Forget the change for Bill Cartwright going from the United States to Japan and from an NBA background to the bj league in Japan. It has quickly become about the change around the Osaka Evessa.
The Evessa, once the dominant team of the league, started this season 5-19 and in ninth place in the 10-team conference by the time Cartwright was hired as head coach in late-January. Since his arrival, they are 10-6 and have a five-game win streak with a roster that includes 2003 Timberwolves second-round pick Rick Rickert, Florida Atlantic product Mike Bell, Dwayne Lathan from Indiana State and Louisiana Tech, and Nathan Walkup from Texas A&M.
“When he got here, he changed a few things,” Rickert told Ed Odeven of the English-language Japan Times.
Like Osaka’s conditioning.
And approach to defense.
And emphasis on toughness and rebounding.
And, of course, the win total.
Cartwright changed more than a few things.
“We’re playing smarter, and what feels better is when the whole team is on the same page,” said Rickert, who played in the NBA Development League and had previous international stops before going to Japan. “That makes my job easier.”
Inconsistent defense has been one problem during the team’s rocky season. “Some games we play good defense, and some games we don’t,” admitted Rickert.
That inconsistency is totally unacceptable to Cartwright, who oversaw grueling 2½- to 3-hour practices for the first two weeks when he began working for the team on Jan. 21. It was like the team endured a second preseason training camp, though smack dab in the middle of it, in the same season.
But Cartwright’s mission to work his players hard from the get-go wasn’t just about showing who’s boss.
Cartwright coached the Bulls part of 2001-02, all the next season and part of 2003-04. His playing career as a 7-foot-1 center with the Knicks, Bulls and SuperSonics lasted from 1979-80 until 1994-95 and included three titles in Chicago and an All-Star appearance in 1980 with New York. He was also an assistant with the Bulls, Nets and, most recently, Suns.
He is the second coach in the bj league with the same experience in the NBA, following Bob Hill, on the sideline for the Tokyo Apache before they folded.