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Long wait ends as Hill returns to coach in NBA

by

Staff Writer

Former Tokyo Apache head coach Bob Hill is back in the NBA after almost a decade’s absence in which he worked several coaching stints around the globe.

Hill accepted a job as an assistant with the struggling Phoenix Suns, and was on the bench on Tuesday for their first game with Earl Watson as interim head coach. The Suns fell to the visiting Toronto Raptors, 104-97, dropping their fifth straight game.

The Suns twice shook up their coaching staff in recent weeks, firing assistants Jerry Sichting and Mike Longabardi on Dec. 28, and then dismissing bench boss Jeff Hornacek on Monday.

On Monday, the team promoted assistant Watson, 39, to interim head coach, and Hill joined the staff as an assistant.

With his team struggling mightily, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough handed the coaching reins to Watson with a 14-35 record and losses in 19 of their past 21 games.

Watson recognizes that Hill will be an asset to him.

“Coach Hill is a creative and innovative teacher of basketball,” Watson said in a statement. “He brings a wealth of knowledge to our program and will be very beneficial to everyone involved in our basketball family.”

Hill, meanwhile, embraces the challenge of working alongside Watson.

“Earl played for me in Seattle and we had a terrific relationship that was framed with a desire to win,” Hill told The Japan Times. “He was an excellent practice player and obviously played hard at all times in the games.

“He will be an outstanding coach in this league and I am thrilled that he reached out to me to join him.

“The Phoenix Suns have always been a cornerstone of the NBA and it will be challenging and fun to help them get back to that level of competition.”

Before coaching the now-defunct Apache during the 2010-11 season, Hill, 67, served as a head coach for the New York Knicks (1986-87), Indiana Pacers (1990-93), San Antonio Spurs (1994-96) and Seattle SuperSonics (2005-07). After leaving the Spurs, he was an assistant for the Orlando Magic and later served as bench boss for Fordham University (1999-2003).

Since leaving Tokyo, Hill has served as a coaching mentor for the NBA Development League and worked with teams in China and Taiwan, including the Taiwan national team. For two summers, he also worked under Mike Fratello, another longtime NBA boss, on the Ukraine national team coaching staff that led the team before and during the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

While guiding the Apache, Hill worked with his son, assistant coach Casey, who piloted the Santa Cruz Warriors to a D-League championship last season. He prepared post player Jeremy Tyler, who’s now in China, for the 2011 NBA Draft. Tyler was selected in the second round. He also helped former Apache assistant Natalie Nakase secure a job with the Los Angeles Clippers as an assistant video coordinator.

Casey Hill, in his third season at the helm in Santa Cruz, said he’s thrilled that his father is back in the NBA.

“Seeing my dad back in the NBA is an awesome feeling,” the younger Hill told The Japan Times on Wednesday. “The timing of this opportunity for him is pretty special as well. It will be great to watch him help Earl along in his first foray into the head coaching world. Seeing him get this opportunity has been invigorating to me in my own situation.

“Having watched him patiently wait for his next opportunity in the NBA while also making sure to stay sharp and continuing to spread his wealth of knowledge about this game throughout the world has been inspiring to say the least.

“He’s found an amazing way to mentor and also inspire myself and both of my brothers (who are also basketball coaches) . . . couldn’t be happier for him. Sincerely proud.”

Former NBA scout Bob Pierce, who coached the bj-league’s Shiga Lakestars, Akita Northern Happinets and Sendai 89ers, expressed excitement about Hill’s return to the NBA.

“It’s great to see Bob Hill back in the NBA,” Pierce, now an assistant coach for China’s under-18 national team, wrote in an email on Thursday. “He has a wealth of knowledge as an NBA head coach that should prove very useful to new head coach Earl Watson.

“Having Bob Hill come in as a mentor was probably a very wise move. Bob is also great at player development, although during the busy NBA season, it may be difficult to do a lot of that.”

He added: “That relationship and trust were probably the keys to the hire. Bob Hill brings NBA head coaching experience to the Suns’ staff, as well as a history of developing young players. This is a great opportunity for Earl Watson and the Suns’ players to gain Bob Hill’s vast experience. It’s good to see him back in the NBA.”

A UCLA alum, Watson was an NBA point guard from 2001-13. And he has shown a deep appreciation for his veteran mentors over the years.

As Suns beat writer Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic tweeted on Tuesday, “Earl Watson said he had a two-hour conversation today with his former coach, Hubie Brown. Watson said, “I love him.”

During his lengthy NBA career, Watson also played for respected bosses George Karl and Jerry Sloan.

League accolades: Osaka Evessa swingman Takuya Soma received the Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP honor, it was announced on Wednesday.

Soma scored 21 points in 21 minutes against the Hiroshima Lightning on Saturday and put 19 points on the board in 20 minutes a day later. Osaka recorded back-to-back blowout victories, improving to 20-10 under first-year coach Dai Oketani.

Soma buried five 3s in the series opener and sank three more in the finale. He is averaging 12.5 points per game.

In related news, Toyama Grouses big man Sam Willard was named the league’s January MVP. He had four double-doubles last month.

The veteran rebounding maestro, a University of the Pacific product, averaged 20.7 points and 13.7 rebounds in four games last month.

Toyama (20-8) takes an eight-game winning streak into the upcoming weekend.

Weekend schedule: The following matchups are on the docket for Saturday and Sunday: Aomori vs. Tokyo, Iwate vs. Gunma, Sendai vs. Toyama, Fukushima vs. Akita, Niigata vs. Saitama, Shinshu vs. Yokohama, Kanazawa vs. Osaka, Shiga vs. Oita, Kyoto vs. Ryukyu, Nara vs. Hamamatsu, Takamatsu vs. Fukuoka and Shimane vs. Hiroshima.

Feedback: edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp