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Friday, May 15, 2009
Bryant says series should decide title
By ED ODEVEN
A veteran coach, a voice of reason, a passionate advocate for a better and stronger bj-league, Tokyo Apache floor boss Joe Bryant has plenty of suggestions on how to improve the hoop circuit in the future.
One can only hope the league's policymakers pay attention to what he has to say and adopt some of the changes he supports.
For example, Bryant realizes that the league's current playoff format — a two-game series in the conference semifinals (with a 10-minute "mini-game tiebreaker if necessary), followed by a single game against a foe in both rounds of the Final Four — can improve.
Nobody, in fact, would call this the ideal playoff format. And that's one reason why Bryant is not opposed to saying why he would like it to change.
"As far as the playoff system, it is what it is," Bryant said during a recent news conference, pausing to reflect on how the bj-league will crown its 2008-09 champion from among four teams: the Apache, the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix, the Osaka Evessa and the Ryukyu Golden Kings.
"It would be nice to go into the conference finals and the final with the same scenario, but it's really about finances, it's about budget, it's about time, it's about gym space, so all of those things come into play.
"I would love to see the finals and the semifinals be best two-out-of-three. That's where the coaches can really start to play chess with each other," he continued, his voice inflecting the enthusiasm he has for playoff basketball.
"Because that one game is like the NCAA Tournament when you can see Dew Drop State beat Kentucky on that one magic moment, and that is so dangerous, that one magic moment, that one magic game."
Bryant has been the only head coach in Apache history. He has guided the franchise to the playoffs in three of the league's four seasons.
Yes, he's Kobe Bryant's father, and to this generation of basketball aficionados that's his claim to fame. But before Kobe was a household name, "Jellybean" Bryant was a pro player, earning distinction as a high-scoring sensation during his post-NBA days in Italy, from the mid-1980s until the early 1990s. And now he's also recognized as one of the top basketball minds in Japan.
You may know that Tokyo's players call him Jelly, an affectionate reference to his famous moniker from his playing days, and respect his hoop IQ and his willingness to take a hands-off approach to the game. Bryant lets his players ad-lib as a game progresses, but he also points out miscues during timeouts as much as any other coach.
In other words, he's not obsessed with running set play after play.
Time after time, Bryant has spoken about the way flexibility, rather than rigidity, is a welcome tool for basketball players. This enables them to perform on-the-job duties by reacting rather than thinking, and you can compare it to the improvisational skills musicians and actors use during a performance.
"I have full pride in my Japanese players and I take pride in watching them grow," he said, citing Cohey Aoki, Masashi Joho, Jumpei Nakama and Darin Satoshi Maki as greatly improved players during the press conference.
"Anybody who has been here since I've been here the first year knows that's all I talk about — the growth of the Japanese players, and that's what's going to make this league important. Americans or imports are going to come and go.
"What's going to make this (league) thrive is if Japanese players become good players and consistent players."
Listen to Bryant describe the methods he relies on to achieve that goal:
"I think what I'm really trying to do with my Japanese players is give them the freedom to play. I don't want them to be robots. I want them to feel the game and see the game and smell the game, and hopefully I'm successful with doing that. I'm very proud of how those guys have grown and understand the game much better."
Bryant loves to coach, and he possesses a competitive drive that accentuates this personality trait. Indeed, he looks as excited for a game to start as the most passionate, fired-up fan in the arena, and he relishes the chance to guide his team to victory.
That's why, for instance, he advocates a longer, better playoff format. And hey, I agree that it would be more interesting, too.
"So that's what makes it so difficult if you play just the one game to advance," he said. "I would vote for two-out-of-three because that would give the coaches a chance to coach. You can come into the first game and whether you win or lose, you go into that second game and now you are starting to coach, you are starting to adjust to that mismatch, and that's the fun of coaching basketball."
In any language, that translates into fun basketball.
Just ask Apache players, who have benefited from Jellybean's commitment to winning.
Just ask Apache boosters who have joyfully supported a team during its infancy in a league without a storied history.
Just ask opposing teams, who have enjoyed sharing the spotlight with Coach Bryant and making a few comments before, after and during games (naturally, Kobe's name pops up a few times during on-court conversations).