Rebel Great Makes Name in Japan

TOKYO (AP) Coaching in Japan is the latest stop on Johnny Neumann's international basketball adventure. It may also be the toughest.

Former Ole Miss star Neumann, who played in the ABA and NBA in the United States, previously coached in Germany, Greece, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon and China before landing a job this season with Rizing Fukuoka in Japan's professional basketball league.

Not only is Rizing Fukuoka an expansion team, Neumann is pretty much on his own as he tries to get the team some respect in the 10-team league.

"It's completely different here," Neumann said. "In all the other leagues I've coached in, I've had experienced basketball people around me. But that's not the case here."

As if that wasn't enough, Neumann has a 4 1/2-month old daughter he's never seen and his wife is in Moldova trying to get the necessary papers for travel to Japan.

Not that Neumann is complaining. If anyone can handle the challenges of coaching in a foreign country, Neumann should be up to the task.

He's been overseas as a player or coach almost constantly since his last season in the NBA with the Indiana Pacers in 1978.

"I've always wanted to coach in Japan," he said. "I took less money than I could have had elsewhere, but I wanted the challenge of coaching here."

Fukuoka is currently fourth in the five-team Western Conference with an 8-14 record.

The team had a 10-point lead heading into the fourth quarter against Joe Bryant's Tokyo Apache on Sunday before losing 98-94.

"We really wanted to win that game," Neumann said. "But we're the poorest team in the league and we don't have a lot of options."

Neumann got the chance to coach in Japan after Howie Landa was hired for the job but had to return to the United States for family reasons before the start of the season.

As a player, Neumann's career started with promise. He averaged more than 40 points per game at Ole Miss in 1972-73 but only managed a modest 13.2 points per game over five seasons in the ABA and two in the NBA.

Neumann admits to attitude problems as a player and is now trying to use his coaching experience to help young players mature.

"I was a bit of jerk at times," Neumann said. "But with coaching, it's all about the players. You judge a coach on how well he develops the players he's inherited, on how well these kids are going to be next year."

If his experience in China is any indication, Fukuoka should be in for a brighter future.

As head coach of the Zhejiang Gungsha Lions in 2006, Neumann led the team to 13 wins in 14 games and promotion to the Chinese Basketball Association, the country's top pro league.


 

 

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