Salt Lake City – Antonio Lang, who was the head coach of the Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins in Japan until the end of last season, was fortunate enough to earn a job as an assistant with the NBA’s Utah Jazz this season.
But he’s got no time to celebrate, because the 42-year-old has an overwhelming amount of work to do, day in and day out.
And Lang’s job isn’t just limited to Energy Solutions Arena, the team’s home gym, and practice facilities. He has tons of scouting duties, sitting in front of his TV and computer to watch teams with a pen and pad in his hand.
“We basically do everything, all assistants,” Lang told The Japan Times in a recent interview. “We watch teams, we know exactly what we are going to execute, instead of having someone from the outside scouting for us. And that’s the quickest way to learn. I’ve been learning a lot.”
Lang said that he also helps get big men like forward Trevor Booker and center Derrick Favors into more offensive plays, while he has some responsibility for the team’s transition defense.
Lang added that although he played in the NBA for six years, he has faced some challenges being a coach in the world’s best hoop circuit.
He said that the most striking adjustment he’s had to make was to the NBA rules, because he’d worked under FIBA regulations in his previous 13 years as a player and coach in Japan and Brazil.
“That’s just a different game and a different type of players,” Lang said. “The spacing is different. Defensively, defensive strategies are different because of the spacing. Offensively, they play differently because of the spacing, because it’s an illegal defense. Stuff like that.”
What has perhaps helped Lang get used to being an NBA coach faster than others in their first year is the fact that he has known Utah head coach Quin Snyder for years. Two decades ago, they were both at NCAA powerhouse Duke University, when Lang was a player and Snyder was an assistant coach under Mike Krzyzewski.
Like Lang, Snyder accumulated international coaching experience as an assistant at CSKA Moscow between 2012 and 2013.
“I’m happy to be here with another Duke graduate,” Lang said with a smile. “Coach K (Krzyzewski) said, ‘Learn as much as you can. Quin Snyder is an unbelievable coach, he teaches you a lot.’ From here on out, hopefully we can branch off and make a coaching tree. That’s what we’re hoping. We’ll see.”
What a difference a year makes. At this time last year, Lang was in Nagoya, trying to get Mitsubishi into the postseason and win the NBL championship.
But things turned around quickly afterward. Although he led the Dolphins to their first playoff appearance in seven years, Lang was let go by the club in May. But he was then hired by the Jazz in June, reuniting with Snyder, who had just been named the team’s new head coach.
Lang said that he hadn’t anticipated his departure from Mitsubishi and it was certainly a letdown to him, but he didn’t have any ill feelings toward the club.
In fact, Lang is still attached to Japan, which he calls a second home, and maintains his desire to help improve the nation’s gloomy basketball situation. He hopes to hold basketball clinics in Japan after this season.
“I think that being there so long, I understand the culture, I understand basketball,” Lang said. “I can bring what I learn for one year in the NBA. I’m just looking for an opportunity. We’ll continue to make basketball strong in Japan, running coaching clinics, clinics where players and coaches can come over.
“There’s something that in the back of my mind, I would like to kind of give back to the country that gave me an opportunity.”
In late February, Akira Rikukawa, head coach of the Tokai University men’s basketball team, visited Salt Lake City and his old pal Lang, along with his assistant, Hiroki Iwabe, attempting to get inspired by watching some NBA action.
Having known Lang for over 10 years, Rikukawa, 53, was certainly happy for him but wasn’t overly surprised that the American had seized the opportunity to work in the NBA.
“(Lang) works hard and is so cheerful,” said Rikukawa, who guided his team to multiple Japanese collegiate championships. “That gives him a chance to carve out his own way. And he cherishes his friends. I love his attitude.”
While he didn’t exclude the possibility of returning to Japan one day, Lang said that he intends to take advantage of his position in the NBA to gain as much coaching experience as he can. And of course, like every coach in the league, he wants to be at the helm of a club.
“If an opportunity comes, then I would love to be a head coach again,” Lang said with a grin.