Interview with Lance Allred
Posted on Feb. 21, 2012
Last week, Kyoto Hannaryz center Lance Allred took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his first season in the bj-league and his impressions of the league, his season and life in Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital. The veteran center, a former NBA, D-League (and University of Utah and Weber State player), is averaging 13.9 points and 10.2 rebounds for the Hannaryz, who are 22-10 and in third place in the nine-team Western Conference.
-Let's begin with by asking, what are your thoughts on your play this season?
Obviously every player feels they could do better. I always do. There are still missed shots that I replay in my head from every game so far this season, that I feel I should have made. But sometimes the ball just doesn’t go your way, and that is life. All you can do is be honest with yourself when you ask, “Are you playing as hard and most importantly as smart as you can every night?” And if the answer is yes, then there is no reason to hang your head in disappointment. It has been a tough season as far as injuries for me having battled a season long plantar fasciitis issue, which led me to spraining the ankle on that same foot twice so far this season, as well as throwing out my back, incurring some pretty uncomfortable spasms due to me favoring my foot so badly. I feel that if I was 100 percent healthy I would be able to perform better or at least up to my personal standards, but that is the way it is right now, and so again, if I can say that I am playing as hard as I can every game, every possession, then there is no shame in that.
-How the team's season is shaping up, from training camp to now, with the focus to keep improving before the playoffs?
We had an impressive 12-game win streak, but since then we made a roster change and we are still in the process of figuring out some rotation patterns, forcing us all, from coach to players to adjust. But I think we are finally getting it settled. As well, teams are now zoning or automatically double teaming (ex-Minnesota Timberwolves draft pick) Rick Rickert and I, that it has forced us as a team to truly adjust midseason our whole offensive scheme. And that is tough. With no illegal defense rules like in the NBA, teams can better protect their poor defensive players or mismatches, by zoning or basically cheating on defense. And Rick and I together are a handful down low, and so now teams are packing it in the key on defense, rarely allowing me and RIck to get catches where we want and make a move. So the teams pack it in and basically dare our teammates to shoot it from outside. And so we as a team are continually working on that, and I as well as everyone else, have confidence that we can get it on the right path, to finish the season strong and into the playoffs.
-Rate the quality of imports in this league in comparison to other leagues you've played in?
This league actually has some impressive imports, who know how to play basketball. They are actually pretty athletic, maybe even more athletic than many of the Americans that play in Europe. But like me, most of the guys here and have tried the European system, and are done with that. The European system is a gamble right now as far as getting paid, let alone two practices a day, for five days a week, with only one game a week. The system here in Japan is much more player friendly, with pay on time, and an easier work load on the body, preserving us for longer careers. And most of the imports here have figured that out and that is why I feel Japan, as basketball continues to grow, will continue to attract more and more high caliber players away from other risky markets.
-What's unique, interesting, memorable and different about the bj-league compared to other leagues you've participated in?
The bj-league, as far as other international leagues outside of the U.S., is the probably the fastest paced league I have ever played again, again outside of the D-League and NBA. The sport court was kind of a shock for me when I first played on it here but I don’t even notice it any more. I have not once slipped on the sport court during a game, so I don’t have any complaints about that. The two-(import) limit in the second quarter (the rest of the game it is a three-import limit) is challenging, but it forces one to be patient and to truly have faith and trust in one’s teammates. But by far and away, the boosters and fans here are the most loyal I have ever seen in any league I have every played in. Win or lose, they are there to have your back when you walk out of the gym. No sad faces, no disappointed stares, just optimism, and that is so rewarding to play for, knowing your fans have your back, no matter what the outcome. You can’t help but to love them.
-And what's been most enjoyable thus far for you here in Japan, while living in Kyoto and playing for the Hannaryz?
