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Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012

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Pass it on: Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins head coach Antonio Lang draws on what he learned as a player under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke University. KAZ NAGATSUKA

No regrets for Lang after rejecting Duke

Staff writer

KAWASAKI — Antonio Lang said he had a chance to become an assistant coach for his mentor Mike Krzyzewski at his alma mater Duke University, but chose instead to stay in Japan to be an assistant for the Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins.

It probably sounds crazy. Lang agreed with a big laugh.

"When Johnny Dawkins left (from an assistant coach's job at Duke), he went to Stanford, I actually had an interview for an assistant coach job vacancy," said Lang, who now serves as the head coach of Mitsubishi in the Japan Basketball League, after his team's 73-68 loss to the Toshiba Brave Thunders in their season-opening game at Kawasaki's Todoroki Arena last Friday.

"And it was the year I was the assistant coach (at Mitsubishi) and I had a chance to be the next head coach. So I said no, I'm coming here.

"It's just a timing thing and that worked out here."

Lang, 40, has no regrets whatsoever. Not really knowing what to expect when he first landed in Japan as a player for Mitsubishi, he eventually became fascinated by the culture and people and now hopes to stay for a long time, helping Japanese basketball grow.

"Japan's been good to me," said Lang, who played for Mitsubishi from 2001 to 2006 and served as an assistant for the following three seasons before becoming the floor general in 2010.

"I love this country and want to be here as long as I am possibly going to be. I have no ambitions to go anywhere else."

On the basketball court, where Japan is trying to find ways to become more competitive, Lang dedicates himself to being part of that development. And in doing so, he utilizes the knowledge and experience he built up in the United States, including the things he learned from Coach K (Krzyzewski) and in his six-year stint in the NBA as a player.

One of the main things that Lang wants to do at Mitsubishi is build a strong bond within the team, because that is something that made it possible for Duke to achieve back-to-back national titles in 1991 and 1992.

"Coach K always uses this analogy that you have five guys on the court and you always got to play as one unit like a fist," said Lang, who was drafted 29th overall by the Phoenix Suns in 1994. "And the things that connect the five entities into the fist and make it stronger is communication. That's the biggest key."

Having future NBA players like Los Angeles Clipper Grant Hill (he and Lang were roommates at Duke), Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley on the same team was obviously a huge advantage for Duke. Lang says, however, the things they accomplished would not have been possible with the players acting as five separate fingers.

"We were such a tight team and a close team, on and off the court," Lang said of the Blue Devils.

Lang now borrows an analogy from Coach K, the winningest NCAA coach with 927 victories, to use with his players in the locker room.

"If you have five people working individually, it's vulnerable," said the native of Mobile, Alabama. "But if you come together, one unit. . . And the communication is the thing that keeps it together. It's something we're on a process right now, trying to get that, to build that type of trust that we had at Duke."

Lang's golden age at Duke was two decades ago, however, and many young fans and players may not even know about it.

"I have no problem," he said. "The only thing I'm concerned about is to make Japanese basketball stronger, make Mitsubishi stronger."

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