A lifelong relationship: The Japanese National Team

In 1963 I became Freshman Coach at Michigan State, under Forrest ‘Forddy’ Anderson, in charge of recruiting under Anderson, who had taken Bradley to two NCAA Finals, in 1950 and 1954, and who had taken MSU to the NCAA Final Four in 1957. In July, Forddy left for a one-month trip to Japan, where he and another coaching legend, Pete Newell, were to work with Japan’s national team as they prepared for the 1964 Olympics, to be held in Tokyo. Forddy and Pete were great friends from their days in the US Navy during World War II. With this, I was closely involved with someone that was closely involved with a … national team!

Pete Newell was, at the time, the foremost authority on basketball defense and Forddy Anderson, with his ‘Motion Offense,’ was thought by many to be the top coach at the other end of the floor. And, that’s the way they broke down their work. Forddy worked on the fast break, motion offense, conditioning and the 2-2-1 full-court zone press. Pete worked on offensive and defensive fundamentals, team man-to-man defense, the Reverse-Action Offense. They also conducted clinics for Japanese coaches. They did excellent work that summer because, one year later, Japan took 10th in the Olympics, their top placement in the post-war era.

In those Olympics, Japan was 3-4 in first round play. They had some nice wins: 58-37 vs. Canada; 58-41 vs. Hungary; 72-68 vs. Italy. They also gave the USSR a game, losing, 72-59. That put them in the 9-12 place semi-final, where they beat Finland, 54-45, to advance to the consolation final, then losing to Australia, 64-57. That made their final overall record 4-5. Aside from their 9th place in the 1936 Olympics, in the ‘prehistoric era,’ that equaled their best finish ever in a major FIBA event, the Olympics or the Worlds, not considering the Asian Games or East Asian Games.

When he came back, I asked Forddy who the best Japanese player was. He said, “Fumihiko Moroyama.” The 6’1″ Moroyama was later nicknamed Japan’s “Mr. Basketball.” I asked why we didn’t recruit him for MSU, as he was just 20 years old at the time and would be their top scorer in the Olympics, at 10.4 ppg. Forddy said, “If we bring in an international player, he has to dominate.” That was the first time I’d heard the term ‘international player.’ It would not, of course, be the last. Whatever, I was now a … semi-expert on the FIBA game. Or so I thought!