LAS VEGAS — A couple of years ago during the summer, former Arizona basketball player Reggie Geary was in Las Vegas evaluating raw high school talent as an assistant coach at SMU.
Some of the gyms had poor lighting and inadequate air conditioning. The sparse crowds consisted mostly of parents and collegiate coaches. Although the players in the AAU circuit believed basketball was their future, they did not feel the pressure of having to succeed at that moment to earn a paycheck playing the game they love.
“Obviously, now I am working with finances and economics that you don’t deal with — or you are not supposed to deal with — at the collegiate level,” Geary told me in the stands while scouting former college players at the NBA Summer League in the clean and cool Cox Pavilion, adjacent to the Thomas & Mack Center.
Geary is attending the summer league as head coach of the Yokohoma B-Corsairs of the Japan Basketball League. Fringe players not guaranteed a spot on NBA rosters are catching Geary’s eye — and a keen eye it is. Now 39, with five years of coaching experience with the NBA’s Developmental League, Arizona, SMU and now Japan, Geary is steadily making a name for himself in the coaching profession.
He was selected the Japan’s 2011-12 coach of the year after the B-Corsairs finished third in the league after placing second in the 10-team Eastern Conference during the regular season. They won their last nine games of the regular season.
“In terms of my growth (as a coach), it really helped me,” Geary said about his season in Japan. “When we first got there, we were just trying to learn the culture and how
they play basketball. They play very, very fast and really play to the three ball (three-point shot).
“I came in with a defensive mindset. I told the guys play defense first. It stuck with the guys. They bought into it. I don’t if I changed the culture there, but I definitely go the guys focused on defense.”
It helped to have players such as former USC forward Marcus Simmons, the 2010-11 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, and Justin Burrell, the Big East’s Sixth Man of the Year with St. John’s in 2010-11, but it was Geary’s mental toughness that set the tone for the B-Corsairs.
The team’s nickname is another word for pirate, which is fitting because Geary exhibited that swashbuckling devil-may-care attitude when he shut down the Pac-10′s best offensive players. He took no prisoners. He does not hold back proclaiming his stature among the best defensive players to wear an Arizona uniform.
“I am the best defensive player in the history of the school, and I keep telling people that,” Geary said with his familiar grin. “That was my niche. It’s nice that people still think of me in a good light.”