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Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2007

BJ-LEAGUE

Neumann eager to build winning team in Fukuoka


Staff writer

Building a professional basketball team from scratch requires patience, energy and a never-wavering commitment to promoting the product in nearby communities.

The Rizing Fukuoka have kept busy doing all of the above in northern Kyushu.

And now it's time for John Neumann's club, a first-year bj-league team, to step up on the floor for their first-ever game. The Rizing's season-opening contest pits them against the league's standard bearer of excellence, the two-time reigning champion Osaka Evessa.

Tuesday's tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m.

The 57-year-old Neumann, who arrived in Japan in early September to become the head coach, maintains an optimistic outlook for the Rizing.

"I've got good foreigners," he said by phone last Friday from Fukuoka. "We'll play our Japanese and we'll play an up-scale game.

"If we play like I want us to do, we'll be a threat to anybody."

Neumann said he wants his club to be competitive this season, but he also understands the significance of building a quality fan base from the get-go.

Case in point: forward Ryuichiro Nakazono, guard Jun Nakanishi, a former Tokyo Apache player, and forward Joshua Peppers appeared on a local TV station last Thursday night. On Friday morning, point guard Tsuyoshi Kawazura, Senegalese center Ndongo N'Diaye and Nakanishi were guests on another TV program.

"How can you say no?" Neumann said, referring to interview requests and publicity appearances. "It's a first-year team. . .We are trying to get it (the word) out there to let it be known."

These off-court events have paid off.

"(It's had) a very positive effect, I think, for the players, for the people," said Neumann, a former NBA player whose basketball odyssey has included coaching stops in China and Cyprus, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, Greece and Germany.

"We have generated enthusiasm."

Of course, it didn't hurt that all-time home run king Sadaharu Oh made a recent appearance at one of the team's functions.

"For him to come out, that's a great compliment for the basketball team," Neumann said. "I thanked him and I thought it was classy."

Neumann, who averaged 40.1 points a game as a collegiate star at the University of Mississippi in 1971, called it a "super gesture."

"In words, you really can't express the gratitude for the people of Fukuoka that he came out there," the coach added. "I've met major sports celebrities around the world and that's an honor for me."

Now Neumann turns his attention to molding his team into a successful unit.

"I think a good basketball coach has to adapt to what he inherits," Neumann said.

But a team with a 0-0 record doesn't have an inheritance — not yet. It only has potential.

Therefore, Neumann faces a different challenge: giving this team an identity.

"I think I'm flexible and one of the reasons I'm playing up-tempo defense is because it fits the style of players that we play," Neumann said. "If we play a 40-minute halfcourt game, we're in trouble because we're small," he said.

Hours later, Neumann watched video footage of his first regular-season foe, the Evessa.

For now, his thoughts drift between two continents. His wife, a Moldovan citizen, gave birth to a girl on Sept. 26 in her homeland. The twosome will join Neumann in Japan in the coming months.

And so he'll adjust to life with two new families this season, one of which has a much bigger appetite.

"I try to have a family atmosphere" is the phrase Neumann uses to describe his approach to coaching.

"We're only as good as the last player on our team," he added. "If we can play together as team and live (in harmony), we'll be successful."



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