When I first walked into the Golden Pavilion, or Kinkaku-ji temple, for the first time, it was mind blowing. Nijo castle, the Imperial Palace, Fushimi Castle are all amazing. It really is so fascinating for me, a college history major, to be able to call this city with so much history, my home. But what has been the most enjoyable thus far, is being able to play for a team and a coach (Honoo Hamaguchi) that respects you, pays you on time and basically treats you like a human being. You would be surprised, but that is actually pretty hard to come by in the world of professional basketball. And so when you do get this opportunity, like the one I have right now in Kyoto, you have to remind yourself every day just how grateful you are: very grateful.
-Would you consider signing with Kyoto again?
If Kyoto offered me an honest extension tomorrow, I would sign it in a heartbeat. I love it here, and if I knew I would be able to call Kyoto my home for the next five years, I would be a very lucky and fortunate man. But at this phase in my life, I have learned to accept whatever will be, will be. If I am meant to be in Kyoto next season, then I will, and I will be grateful.
INTERVIEW WITH GABRIEL HUGHES
(Posted on Feb. 18, 2012)
Center Gabriel Hughes, who played for Pac-10's California Golden Bears before embarking on a pro career, suited up for the Oita HeatDevils in the bj-league's inaugural season, 2005-06. The well-traveled big man who has the bj-league No. 3 rebounder in 2005-06 (11.46 boards per game) and No. 3 in blocks (1.73).
Hughes, 31, returned to the bj-league for the 2011-12 season and had optimistic, upbeat things to say about the league's development and the growth of the sport here, speaking out about these topics in a lengthy interview on Nov. 6.
Weeks later, Hughes was released by the Saitama Broncos due to what the team described as health issues that prevent him from being able to play basketball.
Hughes said he has documentation that shows he is able to play basketball, and that proper medication will enable him to do so for many years to come.
Despite meetings with team officials and Toshimitsu Kawachi, the bj-league commissioner, the Broncos have not changed their stance on Hughes' condition.
Since our conversation on Nov. 6, Hughes' opinion of the Broncos and the way its front office conducts business has changed dramatically.
To put it mildly, Hughes has nothing good to say about Toshihiko Narita, the team's longtime president/general manager.
Making matters worse, the Broncos have ticked off Hughes' agent. Agents, of course are always ready to spread the word about teams and leagues that do not stand up to their end of agreements (contracts and payments, especially), play by the rules or follow the golden rule ("Do unto others as you would have others do unto you"), or, for that matter, have a pattern of operating their business in a professional manner.
The more this reporter has spoken to former and current members of the Saitama organization, the clearer it has become that Narita is not interested in devoting himself to winning or treating players and team employees with respect.
Said Hughes: "As for my agent, he is not a part of the situation because the team refused to pay him, he did not help me at all with this situation and was very upset with the Broncos. Which, in return, he took that out on me, and did not help me at all when all this happened."
What follows is a recent interview conducted via email with Hughes:
Me: Describe what happened in November, which led to your release from the Broncos?
Hughes: I had an arrhythmia on the day I went to the hospital, which is basically an irregular heartbeat. We had practice on a Monday night, it was extremely cold and coach Natalie (Nakase) told all the players to wear warm (clothes). After practice, I had to walk home in the cold and I was still hot from practice, which I believe was the leading thing to the arrhythmia. The combo of hot to cold in seconds probably didn't help my body at all.
The doctors prescribed Vasolan and told me to take it three times a day every time I ate. With this medication, the doctor cleared me to return to basketball.
Me: You recently told me you described your situation to two or three other doctors and they gave you the identical opinion and recommendations as the ones you mentioned above. That said, what did the doctors' original release, the one the team saw, say?
Hughes: The document stated that I could resume playing basketball, with the possibility of me having an arrhythmia again. But the doctor told them that it could be controlled with medication and was in no way life-threatening at all. Like I said the release that I received was exactly identical (to the Broncos' team doctor's diagnosis) and there was no difference. The commissioner saw both releases and saw that both of them said I could play and was not permanently disabled from basketball. What the team wrote on the website was a lie, and did not state that I could play basketball again.
Me: As requested, did the team retract its statement that you are physically unfit to play?
