Basketball / NBA

Antonio Lang enjoying Summer League coaching challenge, seeing growth of Japanese basketball

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

One familiar face for Japanese basketball fans is currently serving as a head coach during the ongoing NBA Summer League.

Antonio Lang, a former long-time player and coach in Japan, is leading the wannabe Cleveland Cavaliers team here.

Antonio Lang was hired by the Cleveland Cavaliers as an assistant under new bench boss John Beilein this summer. Lang had worked as a Utah Jazz assistant for the past five seasons.

Now, he will take the second assistant chair behind J.B. Bickerstaff, so it’s a promotion for him.

Lang was the sideline supervisor for the NBL’s Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins, who are now called the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins in the B. League, for four years through the 2014-15 campaign.

Asked how it feels to be a head coach for the first time since he was with the Dolphins, Lang said after Sunday’s 82-75 win over the Chicago Bulls at Thomas & Mack Center: “It’s different (being a head coach in the NBA). But it’s good. I mean, I think I got a little better (than when I was with the Dolphins).”

Lang said that he learned so much from his tenure in Japan and would not have had the post he has now.

“I learned to be poised when things are hectic. I learned when to call timeouts. Game clock. … Everything I got,” Lang said. “I mean, if it wasn’t for Japanese basketball, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. That’s the reason why I got hired by Utah. And then from there, I just got the opportunity to learn from great people there. And then I came here, (to) learn from Coach Beilein. It’s just been great from the beginning. But it all started in Japan.”

And Lang, who has visited Japan every summer to host coaching clinicssince his departure from the this country, is happy to share the court with the four Japanese players in the Summer League: the Washington Wizards’ Rui Hachimura, Memphis Grizzlies’ Yuta Watanabe, Dallas Mavericks’ Yudai Baba and New Orleans Pelicans’s Makoto Hiejima.

“I love it. I’m so happy for Japan. Some people say, I think, I’m part Japanese. I mean, I wish I was,” Lang said jokingly. “But just for what they are doing in basketball right now and (toward) the Olympics, I talked to Watanabe a little bit. (I told him) ‘Man, be aggressive. Shoot the ball.’ I’d say the same thing to Hachimura. What it’s going to do is going to spur a lot of future NBA players, I think.

“With the exposure that you guys have given them, I just think it’s great as a whole. That’s all I ever want for Japan. I’m trying to pay them back for what they did for me. And those guys here, hopefully, one day, I have a chance to coach one of them.”

While the addition of Baba and Hiejima, who usually compete in the B. League, to Summer League rosters, might be considered a bit of a surprise, Lang insisted “that’s what happens.”

“It only takes one to start the change,” said Lang, who played for several NBA teams as a forward. “Think about Spain. The Olympic Games, when they had Gasol. Think about France. Think about Australia. Now here, we have a guy that’s in the (NBA) Draft. Hachimura’s a first-round pick. Watanabe’s playing. He had an opportunity.

“Now, you have Baba, now you have Hiejima. And all these guys are trying to make it. So it’s good. I mean, I think that’s the sign for the NBA to get in the Japanese market. I think from here on out, everything’s going to blossom.”

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