Early in his career, Geoffrey Katsuhisa had the ideal mentor.
Longtime NBA bench boss Bob Hill gave Katsuhisa invaluable advice and showed him the ins and outs of leading a pro basketball team. This occurred in the 2010-11 bj-league season, when Hill served as the now-defunct Tokyo Apache’s head coach and Katsuhisa worked as team manager and Hill’s translator.
Looking back on that experience years later, Katsuhisa, now 36, recognizes how significant it was to observe Hill on a daily basis, putting in the work to get his team prepared for its next practice, its next game, its next timeout.
It all adds up to big mental images in Katushisa’s mind.
Speaking after Sunday’s game, the first-year Sunrockers Shibuya coach underscored the fact that Hill solidified his understanding of what this job requires.
“He was my first mentor at the professional level,” said Katsuhisa, who served as an assistant coach for the Chiba Jets (from 2011-15) and Sunrockers (last season) with another stint as the Iwate Big Bulls head coach (2015-16).
“I saw how he prepared. He was very detailed, very clear about what he wanted, and he was very honest and straight forward with his players. They knew exactly what was expected from them, so I tried to learn from that.
“I try to be honest with the players, tell them the truth.”
In a Thursday email, Hill reflected on his working relationship with Katsuhisa, remembering their time together with the Apache.
“Geoffrey was very special in many ways,” Hill told The Japan Times. “I never questioned his loyalty. He had a fabulous work ethic and always seemed totally locked into his job. I always thought he would be a smashing success at whatever he decided to do with his life.
“He also had an extra special wife who was going to be a wonderful life partner. He simply was special and we were all fortunate to have him. I will never forget him…”
Who does Katsuhisa try to learn from today?
“Opponents,” he said. “Myself and our (assistant) coaches, we watch other games that are going on around the league.”
In addition, he accesses Synergy Sports Technology game footage, which provides “access to film across the world, whether it’s nearby Philippines or Korea or Europe, but I think more FIBA than NBA.”
But isn’t it helpful to watch the amazing exploits of the NBA’s superstars and incorporate those plays into the Sunrockers playbook?
“Just the talent level in the NBA, it’s just hard to compare, ‘Oh well, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson (of the reigning champion Golden State Warriors) can do this; that doesn’t mean that our guys can do that,’ ” Hill said. “So I try to work within the same rules, but just definitely try to learn from everybody.”
With just over one-sixth of the season in the books, the Sunrockers are 5-6, a record that indicates the up-and-down nature of their performance to date.
Indeed, the Sunrockers are a work in progress.
Katsuhisa pointed to “controlling the momentum” as a focal point for improvement.
“We have stretches where things don’t go well,” he said. “We can go through droughts. We can go through dry spells. Part of that’s on me, but trying to figure out as a team how to sustain momentum. If something doesn’t go well, how to get it back.
“I think that’s where we need to get better.”
But Katsuhisa believes the team has laid the groundwork for success this season.
“The strengths I think we have now is we have an identity,” he said. “It’s defense first, and then we build off our defense. We play up-tempo basketball, and the players have to move, the ball has to move.”
Katsuhisa doesn’t want his club to have a one-sided identity, citing “we’re not a pound-it-inside (team), ball stops or one-on-one.”
Instead, he added, the focus is this: “We need to play team basketball with balanced scoring.”
Examining the numbers of Sunday’s 71-59 win over the Yokohama B-Corsairs, Katsuhisa noted that the top Sunrockers scorer, Tomoya Hasegawa, had 14 points, while the next three had 12, 11 and 10.
That balance is the key, according to Katsuhisa, who put it this way: “Offensively, that’s our deal.”
Energetic play is the name of the game for the team’s defense.
“Defensively, we need to pick up full court,” Katsuhisa said. “We apply pressure. We try to sub in guys quickly, so that we keep up the same intensity, the same energy.”
A look ahead
A busy Friday tips off the weekend’s schedule with four series openers: Osaka vs. Mikawa, Nishinomiya vs. Shibuya, Shimane vs. Tokyo and Nagoya vs. Kawasaki.
Five additional two-game sets get underway on Saturday: Yokohama vs. San-en, Toyama vs. Niigata, Tochigi vs. Chiba, Shiga vs. Kyoto and Ryukyu vs. Hokkaido.
The SeaHorses’ J.R. Sakuragi grabbed the 5,000th rebound of his long, successful career in Japan on Oct. 22.
It’s a testament to his consistency over the years. Now 41, the former UCLA Bruins and Vancouver Grizzlies player first suited up for the SeaHorses in 2001.
Asked what the rebounding milestone means to him, Sakuragi responded by saying, “First, I feel the 5,000-rebound milestone is not so much an accomplishment on the court, but a result of success off the court. There is no success on the court if the product (the body) is bad.”
In an interview with The Japan Times, Sakuragi credited the team’s work environment as a key ingredient to what he’s accomplished.
“I feel it’s also a testament to the success of the entire organization,” he added, referring to 5,000 rebounds. “Together we’ve managed to turn the SeaHorses into a team known for its winning tradition. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of.”
After dropping their season-opening game on Sept. 29 against host Tochigi, the SeaHorses have rattled off 10 straight victories.
Sakuragi insisted that his team didn’t have the proper mindset for the opener, which made him disgusted.
“Losing the first game of the season to a team that we were better than definitely rubbed me the wrong way,” he said. “I didn’t see any fire, any passion, any toughness in my teammates’ eyes. The second game during our warmups I saw the same characteristics in my teammates and I stopped the warmups.”
“I took it upon myself to ignite them,” Sakuragi stated. “I let them know that we were not ready to play and it was unacceptable. Including myself. All players responded and the win streak began.
“Looking back I see there was a lack of leadership, and I have vowed to myself not to let it happen again. I’ve only had to stop warmups one time after that.”
After Sunday’s game, Shibuya big man Josh Harrellson, a former NBA player and one of the B. League’s premier rebounders (9.5 per game, seventh-best overall), said the Sunrockers are headed in the right direction performance-wise.
“I think we started at a D grade,” the University of Kentucky alum said, referring to the U.S. school grading system — A represents a top grade in the classroom, with F representing a failing grade.
“But the last two, three weeks, I think we moved up to a B average,” Harrellson continued. “So hopefully in the next couple weeks we’ll move up to an A average and just keep building off that.
“We’re in a tough conference so we’ve got to keep getting better every week.”
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IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5