Texas Legends assistant coach Takuma Ito has grown more comfortable in his role as part of the team’s supporting cast this season, his second with the NBA G League club.
Under first-year head coach George Galanopoulos, who also guides the Uganda men’s national team, Ito’s day-to-day responsibilities have increased. From preparing scouting reports to overseeing some skill development drills and individual workouts, the Mie Prefecture native keeps busy.
“I’m constantly talking to assistant coaches about opponents of our team, and the head coach asks me about my opinion, so I feel like I’m more involved,” Ito told The Japan Times in a recent phone interview. “I’m more experienced learning about the G League from last year to this year, so I feel like I can help some more, too.
“Last year was a lot of new things, and a lot of things surprised me. It’s so different from the NCAA when I was there (as a Virginia Commonwealth University team manager), or even from the B. League or NBL.
“Last year, it was more like, ‘Wow, wow, wow.’ And this year, it’s like, ‘OK, I know what’s coming,’ and I anticipate and I kind of knew what I can do to help the team.”
The Legends (24-19), the Dallas Mavericks’ G League affiliate, play their home games in nearby Frisco, Texas. Typically, this time of year is when the 50-game season starts to wind down before the playoffs.
But this isn’t a typical season. Most of the sports world came to a grinding halt this week due to event cancellations, postponements and delays to the start of spring seasons, including MLB and NPB, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The NBA postponed its season on Wednesday. The G League followed with the same announcement on Thursday.
A couple weeks before the G League’s unexpected hiatus (or possible end of the season), Ito discussed how working for the Legends has broadened his knowledge about the game. The 37-year-old is gaining a broader perspective while working under Galanopoulos, who succeeded Bob MacKinnon Jr.
“(There’s) a lot of learning, great people around and it’s been a great experience, a learning experience to be a part of the team,” said Ito, who attended Tualatin (Oregon) High School and Montrose Christian School in Rockville, Maryland, before his VCU days. “I’m more involved this year than last year. It’s the greatest thing for me. It’s a great training program so far.”
For instance, Ito was tasked with concocting a scouting report for a Legends game against the Memphis Hustle, one of Yuta Watanabe’s two teams (he also suits up for the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies). Ito noted that he told Galanopoulos “what they do well. That kind of stuff.”
The assignment also included a presentation in front of the team, pointing out “how they play, their personnel.”
From 2009 to 2015, Ito worked as an assistant and associate head coach for the Toyota Alvark (in the JBL and NBL). As head coach, from 2015-2017, his tenure bridged two eras, the NBL to the B. League. He served two seasons as bench boss for the renamed Alvark Tokyo and posted records of 47-8 in 2015-16 and 44-16 in the latter’s inaugural campaign.
Ito admitted that he’s learning plenty about his native land and American culture at the same time. His time abroad has given him new perspectives.
After 10 years in Japan, Ito pointed out, “I just felt more of a cultural difference in America and Japan but basketball culture, too. Here, of course, I’m learning American basketball, building a connection, but also I’m learning about Japan because I’m an outsider looking in.
“Where before, I was in Japan looking at Japan basketball. I’m in America now looking at Japanese basketball and I’m learning more (of) what Japan may need. Or how can I help.”
Enhancing his coaching credentials is a positive aspect of Ito’s Texas tenure. Helping former Alvark star Yudai Baba, a key contributor on the team’s back-to-back B. League titles the past two seasons, make the transition from Japanese hoops to living and working in the Lone Star State is another.
Baba, a 24-year-old swingman from Toyama, has been a fixture in the Legends lineup this season. In 41 games (five starts), he’s averaging 6.3 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.0 steals in 19.6 minutes.
Ito has watched Baba grow more acclimated to the G League while developing more confidence as the season progressed. For Baba, learning English has been a big factor, too, Ito observed.
“He started understanding English and then he started thinking instead of just playing hard, and he was getting playing time,” said Ito.
Baba is “playing with much more confidence,” Ito commented.
“He understands that every single game he has to go out there and play his game to the maximum of his ability.”
The two met for the first time many years ago, when Baba was a University of Tsukuba freshman, in Las Vegas. Baba was participating in a basketball workout, while the Alvark were holding tryouts.
Move ahead to the 2019-20 G. League season. Nowadays, Baba and Ito converse “constantly,” the coach revealed.
For Baba, dinner at Ito’s house is a regular occurrence, an opportunity to ask his mentor for advice about basketball and American life.
“It’s his first time living in America, so it’s a lot of things he just does not know yet. So I hope I’m helping him,” Ito said with a laugh.
Naturally, the Legends duo pay attention to what’s happening on their team, but Watanabe’s success with the Hustle (including a career-high 40-point game against the Delaware Blue Coats on Jan. 22) gives them something else to talk about.
After all, Watanabe inspires Baba and gives him a measuring stick, according to Ito.
“When he was in Japan, he has no idea if he has 20 points — is that a good thing, a bad thing?” Ito said. “But now he knows how hard it is to play well like Yuta does (in the G League). They’ve got a good relationship going on and, I’m sure, motivate each other.”