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Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012
Asian coaching veteran Humphries seeking shot on sidelines in Japan
By ED ODEVEN
A ringing endorsement from someone who has worked at the elite level in his chosen profession probably couldn't hurt, eh?
Well, former NBA guard Jay Humphries, who's seriously interested in coaching in the bj-league, can thank a pair of veteran sideline supervisors for dishing out very flattering insight in recent days.
"Jay is a very experienced NBA former player and coach. A great teacher who is patient in developing young players," Toronto Raptors bench boss Dwane Casey told Hoop Scoop recently. "He is a diligent worker who has worked at becoming a good coach.
"Jay would work well in Japan because he has a great temperament that would work well in Japan. He is a good communicator for young players."
Bob Hill, the former coach of the Knicks, Spurs, Pacers and SuperSonics and now-defunct Tokyo Apache of the bj-league, agreed with Casey's general remarks.
"Jay is a really good person and an excellent coach," Hill wrote in an email. "I think all good coaches are eager to learn."
Humphries, who celebrated his 50th birthday in October, is weighing his options for the immediate future and considers the bj-league one of his choices. He's confident in his coaching ability and his overall knowledge of the game make him a strong candidate to return to Asia in the fledgling league.
Hiring a well-rounded hoop lifer like Humphries, it says here, would add gravitas — and even some prestige — to the bj-league coaching ranks.
His youthful exuberance would be a welcome addition to Japan's upstart circuit, which needs bona fide mentors and leaders to teach the game to the current generation of pros here.
"My experience shows in the things that I say," Humphries said by phone from his Colorado home, explaining how his NBA background helped him teach the game while working in pro leagues in China and South Korea over the past decade. "I'll find the connection with whoever it may be."
From 1984-95, the California native played in the NBA, starting with the Phoenix Suns (1984-88). He was Phoenix's 13th overall draft pick in '84, coming out of the University of Colorado. He then played for the Milwaukee Bucks, Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics, averaging 11.1 points and 5.5 assists in his career.
All those minutes on the court, including his pre-collegiate days in Inglewood, California, taught Humphries how to play the game and, more important, how to see it develop as action unfolded before his very eyes.
"I'm biased, of course, but as a guard, especially a point guard, you see every aspect of things happening on the floor, and you are always talking, so you are the messenger," Humphries said. "So, as a result, to be a good one you have to understand everything that's going on, every situation.
"As a point guard, you're always learning in a classroom, in games, in film study . . . and it's no different than being a quality quarterback on a football team."
A few years after his playing days, Humphries made the natural transition to coaching. In 2001, he worked as an associate head coach for the Chinese Basketball Association's Jilin Northeastern Tigers and had a five-year stint in the Korean Basketball League, three as associate head coach for the Wonju TG Xers, and two as the Inchon ET Land Black Slamer head coach.
Humphries helped guide Wonju to a pair of championships before returning to the United States and working as the first coach for the NBA Development League's Reno Big Horns (2008-10), and then returning to China for a year to lead the Foshan Long Lions.
In between his time as a Celtic and our phone conversation last week, he has also worked in advance scouting for the Los Angeles Lakers, been a Phoenix Suns assistant coach (for Mike D'Antoni in 2007-08) and served on the Memphis Grizzlies' NBA Summer League coaching staff this year.
Due to an ownership change in Memphis, Humphries' offer to join Lionel Hollins' staff was called off. "The team was not taking on any new contracts," was how Humphries described his dilemma.
So he's taking it easy these days, relaxing, handling domestic duties (he and his wife, Angelica, have four children), and plotting his next move.
The D-League season — 50 games, two less than the schedule the bj-league has had since the 2008-09 campaign — is quite comparable to the daily grind in the latter. And Humphries recognizes this.
"I do feel that my work in the D-League will be an asset (in Japan)," he told me, not needing to state that a growing number of D-League vets have joined bj-league teams in recent years as the league continues to expand. "I have a proven track record as a coach and player. It also helps that I have many NBA coaching ties and have worked on three different NBA staffs."
While playing for Del Harris on the Bucks, Humphries enhanced his reputation as a quality competitor and formed a lasting relationship with the well-regarded mentor.
"I will never forget a compliment that was given to me by Del Harris," Humphries recalled. "He told me that I was one of the smartest players he ever coached. It was an honor to hear that because he has coached a list of Hall of Fame players and all-pros during his tenure.
"We are in constant contact no matter where I am in this world."
* * *
Humphries' varied experiences as a player, scout and coach have prepared him well for a new challenge.
He looks back fondly on his time in China and South Korea, but said he's interested in gaining new memories working in another fledgling Asian league.
His close ties to Hill, Toyama Grouses coach Bob Nash (the latter had offered him a job when he was leading the University of Hawaii men's team) and Sendai 89ers head coach Bob Pierce (they've worked together at hoop camps in China) have given him a greater perspective on the challenges that the bj-league faces in its formative years than other coaches without his connections, but Humphries is not the boastful type.
Instead, his primary focus is to teach the game and build a title contender at the same time.
And it starts with the fundamentals, regardless of the location. In addition, working with a translator comes naturally to Humphries.
"I've done it for 10 years," he said. "I understand the pause, the look on the player's face. . . . But we go through a multitude of situations in practice settings, so we can correct those things (mistakes).
"I keep myself in great shape. I emulate everything I say — I do it, I show it, I explain it."
He chose the pick-and-roll to illustrate his larger point. The key, he said, is repetition for the players.
"When I teach something and explain it, it's not because I look at it outside in, but inside out. I've been in the situation 100 times," he said. "What you need to see from the pick-and-roll, it's not from looking at film but being in that situation. I teach that to players from around the world, taking it to them from a point as far as understanding where they are.
"The player understands if you are speaking as though you've been in that situation before, or if you are standing outside of the bubble trying to explain some things that could happen."
Humphries saw it all during a productive NBA career — 788 regular-season games and 41 postseason contests — great performances and ordinary ones. He got his start in the NBA under John MacLeod, who "taught me a lot about understanding some things in life," he said.
"Turning from a college kid into a professional athlete, where people look up to you . . . and what you have to do to make those things work," he added.
Later in his career, former Utah Jazz mentor Jerry Sloan, one of the longest-tenured head coaches in North American sports history with the same franchise (1988-2011), helped Humphries' maturation take another big step.
"He was a guy who was straight forward (with you)," Humphries said of Sloan. "Whenever anything happened, you knew he would speak to you as a man. Then it was over."
As a player or coach, Humphries has proven time after time that's he's a true competitor. He's a leader who'd add passion, decades of hoop expertise and a desire to excel to any team looking to think progressively.
In Humphries' own view, every coaching stop has been memorable and helped him continue developing as a basketball leader.
"My first year in Korea, I worked for the TG Xers in Wonju," he said. "It was a team that came in dead last the previous year. We, as a coaching staff, instituted new systems and philosophies during the season. It was midway through the season when it all started to click ,and when the players bought into the systems, we won the first championship."
It could happen again for Jay Humphries in Japan. He just needs a shot.