Duke University men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski’s “fist” analogy to describe how a team gets stronger when it plays as a group is well-known.
Antonio Lang, who played for Coach K at Duke, certainly knows the analogy is correct as he and his fellow Blue Devils teammates captured back-to-back NCAA championship in 1991 and 1992.
Now as an assistant coach for the Utah Jazz, Lang has his own analogies, including ones that he learned when he was in Japan.
One of them is “the three arrows” parable that derived from Mori Motonari, a prominent 16th-century, Sengoku Period feudal lord. In order to encourage his three sons to work together for the benefit of the Mori clan, the Chugoku region daimyo told them to snap a bundle of three arrows, which they had easily broken when it was just one arrow, but could not break them. It is widely used in Japan as a lesson that you enhance your strengths when you unite efforts.
Lang, who held clinics and seminars for Japanese basketball coaches and administrators from late July until early August across the country (the seminar portion was dubbed “Antonio Lang Crossing the Border”) said that he always tells Jazz players these stories about Japanese culture.
“They think I’m a nerd,” said Lang, who was hired to work on Utah head coach Quin Snyder’s staff before the 2014-15 season, with a laugh.
But obviously, without his 10-plus years in Japan as a player and coach, Lang wouldn’t have introduced the Japanese stories to Jazz players. He also wouldn’t have been in Japan this summer to give back to the nation that helped expanded his horizons as a player and coach.
The 45-year-old has repeatedly insisted in interviews with this newspaper that he would not be where he is today without his valuable experiences in Japan.
So he feels he owes the nation and that is why he devoted his precious summer time to travel here to do something in return.
Lang told The Japan Times on Wednesday at Suginami Sogo Metropolitan High School, where he held his final seminar, that he’s gained so much basketball experience in Japan but there were still “a lot of things” he did not know when he first arrived in Salt Lake City. He admitted that he wanted to share some of what he does in the NBA with Japan’s basketball circles.
He lectured about his responsibilities with the Jazz, including individual player development, game tactics, how the team runs its practices and management.
“I was like, I wish someone would’ve taught me or someone would’ve helped me earlier,” said Lang, a former head coach for the Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins (now known as the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins, who compete in the B. League) for four seasons starting with the 2010-11 campaign after serving as an assistant for the club for four years.
“So thinking that, I thought it was a good idea to come back and run some clinics and also have some type of discussions with some coaches and some general managers and things like that, to kind of continue to educate even myself but also to educate the whole basketball world. And also to kind of help Japan get to where I think it can get basketball-wise.”
The former forward, who played for five NBA teams and in other nations, including the Philippines and Brazil, added that he held the seminars because Japan has some talented players but needs coaches to develop them.
“That’s why I like this part (seminars), probably a little more than I like working out players and stuff like that,” said Lang, a native of Columbia, South Carolina, who was raised in Mobile, Alabama.
From scouting other teams, helping hone his players’ skill development and attending a series of meetings with team staff on a daily basis, the workload as an NBA assistant can be overwhelming.
Lang said that he also had to learn how to use digital scouting and performance analyzing tools like Synergy and Sportscode from scratch when he joined the Jazz, who won the Northwest Division title with a 51-31 record last year and advanced to the Western Conference semifinals.
Lang has not had many chances to watch the B. League, which wrapped up its inaugural season in May, except for a few Diamond Dolphins contests.
But Lang believes Japanese basketball has taken positive steps to improve.
“Basketball (in Japan) has gotten better,” said Lang, who played for Mitsubishi for four seasons starting in 2001. “So hopefully this year the new league and new teams make strides and improve things.
“And hopefully, I’ll get to watch some games. If I have time, definitely I’ll watch some games.”