Basketball

Antelopes' new approach revolutionizing women's hoops

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Second in a two-part series

Veteran bench boss Don Beck intends to play a transition game around solid defense for the Toyota Antelopes of the Women’s Japan Basketball League in his first season in charge, like he did while coaching the Toyota Alvark men’s team from 2010-15.

The team has also committed to strengthening and conditioning training to give the players a physical advantage.

He trains his players hard, but doesn’t impose a huge amount of practice on them. He asks for more quality. In fact, he’s trying to change the custom of practicing longer in women’s basketball, because it’s not going to help a team win in a season.

“They practice almost year-round,” Beck said. “In some ways, it’s a form of mistreatment. Most Japanese women’s teams practice six hours a day, two or three times a day. So when I came in here, I didn’t believe that. I believe in lesser time and more efficient practice.

“This is another thing that’s a concern. On my team, I’ve got six players under 30 that have Achilles problems. And that’s from straight-out overwork, not enough down time. Achilles problems can happen in multiple ways. A lot of them are because of these ankle injuries, and then ankles are not stabilized and (that) puts more pressure on the Achilles.

“I’ve got two young players that were on the second national team, the B team. Both of them have Achilles problems. Both of them had to be shut down at 23. You should not have Achilles problems (at that age).”

Beck wants his players fresh for games, that’s the bottom line.

“I want people to be ready to play when the time comes to play,” he said.

With the acquisitions of Beck and star guard Yuko Oga, meanwhile, the Antelopes are replete with positive energy. Talent-wise, the JX Sunflowers may still be ahead of the rest, but Beck is trying to overcome that by instilling a unity into his team.

“JX certainly has great players, including those on the national team,” said Oga, a one-time MVP and two-time playoff MVP in the WJBL. “But to be able to play on a par with them, we’ve got to be on the same page, believing in each other.”

To achieve unity, a team needs someone to bind it together. Oga, an excellent leader, fulfills that role.

After the few months that he’s been with the team, Beck has no doubts that Oga is already one of the greatest leaders — male or female — that he’s had in 34 years of coaching.

“I’ve had two very good friends. One coach with the (Los Angeles) Lakers, when Magic (Johnson) was there. Another coach in Chicago,” Beck said, referring to Jim Eyen and Ron Adams. “Those guys were tremendous leaders. But not just vocally, they led by example. So the No. 1 thing is, ‘Shin’ (Oga) leads by example. And I really, really like that. She gives great effort in everything we do in practice.

“The second thing I admire (about) her I’ve seen is her knowledge of the game. Her questions are very good questions and sometimes very challenging.”

Veteran forward Ryoko Yano says that Oga’s ability to lead a team was something the Antelopes were missing, and appreciates that she joined the club.

“She came here, along with other new staff members including Coach Beck,” said the 36-year-old Yano. “And it feels like the team has gotten more cheerful. Previously, it was a little gloomy. But now we’re becoming a team where each individual player shows her character.”

Oga hears those positive words from her new teammates; they tell her they’re having the most fun since they began playing for the Antelopes, who won the 2013 All-Japan Championship.

“With sentiments like that, it gives you a different attitude in your workout and each game you go into,” Oga said. “So I’m extremely excited about being able to play with such teammates.”

Oga added that Beck allows his players, especially if they are older, to rest their bodies. But her teammates don’t want to take him up on his offer — in a positive way.

“As much as resting your body is important,” said Oga, “they say they don’t want to rest because they have so much they can learn now. And when they say that, I’m like, ‘Oh, wow.’ If you have teammates like that, it’s inspiring.”

It’s obviously too early to judge whether the Antelopes will win their first-ever WJBL championship at the end of the season. But outside that, Beck’s goal is clear-cut.

“The No. 1 thing is to create a positive, successful professional women’s basketball team in every area — how they are treated, how they live, the training they get, the coaching they get, the physical training they get, the support they get — that’s my goal,” Beck said.