KAWASAKI – The Toshiba Brave Thunders needed to fill an assistant coaching vacancy after last season, so his name came up. And Brian Rowsom seemed to be a good fit because he used to play for the team and had coaching experience.
The Toshiba staff met with him by accident at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas the year before, and the former NBA player’s presence was in the back of their minds after that.
But head coach Takuya Kita and the club were a little hesitant to offer an assistant coaching job to the American, because he had been a head coach for other teams, including clubs in Qatar, and they weren’t so confident that he would like to work under somebody else.
“(Rowsom) said that he was receiving an offer (in Qatar) and he had been a head coach before, so we were wondering if he would really take it,” Kita said. “But he told us he was interested.”
This season, Rowsom joined the coaching staff of the reigning NBL champion Brave Thunders. He had said that he wouldn’t return to Japan for sure, but he came back because it was the club he played on, wearing a Toshiba jersey along with Kita in the mid-1990s (the team was called the Toshiba Red Thunders back then).
“I’ve never been an assistant coach before,” Rowsom, 49, said. “But I’m trying to do different things so that my CV, my resume’s diverse, so that when the time comes for the next job, people can see that I can do more than one thing.
“So I didn’t have a problem with that, because I played with Coach Kita before, I knew Toshiba, the company, and how they do the system here.”
Rowsom’s primary role is to watch the team’s bigs, especially the young Japanese ones, including forwards Yuya Nagayoshi and Yuya Kamata.
“It’s important because most of the teams in Japan, the import players are usually at 4 position, 5 position,” said Rowsom, a former forward for the Indiana Pacers (1987) and Charlotte Hornets (1988-90). “So if we can play well against those guys, we have a good chance to win those games. Against the Hitachis, Tochigis, teams like that.”
He added that he doesn’t really have to push too much with veteran players like Nick Fazekas and Mamadou Diouf, except to remind them what to do, such as boxing out for rebounds.
Rowsom, who was taken No. 34 overall in the 1987 NBA Draft by Indiana, also supports Kita with his Xs and Os knowledge that he’s established from his past head coaching experience, including a stint (2009-10 season) as bench boss for the bj-league’s Oita HeatDevils.
“We discuss as a staff what to do with certain teams, and certain situations,” Rowsom said. “So I give my advice a little bit and (Kita)’s very receptive to that. Coach Kita’s my guy because he wants to learn and wants to get better as a coach. And I do, too. It’s been a wonderful experience for us to work together. I think we do a good job working together. No one is trying to do too much, no one is trying to not do enough. Everybody works together and does their job.”
Both Rowsom and Kita look back on their time as teammates fondly. Rowsom came to fall in love with Japan, its culture and basketball after he first landed here. In fact, he regrets that he didn’t come earlier.
“I wish I would’ve come maybe two or three years earlier,” said Rowsom, who joined Toshiba in 1995. “But I was playing in Israel (for the Hapoel Eilat). Europe was always a big thing for the players that weren’t playing in the NBA at the time. So I didn’t know too much about Japanese basketball. But after I came here, I thought it was really nice. I enjoyed the country and lifestyle.”
Some foreigners who come to Japan to play pro basketball have a tough time adjusting to their new environment. But that wasn’t the case for Rowsom.
Kita described Rowsom’s character as “really kind” and quickly realized that he would fit in on the team and in this country when they became teammates. Now, after two decades, Kita added, Rowsom’s personality hasn’t changed a bit.
And for the team’s Japanese players, it is a lot easier to talk to the soft-spoken foreigner.
“Many of the Japanese players don’t really talk (to foreigners) because they can’t really speak English well,” said Kita, whose Brave Thunders are 37-13 through Friday and in third place in the NBL’s Eastern Conference (they have already clinched a postseason berth). “But our guys talk to (Rowsom) pretty casually. I think that his character fits into our team.”
Rowsom maintains his gentle-mannered attitude on the bench at games as well. He seldom raises his voice.
“That’s not my style,” Rowsom said. “I’m not the Bobby Knight style. I’m not a screamer or a yeller. But I think that’s why I can fit into the culture here. You can get your point across without having to do that. It’s my personality. I also played for coaches that were like that, so that’s kind of how I developed my coaching style.”
Rowsom mentioned the late Jack Ramsay, a Hall of Fame coach, and Mel Gibson, who was Rowsom’s head coach at North Carolina-Wilmington, as hoop mentors he was inspired by.
Rowsom said that he still uses some of the pregame warm-up drills that Ramsay ran with the Indiana Pacers back in the 1980s.
“One of the drills that I gave our team here at Toshiba this year is a drill that I learned from Dr. Jack Ramsay, when I was a rookie for the Indiana Pacers,” said Rowsom, who added that he also employs drills that Gibson used at UNC Wilmington as well.
“It was just a simple warm-up drill, but it was working on fundamentals and footwork,” Rowsom noted. “I’m still using the same fundamentals now I use for these guys (at Toshiba).”