The Japan Times will be featuring periodic interviews with individuals in the bj-league, which begins its sixth season on Oct. 16. Coach Koto Toyama of the expansion Miyazaki Shining Suns is the subject of this week’s profile.
Hometown: Asahikawa, Hokkaido
College: Sapporo University (played in the All-Japan Intercollegiate Basketball Championship in four straight seasons, 2001-04, including team captain in ’04). Professional experience: Team manager for the JBL’s OSG Phoenix (2005-08), assistant coach for Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (2008-10).
Working under Kazuo Nakamura, the elder statesman of bj-league coaches who captured a title last season, from 2005-10, what were the most valuable lessons you learned about basketball? Can you offer a few examples?
First of all, the passion of the game . . . and about making one play at a time and playing with your heart — each play, all games. That’s what he’s really all about. And he’s always thinking about basketball 24/7.
Defensively and offensively, he’s very strategic and he’s very multidimensional on offense and defense and there’s a lot of ways of doing things and that confuses the opponent. He likes to mix things up with so many tactics on defense and offense.
Some people may say you are too young to be a head coach, but do you feel your energy and background in basketball has prepared you to lead the Shining Suns and energize the fans? And what do you consider your strengths as a coach?
Of course, I am looking to make a great impact. And I have total confidence in myself.
I feel like my strengths are that I am very poised and I feel like I can approach things with what I have learned so far. . . . It’s really about passion and taking it one step at a time. I break down the strategy and the plays for the players and the team to understand.
Do you believe it will be difficult to tell older players what to do? Developing respect between coaches and players regardless of their ages is important, so is that your basic approach?
I don’t feel any difficulties. First of all, I have talked it out with the older players and the veterans on the team. The relationship is between the head coach and the players, so age is not going to be (an issue).
I will respect the players, and if they have an opinion and if they feel their opinion is going to help the team, I will listen to the players.
Who are your favorite current or former NBA and college coaches? Why do you admire them?
In the NBA, I have grown up seeing Pat Riley and Larry Brown and among the college coaches Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) and Bobby Knight. What they have in common is that they coach with great passion and their players are always playing hard.
Have you asked for advice from other coaches about how to handle being a rookie head coach?
Basically, I have been getting advice from coach Nakamura. I call him when I need advice. He’s really the main guy I go to (for advice) in this league.
I really feel like he’s one of the most well-known coaches in Japan. He gets a lot of positive attention and also negative attention because he’s so passionate and really aggressive during practices and with his approach toward the game.
If there are any individuals that want to start coaching, they should go at least once to the Phoenix gym to see how they practice and find out how intense they are.
What are the Shining Suns’ goals for the first season?
I know it’s not going to be that easy, but we want to make it to the playoffs, and we really owe it to the first-year fans. We really need to get this team together and make it to the postseason.
Who have been Miyazaki’s most consistent Japanese players during preseason training?
The most consistent Japanese player is captain Taishiro Shimizu.
(Note: An All-Star guard, Shimizu played several seasons for the Saitama Broncos.)
Also, (ex-Hamamatsu guard) Takuro Ito has a great background in terms of his career. He’s very aggressive and very athletic and I’m looking for him to have a very good season also.
Forward Yuta Kojima, he’s got size (192 cm), too, and he’s very aggressive and he’s got the passion to defend Americans and can run the floor very well and I’m looking for him to do big things, too.
How would you rate the community excitement and anticipation for Miyazaki’s first season? Has it been an exciting, positive experience?
I really feel the excitement, like everybody is paying attention to us, but at the same time we want to do more. Of course, on the floor we’ve got to take care of business, but off the floor we want to get together with the community to do more things.
(Recently), this prefecture has struggled because of the (foot-and-mouth) disease, but we want to re-energize the prefecture and hopefully I and the team can be a part of that.
Our job is to practice and play games, but I really feel that is just one job that we have to do. . . . As professional athletes, where they really count is to chip in and do things off the floor for the community.