Basketball

Higashino hopes to bring change to Japanese basketball

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

As a basketball coach, Tomoya Higashino was sometimes referred to by the nickname “Crusher” because of his dismantling of conventional thinking.

Now he’s expected to break Japan’s traditional basketball status quo and spark a complete change.

The Japan Basketball Association announced on Thursday that Higashino has been appointed as the federation’s technical director.

His term as the head of the technical committee will be for five years, starting June 1. Higashino will be in charge of technical matters for all the age groups in Japanese basketball.

Higashino, a 45-year-old former Japan national team assistant, said at a news conference at the JBA office that he wasn’t sure if he’d be the right choice for the role at first, but decided to take it as he had a strong desire to improve Japanese basketball.

While he said he feels a sense of urgency regarding the men’s national team, as there are “only four years and two months until the Tokyo Olympics,” Higashino insisted that Japanese basketball needs drastic reform in order to develop into one of the world’s top basketball nations.

“I’ve been an assistant coach for the (men’s) national team for five years, so I know (bringing about reform) isn’t easy,” said Higashino, who had two stints with the national squad including one during the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan. “And in doing the job, I realized that we’ve definitely got to work on player development.”

The JBA has had a person in a similar position, but he just took care of the top national teams. As the technical director, Higashino will be in charge of Japan’s entire basketball system, and will give direction about how the game should be played, with the goal being to ultimately become competitive on the global stage.

Higashino, who led the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix to the bj-league championship in the 2014-15 season as a head coach, said Japan should have already had this type of position previously, with someone focused on the big picture for Japanese basketball.

He said that when he was with the national team for the 2006 World Championship, which was led by Croatian head coach Zeljko Pavlicevic, the players were able to play on par with other countries physically, but as Japan finished 20th and the staff were let go, there was no continuity, including in the physical program, afterward.

The Ishikawa Prefecture native has had a colorful coaching career starting at NCAA Division III Lewis & Clark College in 1996, where he was an assistant. He’s also had stints with the Toyota Alvark, Rera Kamuy Hokkaido, both of the Japan Basketball League, and the Japanese men’s wheelchair national team among others. He was an assistant for the Milwaukee Bucks during the NBA summer league in 2012 as well.

JBA president Saburo Kawabuchi said that Japan has not displayed what brand of basketball it plays, but expects Higashino to solve the problem.

In 2011, Higashino was given an award for having the best master’s thesis at Waseda University, writing about Argentine basketball, which had made impressive growth with long-term developmental measures. On Thursday, he repeatedly mentioned the country, as average height of its players is similar to Japan’s and because the South American nation is a good example for Japan to follow.

With that being said, Higashino said the B. League, which will tip off this fall, could potentially have an enormously important role in strengthening Japanese basketball, because Argentina developed into an elite team internationally after the country formed a men’s professional league in 1984, and wound up capturing an Olympic gold medal 20 years later in Athens.

He said that with the foundation of the pro circuit, Argentina met the global standard in all aspects, such as officiating and coaching, and that helped the game grow gradually.

Higashino made a bold statement by saying: “Argentina won the gold medal 20 years after they had a pro league. Can Japan win one 20 years from now? I’ll work on my job with that in mind, trying to make the miracle happen.”