Many people have been stuck inside during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
However, that hasn’t necessarily limited how active they’ve been able to be, nor has it stopped them from absorbing new things.
For basketball coach Shunsuke Todo, the quarantine period was a great opportunity for him and his fellow Japanese coaches to broaden their horizons by learning from some of the most-renowned coaches on the international level.
Todo, the bench boss for the B. League second-division team Earthfriends Tokyo Z, has hosted a series of online seminars since the beginning of May, capitalizing on his international connections in bringing in successful coaches like David Blatt, Jimmy Alapag and Antonio Lang.
“There are a lot of young coaches in Japan, but they are capable as coaches and eager to study,” the 42-year-old Todo told the Japan Times on the phone last week. “I have a lot of information (about the style of basketball played by different teams in different countries), but I wanted to see what would happen if I shared what I have with them.”
The number of participating coaches, whose levels extend from youth and school teams to the B. League, has exceeded Todo’s anticipation. The Sapporo native, who has previously served as a head coach and assistant for several Japanese teams and the Japan men’s national team, said the event has consistently drawn more than 200 applicants.
In the events, which are dubbed “Get Better Now Zoom Seminar,” guest speakers have touched on wide variety of topics based on their own experiences.
Alapag, a former star point guard for the Philippines national team who currently coaches the San Miguel Alab Pilipinas of the ASEAN Basketball League, spoke about team building, sharing his experience of having served as an assistant for the Sacramento Kings during last year’s NBA Summer League.
Lang, a former player and head coach in Japan and currently an assistant for the Cleveland Cavaliers, spoke about scouting teams and players in the NBA. Washington Wizards assistant David Adkins, who coached Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant and a couple of Japanese players at the nationally acclaimed Montrose Christian High School, discussed some of the warmup drills he uses for his players.
Established Italian head coach Fabrizio Frates introduced his pick-and-roll offense, which is a significant element in basketball around the world.
Blatt joined as the latest lecturer this past weekend. The 61-year-old devoted two days — Saturday and Sunday morning in Japan — to share his experiences of coaching in the NBA and Europe.
Blatt, who won the EuroLeague title for Maccabi Tel Aviv as their courtside supervisor in 2014 and led the Cavs to the NBA Finals in 2015, shared coaching philosophies and team-building approaches for establishing up-tempo offenses in both Europe and the NBA.
All the coaches took questions from the floor during their sessions, which were over two hours each, and some of the Japanese coaches were fortunate enough to speak with them directly.
When one coach asked Blatt what kind of advice he would give to coaches in their 20s and 30s, Blatt stressed the importance of being active, staying connected with other coaches and finding ways to stay associated with the game.
“Be active in the profession,” said Blatt, who served as head coach for Greece’s Olympiacos through the 2018-19 season. “Always continue to educate yourself, if you are not working (on a team) or if you are working on only one team, or if you are not particularly engaged (in) studying. Do what you are doing right now. Find courses, find clinics, find a coach or coaches that will let you come to practice. Study the game, educate yourself. Talk to other coaches, ask questions, share ideas.”
The Israeli American, who guided Russia’s men to a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last year. He has recently become a half-owner of Czech Republic club BC Brno.
Todo, who played college ball at NCAA Division III school Rowan University in New Jersey, wasn’t sure if he would continue the webinar program after featuring Blatt as the quarantines and lockdowns have been lifted in many countries.
Citing the examples of renowned NBA coaches like Greg Popovich and Steve Kerr holding clinics in Europe, Todo said he hopes to see similar events in Japan and intends to continue working toward breaking down barriers between Japanese basketball and the rest of the world.
“They are doing things like that overseas, where you can attend an event of a coach that just won an NBA championship and ask him a question,” Todo insisted. “But I don’t think Japan’s gotten there yet. I’d like to break the informational and cultural barriers that exist here.”