by Ed Odeven

While the NBA Draft grabbed the spotlight in the Big Apple on Thursday, the Tokyo Apache made a major move of their own.

In fact, it could become a game-changer for the bj-league, giving the young league a major boost in recognition and respectability.

Veteran bench boss Bob Hill, who led the San Antonio Spurs to the NBA’s best regular-season record in 1994-95, was named the team’s new coach, confirming a story first reported by The Japan Times last week.

He is the first ex-NBA coach to take the same position with a bj-league club.

Hill, 61, received a one-year contract. The Apache did not disclose his salary.

“We are thrilled to bring in Coach Hill to join this team,” said Conor Neu, who took over as the team’s general manager earlier this month. “The signing of Coach Hill demonstrates this organization’s commitment to our fans and players.

“Coach Hill and I expect the Apache to compete for the league championship this season. Coach Hill also shares our off-court vision, and he is excited to be an active member of the Apache community.”

The rival Japan Basketball League brought in a big-name coach several years ago, when Paul Westhead, who guided the Los Angeles Lakers to an NBA champion in 1979-80, Magic Johnson’s rookie season, was the pilot of the JBL’s Panasonic Super Kangaroos in 2001-03.

Hill has served as the head coach of the New York Knicks (1986-87), Indiana Pacers (1990-93), San Antonio Spurs (1994-96) and Seattle SuperSonics (2006-07). His NBA record as a coach is 310-293. Hill’s college career also includes stops at Fordham University (head coach, 1999-2003) and a lengthy stint as an assistant for the Kansas Jayhawks (1979-85). He played college ball at Bowling Green.

In recent years, Hill has also coached the Chinese Basketball Association’s Shanxi club and worked as a member of the United States Basketball Academy’s Advisory Board. Coaching legends John Wooden and Pete Newell and former standout players Rick Barry and Arvydas Sabonis have served on the board.

(Originally published in the Japan Times Online)