Basketball

Gaines gets to work with Japan's women's hoop team

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Japan’s Olympic-bound women’s national basketball team has entered its second training camp in Tokyo, with Phoenix Suns assistant Corey Gaines as a guest coach.

Gaines, a former guard for four NBA teams as well as the now-defunct Japan Energy Griffins, is expected to teach Team Japan some fast-tempo transition schemes as it prepares for the Rio de Janeiro Games.

Gaines was active from the first day of training camp on Monday, moving around the floor in constant conversation with Tomohide Utsumi, the team’s head coach, and Tom Hovasse, Utsumi’s assistant.

“I was very impressed by the pace they executed plays, how they kept their speed up, how they kept their pace up, which is very important,” Gaines, who has been with the Suns since 2013, said of the team at the National Training Center.

Utsumi said that Gaines’ knowledge would make a definite contribution to his squad.

“He arrived here two days ago and we’ve had meetings,” Utsumi said of Gaines. “He’s how we expected him to be, and we’ve been talking about basketball all the time. He’s got so many (strategic) options.”

It wasn’t the first time that Gaines had watched the Japanese women play. Gaines said that he’d already seen some of the team’s key players, including star Ramu Tokashiki, with whom Gaines also said he has worked. (Tokashiki is currently in preseason training with the WNBA’s Seattle Storm).

Ever since he played a season for Japan Energy in 1997-98, Gaines, 50, has stayed in touch with the Japanese basketball world, trying to help it with what he has learned through his coaching career back in the United States.

Gaines will be with the team for just over two weeks, through its three-game exhibition series against Australia in Tokyo, which wraps up on May 10. But he believes his stay won’t be too short to make an impression on the team.

Gaines was mentored by Paul Westhead, who won an NBA championship as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1979-80 season, both as a player and assistant. Gaines has inherited the up-tempo, run-and-gun style of play from Westhead, with whom the younger coach still has weekly conversations.

But Gaines doesn’t just copy the Xs and Os of Westhead, who also coached the Japan Basketball League’s Panasonic Super Kangaroos in the early 2000s. Instead he tries to “evolve” what he’s learned from his master.

“You cannot stay the same,” said Gaines, who began his coaching career when he was with the ABA’s Long Beach Jam as player/assistant coach in 2003. “Things evolve. Television used to be black and white. Now it’s color . . . now it’s even better than color. First it was cassette. Then there was VHS. It’s gone. It’s CDs now. Now it’s not CDs, it’s a chip, it’s a drive.”

Gaines said that Westhead revolutionized the women’s game when he took over as head coach of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury in 2005. On the Mercury, Gaines served as an assistant under Westhead and later won a pair of championships as head coach.

“(Westhead) calls me up and says, ‘I’m going to coach women,’ ” Gaines recalled. “And I said, ‘Coach, you’ve never coached women. And he said that’s the key. We’re not going to coach them as women. We’re going to coach them as ballplayers, there’s ballplayers that can jump higher than others, there’s ballplayers that can shoot better than others.

“And the first year, he installed his system. Totally different than any women’s teams that ever played. And of course all the people said, ‘You’re going to lose, women can’t do that.’

“First year, we lost. (But) they got used to it. Second year, we won the championship. So it was possible. Women can play that pace.”

This year, the undersized Japan squad will definitely need to play at “that pace.” Gaines emphasized that Japan would “have to use the 3-point line, stretch the floor, drive in the lanes.”

Japan and the U.S. have been allocated in different groups at the Rio Olympics, so the two could only play against each other in the knockout stage.

But Gaines, who has coached many of the prospective players for the U.S. Olympic team, such as Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi, both of the Mercury, said that it would be great to see the matchup in August.