They call him “Jellybean,” which happens to be one of the best nicknames in all of professional sports.
So it’s fair to say Tokyo Apache coach Joe Bryant knows a thing or two about monikers — memorable ones, mediocre ones and forgettable ones.
He starred at LaSalle University in Philadelphia before embarking on a professional hoop career that took him to the NBA and Italy. The 53-year-old is one of the pioneering coaches in the bj-league.
The only coach in Apache history, Bryant understands the importance of relating to his players and giving them a sense of perspective before, during and after games. By doing so, he’s not afraid to inspire his players with verbal snapshots of the NBA in their conversations.
“I’m trying to give all the players some identity that they feel good about,” Bryant said after the Apache’s Jan. 27 game at Ariake Colosseum. “I’m trying to give them something to hold on, something to visualize, something to shoot for.”
Bryant, who acquired his nickname because of his fondness for sweets, picked a good day to illustrate this point.
After this 98-94 overtime win over the Rizing Fukuoka, Tokyo’s hero of the day was Masashi Joho, the lone sporting standout in Japan with the initials M.J. (By the way, this could help this nation’s basketball fanatics have a conversation starter any day of the year.)
Retired legends Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, of course, remain all-time favorites in The Land of the Rising Sun.
Masashi Joho, winner of two championship rings while playing for the Osaka Evessa, is a rising star with an ability to score a plethora of points — and do so in a hurry.
A quick flashback: Joho scored 11 of the Apache’s 15 OT points on Jan. 27. That occurred after he made the game-tying layup on Tokyo’s final possession of regulation.
Give Joho space to bury a 3-point shot and he can drain a 3-ball with ease.
When he watches Joho on the court, Bryant is reminded of a man they call the “Brazilian Blur” in Phoenix.
“We tell Joho about (Leandro) Barbosa,” Bryant reveals, speaking about the Suns’ electrifying two guard.
Bryant shifted to another NBA team, the Los Angeles Lakers, the team his son Kobe has played for since 1996, to make another motivation-inducing comparison.
“We tell Darin (Satoshi Maki) about Derek Fisher,” the coach says. “That’s the way he should play — like Fish.”
In other words, the veteran guard Maki’s best days on the hardwood produce these results: strong leadership at the point, solid defense and timely buckets from long range.
Seconds later, John “Helicopter” Humphrey, the league’s two-time scoring champion, was the focal point of Jellybean’s analysis.
“And when I talk to Humph, I say the way you should play is like Baron Davis plays,” Bryant says, referring to the Golden State Warriors’ dynamic, muscular floor leader. “You’ve got the same size, you can pass, you can shoot, you can do all those things.”
After hearing those comments I was reminded of this time-tested maxim: On any given day, it must be fun as a coach to dish out analysis about a guy dubbed Helicopter.
Humphrey, who was averaging 19.2 points per game entering the weekend, has made a concerted effort to become more of a passer this season. In three of the past four games, for instance, he’s had six assists (his season-high output).
And remember this: Humphrey’s ability to make a steal and zoom downcourt for a coast-to-coast layup or slam dunk always makes fans pay attention to No. 35 when he’s in the game. His ability to block shots is another special trait.
“Someone who really has the ability to dominate a game on offense and defense is John Humphrey,” Bryant says. “I mean, he’s athletic, he’s strong as an ox.
“He can do that every night. (He can be) a stat-sheet stuffer,” Bryant adds, using a term analyst Clark Kellogg has used on U.S. college hoop telecasts.
“I think that’s what John can be. If you read his line, he’s got points, rebounds, assists, blocked shots, so I’m trying to make sure he stays focused on that and not just trying to score 50 points.
“And he’s such an emotional player that sometimes I’ve got to calm him down because he just gets wound up. We call it the ‘Pee-wee Herman twitch’ . . . and I say, ‘Calm down, John, it’s OK. We have control of the game.’ “