Planells Prepared For Life In Okinawa With Golden Kings

02 June 2007 The Japan Times by Ed Odeven

The NBA Finals is about to begin in a few days. The Spurs' Tim "The Big Fundamental" Duncan will be shooting for his fourth championship ring. His legacy is already set. He is one of the greatest big men to ever play the game.

In California, meanwhile, another man from the same generation, Hernando Planells Jr., is preparing to embark on a new chapter in his basketball life, a life highlighted by ambition, accomplishment and perseverance.

Planells, 30, is busy getting ready to move to Okinawa with his wife, Carmel, and their two young children, Preston and Gabrielle. He is the first-ever coach of the Ryukyu Golden Kings, who will begin their inaugural season in the bj-league next fall.

He attended the bj-league draft on May 21 in Tokyo.

In the past decade, Planells had an exhausting schedule, paying his dues in his chosen profession.

To wit: Planells, a former high school football and basketball player, has worked under Marty Blake, the NBA's director of scouting, for the past three years.

In that time, he has written scouting reports on NBA prospects, learning the art of evaluating top-level talent objectively.

He has also made a name for himself as a basketball choreographer for Reelsports Solutions for motion pictures, serving in that role for "Coach Carter," "Rebound," and "Spiderman 3."

In addition, Planells worked in that role for Radiant Pictures in 2006, preparing Yuta Tabuse for a spot in a basketball commercial for Nissay Insurance.

At age 20, Planells was the head basketball coach at Immaculate Heart High School in Tucson, Ariz. He held the same position at Los Angeles High School before moving on the collegiate ranks. This included a stop at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

In 2005, he was named the head coach and vice president of basketball operations for the Wyoming Golden Eagles of the All-American Professional Basketball League, a little-known minor league. In doing so, at age 28 he become the youngest pro head coach in the United States.

In 2006-07, Planells was the head coach of the Hollywood Fame, an American Basketball Association team.

In an exclusive interview with The Japan Times, Planells gave his outlook on the future of the Ryukyu Golden Kings and discussed what has shaped his basketball philosophy.

Japan Times: What exposure have you had to the bj-league and the JBL?

Planells: I've only watched the bj-league and JBL on video. This year I spent more time watching and monitoring the bj-league because of its status as a professional league and the fact that they have more Americans than the JBL.

Since coming to Okinawa I have watched over 30 games so far of the bj-league.

What will be your top objective in taking over an expansion team?

My top objective would be to meet and greet as many people as I can in Okinawa. Their support and devotion are so instrumental as we build this team from the ground up.

How have your past experiences helped you become prepared for this job?

Coming from a wide variety of experiences has truly prepared me for this opportunity.

I have been blessed to have worked in basketball at all levels and that type of experience will be important on and off the court. A good coach is not necessarily the one who knows the X's and O's, it's the coach that knows how to work with his players — a coach who understands when to teach and when to coach.

How would you describe the interview process with Golden Kings general manager Tatsuro Kimura? And what are the keys for working with him in the future to create a successful leadership team?

I would say the interview process was different and interesting. (In) most of my interviews, the owner or GM wanted to know my basketball philosophies and techniques.

Mr. Kimura wanted to know why and how would I fit in with Okinawa.

Don't get me wrong, we did talk basketball, but I knew right at the beginning that he had put a priority in making sure that he found a coach who was not only a good coach but also a person which understands the business side of sports.

The keys for working with him have already been established. He and I are very good communicators and we are very upfront with each other. It also helps that I think we have the same direction of thinking when it comes to building the team on and off the court.

Mr. Kimura knows that I will do whatever it takes to help the team gain more exposure in Okinawa and internationally as well. Having a pro basketball franchise is so much more than basketball.

Basketball only factors in about 10 percent of the importance . . . What's really important is the brand building and the fan support, because without them there is not basketball team. The fans are what makes professional sports succeed.

What has Don Casey, a former NBA coach with the Los Angeles Clippers and New Jersey Nets, meant to you as a basketball mentor? Who else has been influential in your career and how have they helped you along the way?

Coach Casey has been an unbelievable mentor and friend. Being around a former NBA basketball coach you learn so much more than basketball. You learn about life through their experiences.

The NBA life is so much different than any other basketball league in the world. I value his advice tremendously and he will play an important role in the success of our team.

Having a resource such as Coach Casey gives us an advantage that most expansion teams do not have. Without Coach Casey I wouldn't be where I am today.

Mark Berokoff is a high school coach in Oklahoma, but we got a chance to coach together in Wyoming. He has this uncanny ability to know when to get on his players and when to let them learn on their own.

His demeanor with his players has allowed his players to respect him and compete harder than before . . . I really admire his coaching ability.

Coach James Hyneman, who now coaches at Los Angeles City College but was an assistant at UC Riverside for over 15 years (is another). I worked for him at Citrus College. He is a tremendous X's and O's guy; he taught me the swing offense which (the University) of Wisconsin uses very well and taught me the importance of switching defense. . .

There are so many other coaches who have helped me, but I believe I have taken a piece of all of them and combined them together. As a coach, you have to always keep learning and getting better and all of these guys have helped out along the way.

In your view, why is Okinawa a vital franchise for the bj-league league in terms of being a key market for the foreign audience and exposure for the league?

Okinawa is such an international city — there are so many different ethnic backgrounds, you add of course the heavy military presence, who by the way love basketball — and you have a making of a great market for the league and for Asian basketball.

I believe that every league should think about how to get their brand into international markets.

The bj-league is already one step ahead, they have games available online — but with Okinawa they may be able to reach more people who can spread the word around of the quality of the league.

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