by JASON WILLIAMS
February 11, 2011
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Bob Hill strides onto the court at Shinjuku Cosmic Center as he has so many times before in basketball stadiums in locales as far-flung as China, Italy, France, Venezuela and beyond.
A 62-year-old American dressed in Tokyo Apache purple and gold taking his place at mid-court may not seem to be that significant, but each time Hill stands among his players, the meaning is clear to Japanese basketball circles: Basketball’s global pied piper has arrived, and it’s time to get to work.
The well-traveled Hill is in his first season with the Apache, the latest stop in a coaching career spanning over 30 years. He’s the first bj-league coach with NBA head coaching experience, having a 297-212 overall record with stints at the New York Knicks, San Antonio Spurs and Seattle Supersonics. His diverse career has helped make the transition to Japan easier.
“I spent a year in Italy,” Hill says prior to a team practice. “I’ve been overseas before, and I know how important, as an American, it is to let my guard down and embrace Japanese culture. I think that always makes your transition a lot easier and a lot better.” Hill was hand-picked by the Apache’s new American ownership group, Evolution Capital Management, to help deliver a quality on-court product and help with the promotion of the game as a whole in Japan.
“I think the players love him. He’s a true professional,” says team president Chris Hetherington. “He’s a teacher first and foremost, and he’s a mentor. He’s a special guy.”
His reputation preceded him to Japan, allowing the Apache to make a splash in the offseason by signing big man Jeremy Tyler, who NBA scouts are keeping tabs on, and veteran center Robert Swift, both of whom were attracted by Hill’s presence.
“He’s knows his stuff,” Tyler says. “I know he cares about me like a son. He’s teaching me how to become a good player, but a good man and good teammate first.” Tyler came to learn from Hill in hopes of being chosen in the 2011 NBA draft, while it was like returning home for Swift, who played for Hill in Seattle.
“It’s amazing how that worked out,” Swift says. “My funnest year was playing for him. He told me he was coming out here. No way I could turn it down.”
Hill is adapting to his new role as a basketball ambassador and coach and has been impressed with his Japanese charges. He’s had to adjust, though, to the Japanese style of play and an unfamiliar approach to competition.
“From an X and O standpoint, you’re dealing with more zone (defense), and I’ve had to adjust,” Hill says, adding that “the hard part right now is not knowing the other players on the teams. I don’t know them. I don’t like to evaluate players on tape. I’m not very good at it, so it’s better for me to see them in person. So the first time we play a team, I don’t like it.
“It’s like when we played Shimane, and they had (Takumi) Ishizaki. He’s really good. I had no idea he was as good as he was, so we didn’t cover him the way we should’ve. The next night, we covered him differently and did a good job on him.”
Though Hill’s been at this for a long time and is far from his native Ohio, he’s still enjoying the ride.
“It’s been a lot of fun and a pleasure,” he says just before heading off to the court. “I was in South America, in Venezuela, Puerto Rico, France, I’ve been everywhere. To be able to travel around and have a positive impact on basketball in another country is a great feeling. To make a difference on the players’ game and in a team’s history is just a great feeling. It’s been a lot of fun, and I’m still having fun.” — (JW)
Under Heatherington and Hill, the Apache players are reaching out to kids in the community
“The Apache organization has a great commitment to the children of Tokyo,” says Ryan Goldstein, the Nishimachi International School Father’s Group Coordinator. Goldstein, who is an attorney with Quinn Emanuel in Tokyo, has taken on the role of helping the team with family relations, organizing school events and coordinating meet-and-greets with the team. “When you see a guy who is over 2 meters tall, lifting up a child to dunk the ball, you know you have a great group of guys.”
Apache head coach Bob Hill always tells kids about how hard the players on the team work, stressing that he’s proud of his men and their accomplishments both on and off the court. Hill says that the players have families, they work in their communities, and they come together to play great basketball.
Apache president Chris Hetherington also reaches out to families, making it easy for them to come to games by offering ticket deals and special evenings for various schools to come out as a group. At each home game, two costumed mascots dance with kids, creating a great atmosphere for all. The Apache dance team, The Tokyo Girls, have a wonderful show as well, and their moves and music liven up the atmosphere of the arena.
“It can be an experience for the whole family,” Goldstein says. “The guys are accessible and the whole team wants kids to come out and have fun.” — (Aimee Weinstein)