Ex-Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins bench boss Antonio Lang has earned a job in the world’s premier basketball league. But he has no intention of cutting his ties with Japanese hoops; after all, he’s grown to cherish the game here.
Lang was hired as a Utah Jazz assistant coach in late June. He said he’s thrilled to have the opportunity to work for the Western Conference club under new head coach Quin Snyder, who also has international coaching experience, as an assistant for CSKA Moscow in Russia in the 2012-13 season. (Lang and Snyder are both Duke University grads.)
While he humbly said that he had a lot of luck to get the position, Lang emphasized that his stint as a sideline supervisor for Mitsubishi, an NBL team, played a key role, too.
“What really got me the job was my experience as a head coach in Japan,” Lang told The Japan Times from his home in Mobile, Alabama, in a telephone interview. “That was one of the biggest things.
“Also, my experience in the NBA. I played in the NBA for six years. It also helped, too. But a lot of it was because of what I did in Japan. So I’m grateful for it.”
Lang mentioned that some coaches in Japan, including Kimikazu Suzuki (Aisin SeaHorses), Donald Beck (Toyota Alvark) and Reggie Geary (Chiba Jets), taught him a lot about basketball, with games against their teams providing those chances.
The 42-year-old Lang was drafted by the Phoenix Suns in the second round of the 1994 NBA Draft.
Now, after returning to the United States, Lang wants to continue to aid Japanese basketball’s development. His passion to make a difference won’t change just because he left the Asian nation that he’d spent the last 13 years in as a player and coach.
In fact, after Lang found out Mitsubishi would not renew his contract in early May, his first objective was to get another job in Japan.
“I kind of wanted to coach in Japan forever,” said Lang, revealing that he was offered positions with other clubs, including in the Philippines Basketball Association. “I never thought I would leave Japan.”
He described Nagoya, where Mitsubishi is based, as his “second home.” In fact, looking ahead, he hopes to convert his upcoming NBA coaching experiences as a catalyst for Japanese basketball development.
For instance, Lang said these are among the things he could envision doing: bringing Japanese coaches to the United States for clinics, holding AAU-like programs for Japanese high school players and working with the Japan national team.
When he said this, it didn’t sound like lip service for Japan. Instead, it sounded like he really meant it.
“Look, Japanese basketball allowed me to get this opportunity (with the Jazz),” Lang insisted. “And I want to pay them back.”
Lang said that he’s built great relationships with so many people in Japanese basketball circles, including foreign and Japanese coaches, league personnel and college coaches. And he hopes to maintain those ties.
“I still have friends in the league (in Japan),” said Lang, who won consecutive NCAA championships under legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski in 1991 and ’92. “I told some guys I’m coming over for camps and stuff like that if they want me to come over.
“I’m still going to get in touch. I’m never going to get out of touch.”