Utah Jazz assistant coach Antonio Lang returned to Japan this year for the third straight summer, to share the knowledge and experience he’s learned in the NBA with the country’s coaches and players.
As an NBA assistant, Lang is busy for most of the year, but was delighted to spend some time in his second home, where he spent almost 15 years as a player and coach.
Lang was in Japan for nearly two weeks from July 23, traveling across the country making various stops in places like Toyama, Okayama and Nagoya.
Lang has repeatedly stressed that he’s indebted to Japan, because he thinks he would not be where he is now without his time in the country. The 46-year-old said the Jazz hired him because of his experience as head coach of the Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins of the Japanese NBL (the club is called the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins, now in the B. League).
“So I thought it was imperative to come back,” Lang told The Japan Times during an interview in Tokyo. “And I just basically try to help basketball (in Japan) get stronger again. That’s the reason why I come back.”
Lang added that he wants to help Japan “make a jump like Spain and Australia did after the Olympics.”
“I basically just showed them some drills, told them a little bit of our terminologies, a little bit of what we are trying to do, different ways doing it,” the former Duke University and NBA forward said. “And also with my experience and my history here, I kind of knew certain things that we do won’t work here. So I kind of tell that to the coaches. It’s pretty good.”
In fact, Lang said he was sometimes the one listening during his stay. For instance, he served as a guest speaker at an “S license” (the highest-ranked coaching license in Japan) workshop for top coaches and players at the National Training Center. There, he said, he “picked their brain about stuff, too.”
Dialogues to share coaching concepts and philosophies with coaches of other teams and even of different levels are commonplace in U.S. sports.
Actually, Don Beck used to run coaching clinics in Tokyo when he was head coach of the Toyota Alvark (now called the Alvark Tokyo) a few years ago. The American has now become the bench boss for the Toyama Grouses ahead of the upcoming B. League season. The clinics would draw coaches from all levels in Japan, and Lang was a guest lecturer once.
“That’s what I got the ideas from,” Lang said of the clinics put on by Beck, who he called “a master or mentor in Japan.”
Lang also referred to Igor Kokoslov, who became the NBA’s first head coach born and raised outside of North America when he was hired by the Phoenix Suns over this offseason. Kokoslov has been an assistant for several NBA teams, including the Jazz, where he and Lang worked together.
Lang said the Serbian native was another catalyst who “sparked the idea of starting this clinic over here.”
Lang said he was “definitely” inspired by his former colleague getting a head coaching job in the NBA. He insists he eventually wants to become a head coach himself, but that he still isn’t ready and has “a lot to learn.”
“Hopefully, within the next two years or so, I get the experience, I get the opportunity,” Lang said. “And why not? Why not me? People say why you? And I say why not me? So let’s see.
“It’s kind of like I’m happy with the journey. And I’m just going to see where it’s going to take me.”
While Kokoslov is the best example, it’s hasn’t been rare for NBA teams to hire non-American coaches in recent years — the Jazz hired Greek coach Fotios Katsikaris as an assistant this offseason. They have also begun hiring female coaches.
Lang stressed that the game and its coaching has evolved, and that while things done in the NBA are exported to Europe, the NBA take ideas from Europe as well. He added that it “only makes sense” to have international coaches in the NBA.
“Coaching is coaching,” he said. “In our league, if you can do the job, that’s all that matters.”
With that being said, Lang doesn’t consider it a long shot to imagine a Japanese coach on the sidelines in the NBA one day.
“There are great coaches, coaches that I learned from,” Lang said of Japanese coaches. “Yeah, they can.”
Of course, one has to be able to speak English. But if he, or she, is qualified enough, Lang said all you have to do is “find someone to give you a chance.”
“It’s all about connecting with people,” said Lang, who was hired by the Quin Snyder-led Jazz in 2014. “Of course, it has a lot to do with if you can do it or not. But it has a lot to do with relationships. That’s why it’s good to have international coaches here (in the B. League). That’s why it’s good to get coaches from the NBA, to talk to coaches (and) start building relationships. That’s all it’s about.”
Meanwhile, Lang thinks Japan has a bright future as well with the emergence of youngsters Rui Hachimura and Yuta Watanabe.
“I think both of those guys have a chance to make the NBA,” he said. “I think if they make it, or when they make it, because I think they will, it gives kids someone look up to. So you’ve got to start working with the younger guys, because they’re the future in this league. I think they’re the future with the national team.”