A Conversation With Don Beck(Toyota Alvark)

Don Beck has been a professional basketball coach for 34 years. He started his coaching career in 1978 for Santa Barbara College. After that he got further experience coaching Bentley College, Rutgers University, and Fresno State University. He came to Europe in 1992 to coach Sunair Oostende (Belgium). He then spent 9 very successful seasons with TBB Trier reaching four cup finals and winning two. He then coached the EWE Baskets Oldenburg from 2002-2007. In 2007-2008, he coached  Euphony Bree (Belgium-D1). The next season he coached  Euphony Bree (Belgium-D1), in Jan.’09 hired by Eiffel Towers Den Bosch (Holland-Eredivisie). In 2009-2010, he coached  Eiffel Towers Den Bosch (Holland-Eredivisie). He has been head coach of Toyota Alvark (Japan-JBL) since 2010. He spoke to German Hoops during his three team tour of Germany while he was in Frankfurt.

Thanks for talking to eurobasket Don. It has been five years since your last engagement in Germany with the EWE Baskets Oldenburg. What do you miss the most on and off the court in Germany?

I still live in GermanyWhen I am not working in Japan I spend my off season in Trier and the States. I can´t really say that I miss anything, because I am always back in Trier. I have learned to drink white wine which the Mosel region is famous for.

You had coached many years in Trier and Oldenburg and since have coached in Belgium, Holland and Japan. Did you have enough of the German basketball scene? Did you still have offers from German teams in the last years? Why did you go to Japan?

I have been blessed of having my best years as a coach before coming to Japan. I won two cups with TBB Trier and went to four finals. We played international and went to the playoffs. With Bree we finished in first place and went to the finals. Then I went to Holland and coached Den Bosch. We reached the final and lost a seven game playoff series to Amsterdam who had kicked out Oldenburg from international play the season they won the BBL title. Amsterdam had a real good team that year. The next season the team made changes and we weren´t as successful and I had to go. I then had the choice between Mons and Toyota Alvark. It was a tough decision, but Japan was a great opportunity. Everything is done so professional and it’s the best training facility I have ever seen. Toyota is a great sponsor and it was just a great opportunity where I couldn´t say no

You coached young players Doron Perkins and D or Fischer in 2006. How happy are you how much they have progressed and how much were you able to help in their development as players?

That last year in Oldenburg was very unstable with a lot of mistrust. I am glad that I had Fischer for a whole year. He really needed that and he was already a good player at the time. Perkins came in the middle of the season and was a very unique player. He was athletic, could get to the rim and could be as good a defender as anyone when he wanted to. After I left I took Fischer and Perkins to Bree. They continued to play well and their stock went up. Soon after they would play for Macabbi Tel Aviv. I helped them, but I had good assistants who helped as well. The programs in Oldenburg and Bree really benefited their development.

You gave a young Heiko Schaffartzik a chance in 2006 after he had been with Giessen and in Nurnberg. He had a very bad shooting year with Oldenburg, but how sure were you in that season that the German could become  a top German team national player?

I was sure from the start that Heiko was a way better player than what he was showing. His minutes fell as Perkins was brought in. But I am not surprised with how his development has gone. Already in Oldenburg, Heiko always played hard with big balls. He was great to coach and was never afraid of anyone. I would of kept him in Oldenburg if I would have stayed.

You also coached very talented Desmond Penigar for two seasons who had played briefly with the Orlando Magic. After an injury, Penigar came back to have strong seasons in Austria and last year in Lebanon. Why wasn´t Penigar able to develop into a Eurocup/euroleague type of player?

I think his knee injury has kept him from that. He was never 100% healthy, but I remember he had a great playoff series against Alba Berlin. We should have moved him in his second season. He had a great attitude and was just a tough kid. He probably played 5-6 years more than he should of just because his knee was never correct. However the way he has held up, I wouldn´t be surprised if he plays until 40, because he is that special.

After you left in 2007, Predrag Krunic came in and two years later he won the German Beko BBL title. Players come and go each year, but did you build something in Oldenburg that Krunich ended with winning the title?

I can´t take any credit away from him, because he did it all on his own. Working in Oldenburg was good for me with Dr Brinker the chairmen of the EWE. Before I came, Oldenburg was never higher than 13. He was a big reason for our success. he had great vision and gave me great support. They wanted a team that would be competitive and we lived up to that when I was there. I am sorry that we could never win a cup or get deeper in the playoffs. When Krunic came, he got full reigns of the team. I never had that. We never had a training camp or plane. We never had the budget that he had. I played the path for him, but he simply demanded the things that I didn´t. I congratulate him for winning the title in 2009. It is so hard to win a title as it is

What is a strength in your coaching style that isn´t always recognized right away?

