TOKYO - Reggie Geary's defensive skills and hoop smarts carried him to success throughout his collegiate career with Lute Olson's Arizona Wildcats in the mid-1990s.
Those traits served him well during a short NBA stint and a pro career overseas, and helped him as a coach during two tenures as a UA assistant and as head coach for the NBA Development League's Anaheim Arsenal.
Now 38, Geary is making a name for himself in Japan's fledgling pro basketball league, which began play in the fall of 2005 with six teams and now features 19 teams.
Geary was named the Basketball Japan League's 2011-12 Coach of the Year. His Yokohama B-Corsairs finished third in the Japan-BJ League last month after placing second in the 10-team Eastern Conference during the regular season, winning their final nine games.
He recently discussed what shaped his coaching philosophy and obstacles he faced in leading his new Japanese team.
What's been the top challenge(s) coaching Yokohama?
A: My biggest challenges coming into this year was first and foremost getting familiar with my players - eight Japanese, four Americans and one Senegalese - and seeing where we were at as a unit. Many of the Japanese players had some professional experience and differing degrees of success in their careers, but I was unfamiliar with them. All of the Americans at the time were either in their first or second year out of college; so they were still young and inexperienced at the pro level.
Becoming a cohesive unit is the challenge and fun for me as a coach in developing from the very first day. The next challenge was dealing with the language barrier. I was fortunate to have an assistant coach/translator in Michael Katsuhisa, who was able to assist me in this area, but getting my philosophies across as to how I believe the game should be played effectively and efficiently presented a challenge - and still does - at times.
And third was learning the style of play here in Japan. All the countries where I've played or coached have signature characteristics on style of play, and Japan is no different.
What's the chief strength of this team?
A: Versatility on both sides of the ball has become one of our strongest points as the year has gone on. With the number of teams in this league - 19 - with different sizes and strengths, not to mention coaches both foreign - Greek, Croatian and American - and domestic, and you have a league with a wide range of different styles of play. Players like Justin Burrell (St. John's), the league MVP, Marcus Simmons (USC), the 2011 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, and the outside shooting ability of Masayuki Kabaya and Draelon Burns (DePaul), for example, have really given us good flexibility to play inside and out and change up defenses.
How much insight or interaction have you had with former Wildcats teammates and/or UA coaching staff members during this season?
A: Right before coming to Japan, Coach Olson had a dinner for former players at his house, where I had the opportunity to talk a little about his experiences in Japan. I also spoke with Coach Sean Miller and sat down with University of Arizona assistant coach James Whitford talking X's and O's.
Over the season, I've spoken with a number of coaches at the collegiate and professional level who have been very supportive of me and what I am doing, but none more so than legendary Los Angeles-area coach Dave Yanai, the retired Cal State-L.A. head coach. Coach Yanai is a big reason I'm in this position.
College hoops is a hot ticket in Tucson. Here in Japan, basketball does sell, but it's never been called No. 1 on the list of top sports. How would you describe the enthusiasm?
A: One of the biggest enjoyments … has been seeing our fan base grow. Having now spent a season in the league, it was nice to see a number of organizations really drawing well. … Our very first road game we had a traveling party of one fan. In the final regular-season games of the year that were on the road, we had a traveling party of 40 vociferous fans! A very proud moment. … We still have some work to go to get more fans, but the future is bright.