KAWASAKI – Until this past spring, forward Ryan Spangler played in a crimson-colored jersey for the University of Oklahoma Sooners.
Half a year later, he’s still wearing the same color jersey — but now he’s playing for the Kawasaki Brave Thunders in the B. League.
Spangler signed with the Brave Thunders after playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Summer League in Orlando in July.
In Oklahoma, the 25-year-old was a roommate of Amath M’Baye, who played for the Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins (now called the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins). Spangler said that M’Baye, who now plays in Italy, told him about good things about playing in Japan.
“I’ve been outside of the U.S. a lot, but not for this long,” said Spangler, who played for a season for Gonzaga University before he transferred to Oklahoma. “It’s been a blast. I’ve had a good two months. It’s been different, but it’s been good different.”
Spangler arrived in Japan as a total stranger and doesn’t speak the language, but he’s been quick to adjust to the team, country and culture. Kawasaki head coach Takuya Kita appreciates that the American has adapted to the country and team faster than he thought.
“There have been no problems (with Spangler) so far,” Kita said. “This is his first year as a pro player and I was a little worried because he’s playing outside of America, but he’s absorbing things faster than we thought. He likes Japan, and he goes out by himself with a Pasmo (travel card).”
On the court, it might take longer for Spangler to get used to the game in Japan and with the Brave Thunders, who are currently in first place in the B. League’s Central Division with a 9-3 record.
“It’s different,” Spangler, who averaged 8.7 points and 7.8 rebounds in his four-year college career, said of the B. League. “I’m getting used to it. Some of my go-to moves, I can’t do any more. It’s a travel here. So you’ve just got to adapt and that’s what I’m doing.”
Regardless of where he plays, Spangler’s game is characterized by his hustling, which he was taught by Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger.
“I think about the way I play,” Spangler said of what he learned from Kruger, who led his team to two NCAA Final Four appearances, including this April (the Sooners were eliminated by eventual national champion Villanova University in the semifinals). “I had Buddy (Hield, who was drafted by the New Orleans Pelicans with the No. 6 overall pick this summer). I had a lot of shooters around me. So obviously there’s not a lot of shots (from me).
“I think (Kruger) taught me to hustle everywhere. I haven’t been able to get many rebounds yet, but I will. But just hustle, do the little things and I’m trying to fit in with this team.”
Spangler gives everything on the court. When you go to a Brave Thunders game, you’ll notice that he always tries to run faster and get to the rim faster than anyone.
“I’ve always been fast,” said the native of Ardmore, Oklahoma. “I want to be one of the fastest bigs in the country, or in the world, I guess you should say now.”
Spangler, a 203-cm player, said that he worked on his speed even more this summer.
“I think I can outrun some of the guards, too,” he said.
Kita and the Brave Thunders are counting on Spangler’s mobility to execute their game at a fast pace.
“We won the NBL championship last year and we had height with Nick Fazekas and Brian Butch, but we didn’t have speed,” Kita said. “That’s why we acquired Spangler. He can run off rebounds, helping us play quicker.”
Fazekas, who earned scoring and MVP titles in the NBL, often shows off his throwing ability from the backcourt after he grabs rebounds. Now with Spangler, who can run ahead of other players, the two could be one of the best one-two punches for the team as its “quarterback and wide receiver.”
In fact, Spangler played quarterback before he wound up choosing basketball at Oklahoma.
“I was good at football,” smiled Spangler, who has averaged 12.8 points and 9.2 rebounds for Kawasaki this year.
“All the recruiting kind of stopped (me from playing football in college). And my dad and both my brothers played college football. I’m a bit different. So I chose to go (with) basketball.”
With his football career, Spangler probably has the arm to feed long passes, but for now he lets Fazekas do the quarterback play on the floor.
“I just don’t want to try to do too much,” Spangler said. “I’m trying to ease my way in, and figure out how to play with these guys, and that’s still a work in progress. But in a couple of months, maybe when I’m settled in good, I’ll throw it around.”