In my last five years, all my teams have been top 1 & 2 in rebounding and defense. We already had good defense in Oldenburg and was able to keep it in Bree and now in Japan. In the Japan league there are 11 categories and Toyota Alvark is #1 in nine categories and #2 in the other 2. I implemented a transition in Bree and it has carried over to Japan as well. I am very proud as well of the success of the offense as it has also been #1 with the defense in Japan which is unheard of.

How would you describe the style in the J-league? Was it difficult to adjust to this style coming from Europe? Did you have to make any changes?

There are two leagues in japan. The JBL where we play. It has 8 teams. It is the better league and most prestigious. We can carry only two foreigners and only one can be on the floor and never at the same time. The other league is the BJ league which can have 3-4 foreigners. The difference to the BBL is that at the 4-5 position there is no difference. But at the 1-3 positions, the players in Japan are shorter and less athletic

Toyota Alvark won the double last season. Of course it was a team effort, but where would the team have been without Jeff Gibbs?

Gibbs has been a good addition. We are very balanced and have no stars. We don´t have the best 1,2,3 players or even 5 man Japanese player, but the difference is that the team plays together. They just all play very well. On any given night Gibbs or Ricci can have a double double even though they split the minutes and never play more than 20-22 minutes.

You have coached many great players in your career, but where would you rate a Jeff Gibbs?

Gibbs is very unique. He just brings so much to the court. He can run the break, can pass and just has a great basketball mind. He reads the ball movement well and can shoot from outside. The opponent usually don´t take him serious when they see him play. When he gets going, he is a 6.11 player. He always creates havoc for the opponent with match up problems. I love his wisdom and is one of the best players that I have coached in the area of him doing what I want him to do. When he wants to make an impact then he is Mr incredible.

Toyota Alvark is on a German city tour playing in Frankfurt, Trier and Munich. How important is this visit bringing exposure to Japanese basketball in Europe?

We think it is important that our players see how the European style works. We want people here to see that we do play a different style but are still competitive. We played very well against TBB Trier and FC Bayern Munich. It was important that our players are exposed to the defensive intensity and bigger wing players in Germany. All the teams are physical in the BBL and playing here will help us in our quest to defend our title in Japan.

You will be back in Trier playing the team of Henrik Rodl. Do you remember where you were in 1993 when North Carolina beat Michigan in the NCAA final?

I was at the game. It is always great to watch ACC basketball and North Carolina is one of the best programs in the NCAA. Rodl playing in the NCAA was a big step for young German kids going to the NCAA. Last season there was something like 9 Germans playing in the NCAA. It seems to be growing each year.

What is your sweetest memory of your coaching days in Trier?

There are so many. Of course being in one place for 9 years in unbelievable. Trier is just a great place with great fan support. The players always feel comfortable there. We had the lowest budget, but still reached 4 cup finals. The cup wins were a great memory as was the wins against Alba Berlin. I don´t support the BBL now how the cup is set up. I think that it is wrong. In the old format there was always one team that wasn´t on the radar and snuck into the Top 4. With the new format, that surprise effect is taken away of a sleeper getting in.

You also had some nice battles against Frankfurt. I remember Malick Badiane kicking a chair in Oldenburg in 2005. What is your fondest memory playing against Frankfurt? Do you remember the game against Frankfurt on the last game day in 2006?

We always had fun games against Frankfurt. I remember some good wins against Gordie Herbert. Gunnar Wobke has done  a good job there and was always a forward thinking guy of how to build teams. I don´t remember that game, but it was a good win for Frankfurt.

You also coach against Bayern Munich. They have moved up to the Beko BBL and have enriched the German basketball name. How excited were you about playing the most famous German sports team and will you buy dinner for the team if they win?

I have always tried to promote basketball with needing them in a big city. It is very important that FC Bayern Munich is in the BBL now. Perhaps with this branding it could happen in the future in cities like Hamburg or Dortmund. When FC Bayern Munich plays basketball, then they are still FC Bayern Munich the name and that is very important. They have one of the best coaches with Dirk Bauermann who has had numerous success. They might not have been that successful last season, but I am sure that they will challenge for the title this season.

Who would win in their prime, the Dream team of Team USA 2012?

I am over 50 and I can only go with the Dream team. The Dream team was a special team like the first man on the moon. The 2012 was a great team too, but the Dream Team was one of a kind

What was the last DVD movie that you saw?

The French film Ziemlich beste Freunde

Thanks Don for the chat.

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