PORTLAND, OREGON - “Konnichiwa.”
As he came out of the locker room after his team’s regular season finale against the University of San Diego at the Chiles Center and found this Japanese reporter waiting for him, Eric Reveno used the Japanese greeting instead of the standard English “how are you doing?”
And that’s not the only Japanese expression he knows. Reveno seemed to still remember many others.
Reveno, now the head coach of the University of Portland Pilots men’s basketball team, played in Japan from 1989-1993, when he was a center for the Nippon Mining basketball team of the Japan basketball league, predecessor of the current NBL.
The club disbanded in 1998.
“Pete Newell recommended me and they invited me over,” Reveno said, referring to the late Hall of Fame coach, with whom he worked as a staffer for the legendary coach’s Big Man Camp for several years. Newell led the University of California men’s basketball team to the 1959 NCAA championship and also guided the United States men’s team to a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics in Rome.
While many import players come over and focus only on basketball, Reveno enjoyed building friendships with his teammates and staff and absorbing the culture, including the language.
“I had one of the best experiences,” Reveno said, recalling his time on the other side of the Pacific. “I went to the office, and studied Japanese. I made good friends . . . It was great.”
Reveno said with a laugh that one of the first Japanese words he learned was ryoshusho (receipt).
“So I’d get my money back (from the company),” the 49-year-old said.
And of course Reveno, who played college basketball at Stanford, learned on the hardwood by getting a taste of a different style of basketball by playing in Japan.
“We played with a lot more motion,” said Reveno, who helped Stanford advance to the 1998 Final Four as an assistant coach. “So I became a better passer. Because in college in America, I was very specialized and just played in the low post. Never allowed to do anything else.
“But in Japan, I screened, caught it, and passed it, and I was able to coach. It wasn’t as physical as our game here. But the game was more fluid and better passing and better cutting.”
He particularly stressed that he deepened his understanding that the sport is a team competition in Japan.
In his first year with the Pilots, Reveno recruited Japanese guard Taishi Ito out of Montrose Christian High School in Maryland. He used Ito as a good example of Japanese players having a team-first attitude and willing to sacrifice themselves.
“Good Japanese players have a great sense of commitment to the team,” Reveno said. “Some of them didn’t want to stand out themselves, they were uncomfortable.”
Reveno called himself “a hot-headed American,” who’d “speak his mind and get mad” during his tenure with the Tokyo-based club.
“But gaman, patience, I learned it,” he said. “And that was me as being a young person just maturing. When I got there, I didn’t know how to say hai (yes) or iie (no), I didn’t know how to say anything. So I got there and learned everything, and it was good for me, it was a great adventure.”
The Pilots finished the 2014-15 season with a 17-15 record and ended the year with a 73-66 loss to Sacramento State University in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, one of the NCAA’s four postseason events, earlier this week.
Meanwhile, Ito, now a player for the NBL’s Toyota Alvark, remembers his time at Portland and with Reveno fondly. The 28-year-old said that he received offers from other universities, including from the East Coast, as he was graduating from high school, but wound up choosing Portland partially because of Reveno’s enthusiastic courtship.
Ito said that during his stay in Japan as a member of Montrose Christian, which was invited to play in the Noshiro Cup tournament in Akita Prefecture in 2006, Reveno surprised him by sending him faxes almost every day to explain what brand of basketball he would play with the Japanese.
“I was very pleased about it,” Ito said.
Ito described Reveno as a “very passionate man,” who would fight with his own players.
“He’s such an emotional person,” Ito said. “He’d have his speeches, having tears in his eyes, even in pre-game meetings. Whether we’d lose or play better, he stayed the same, being emotional. His coaching style would be something that would touch the players’ hearts. It was a great four years.”