Hughes: No, they did not do this publicly. They would not even admit that they were wrong to me and that I could play basketball. It was pretty much like dealing with stubborn children who have no common sense. The doctor repeatedly stated I was cleared to play, with no additional liability to the team, yet the team claimed in the terms of the release that "the athletic ability of the player has been lost due to illness or injury."
Me: Did bj-league commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi and his staff see the doctor's notes and have a chance to compare the wording, in Japanese, of what was stated on the doc's notes and what was stated on your contract release form, the one that was released to the media?
Hughes: Yes, Mr. Kawachi saw all the evidence that stated and proved I could still play basketball, and yes Mr. Kawachi saw the false statement that the team had posted on the website in our arbitration.
Me: Did Narita pay you beyond the date you were released? How much? Is this a fair amount?
Hughes: Yes, he paid me two months salary after my release, but this was totally unfair because I should have been paid for the remainder of the contract since the team was releasing me on false grounds. Not only that, the statements by the team made it very difficult for me to get another job this season after posting exaggerated information on the Saitama Broncos website.
The only reason I accepted it was because the commissioner presented it as the final deal on the table. It was either take the two months or go home with nothing.
Me: Did the team pay for your transportation and your family to leave Japan?
Hughes: Yes, the team paid for my transportation, but they did not pay for my family's transportation home.
Me: Was the negotiation process honest from their side?
Hughes: No, the team never admitted its wrongdoing and stuck to their guns that I was unable to play basketball during the negotiations. Mr. Kawachi, in my opinion, was trying to make everyone happy because he didn't want to possibly damage his relationship with Mr. Narita. I do believe he felt bad that this was happening to me and wanted to offer me something instead of nothing. Because I do have a solid reputation in the bj-league as one of the Americans to be a part of the inaugural season of the bj-league and playing with the Oita HeatDevils. In all fairness, I do think Mr. Kawachi did his best to fairly resolve the situation.
Me: What advice would you have for any foreigner thinking to play for the Broncos in the future?
Hughes: DON'T DO IT!
This is not an honest organization -- from management to the coaching staff. The players that I had (with me) were amazing, but the rest of my time playing for the Saitama Broncos was a complete NIGHTMARE! Mr. Narita does not care about his players, and is only concerned with making money, I believe he would forfeit games if that meant he would make money by doing so. Under Mr. Narita, his staff, and that includes (PR director Hiroe) Saito who does Mr. Narita's dirty work, was completely disrespectful to my wife and kids. She was blatantly rude and refused to let my wife even enter the team office.
Even when my family first arrived, I tried to introduce them to Ms. Saito and she refused to acknowledge them. In fact, the team employees were specifically told that if my family needed anything, they were not allowed to provide any assistance. Also Mr. (Yuichi) Suzuki, who is supposed to be the translator for the Americans, did not translate what was actually being said, not only in my meetings, but also in practice and game settings.
It led to disrespect between the players and coaches, and was completely unprofessional. He did not help at all in my meetings with the team, and was not translating what I was saying in its entirety. I was told that I couldn't bring my own translator, but would sit there while they spoke in Japanese for 20 minutes at a time with no translation. I am thankful that I had a different translator at my arbitration with the commissioner. ...
For any foreigner looking to play in Japan the bj-league is a great start, just avoid the Saitama Broncos, because they will not take care of anything to make you feel welcomed.
Me: What are your immediate plans?
Hughes: Go back to California, where I am going to enroll both my daughters into school. I will keep training and see what happens this summer, because despite what the Saitama Broncos say, I can still play basketball and will be ready to go. In the meantime, I am making plans to coach and train young athletes. Overall I really enjoyed my time in Japan, and I am eternally grateful to all the Broncos fans. The boosters and fans made my stay extremely special, sending me some really thoughtful and meaningful gifts before I left, and I am going to miss them all.
Japan is a wonderful country and I tell everyone here in the States that they should take a visit to experience such a wonderful culture. Just avoid the Saitama Broncos.