend those clinics, giving them more options to acquire greater knowledge about the game.

“All my experiences come from those guys,” said Lang, who taught the Duke way of defense and other techniques in March. “It’s all learned and someone has to teach it. So I think this clinic (of Beck’s) is a great idea. We can all share knowledge.”

Lang emphasized that the foreign coaches in Japan did not come there to change the style of basketball. They are there to help give the country and its coaches more variety in their games.

“Japanese coaches are great coaches of basketball. We are just trying to bring in different philosophies,” said Lang, adding that he wanted to go to clinics run by Japanese coaches to see what and how they teach Japanese players.

Although Beck’s clinics weren’t widely advertised except through Facebook and email (he said he asked the league to help out by publicizing it, but it was rejected), it still reached out to many Japanese coaches. The participants were from various organizations, teams and schools. For them, it was a rare opportunity to absorb some of the genuine coaching methods that are practiced outside of Japan in person.

At the March clinic, Dai Oketani was among the participants. The Iwate Big Bulls head coach said that he was originally supposed to be on the team bus headed back to Iwate after the team’s bj-league series in Nagano Prefecture, but he chose to stop by Tokyo to attend the event.

“It’s good for us to be able to see what those top-level coaches do in person,” said Oketani, who guided the Ryukyu Golden Kings to two bj-league championships. “I thought that we would have to go to the (United) States to do it. So this is an interesting attempt.”

Asked if it may have been difficult for a bj-league person like him to attend something held by someone of the NBL a few years before, Oketani did not disagree. But he then added that the factional differences between the two leagues, or whoever, wouldn’t mean anything to coaches like him.

“I’m just going to wherever I can to get beneficial knowledge for me and for my team,” Oketani said. “To be one that’s associated with this sport, I would like to do it and spread it out.”

Others that are involved in the clinics, whether it’s Beck, his staff or participants, are probably on the same page as Oketani. They don’t care where they are from, they just care about the development of the game.

“We don’t do it to make money,” said Beck, who’s one of the few top-level coaches in Japan to hold basketball clinics. “We do it to grow a movement.”

Each participant was charged ¥2,500 to attend a clinic. The money was used to pay for facility fees, an English-Japanese interpreter and other expenses, according to Beck.

He plans to resume his clinics next season.