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'The Professor' Teaches Toros More Than ABC's of Basketball

March 05, 1987|SCOTT ROSENBERG | Times Staff Writer

As Dave Yanai will tell you, some basketball teams are so talented that all they need are a basketball and a court to win games.

Other teams, such as Yanai's Cal State Dominguez Hills Toros, require much more. The players must be taught the fundamentals of the game. And that is what Yanai is noted for.

Among his peers he is more than a teacher. He is "the Professor."

Look what Yanai has done in his 10 years with Dominguez Hills, a Division II school that has never had a player drafted by the National Basketball Assn.

With the same group of players as last season, Yanai, 43, has brought an 8-19 team to a 22-7 record so far.

Coming off a 3-11 record in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn., the Toros were picked to finish fifth before this season. They finished the regular season tied with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, each with 10-4 marks, for the co-championship of the CCAA.

Then, in the post-season CCAA tournament last weekend, Dominguez Hills defeated San Luis Obispo, 70-58, to win the conference title and an automatic berth into the NCAA Division II playoffs.

The Toros' first opponent in the West Regional is the University of Alaska, Anchorage. The game will be played Friday in Billings, Mont.

Yanai's style of coaching isn't flamboyant, so he doesn't get noticed much. Dominguez Hills isn't a flamboyant university, either, and that may add to Yanai's anonymity.

It doesn't bother him.

"My attitude towards coaching is that, regardless of where you're at, you've still got 12 or 15 kids and each one had better be important to you," Yanai said. "You have a chance to move them, through coaching basketball, to become better people.

"That should be a coach's No. 1 priority, but it isn't always in this day and age."

Yanai's approach has earned him praise.

"His demeanor, his style, his calmness . . . I respect this man more as a person than a coach," said John Masi, coach of rival CCAA school, UC Riverside. "He's highly respected by everyone I talk to. I like the way he runs his program. His players perform like gentlemen.

"Dave is a fundamentalist. He bases everything on fundamentals. Some say he's predictable, but that's OK. All the great coaches in history, you knew what to expect from them."

Yanai graduated from Gardena High and Long Beach State and coached baseball at Fremont High. After two years, he switched to basketball.

He has had a steady career. In 18 seasons of coaching basketball (the first eight at the high school level), he's had just four losing seasons. His last year of high school coaching was at Gardena. He was offered the head coach's job at Dominguez Hills the following year.

Yanai led the Toros to an NAIA national tournament berth in his second season at the helm. The team recorded a 21-9 record that season and captured the NAIA District III crown.

Yanai also led the Toros to their first CCAA crown in 1980-81, compiling a 20-5 mark, the best in school history.

To be a great teacher of the game, one has to be a great student of the game. Considering his heritage, some may be surprised at his basketball expertise. Yanai is Japanese.

He played both baseball (a center fielder at Long Beach) and basketball (point guard in high school) and considered himself a good player in both sports.

"At first, it surprised me that he was Japanese," said William Alexander, the Toros' 6-4 senior forward and star of the team. "But I looked at his track record and realized he must be doing something right."

Yanai said "some coaches are excellent in recruiting; they have the gift of gab. "But they need great talent to overcome the fact they can't teach the fundamentals. Fundamentals are the foundation of the game. The mental understanding of the game is so important.

"Of course, mine isn't the only way. As (USC coach) George Raveling says, 'There are many roads that lead to Rome.' I just feel that for me, the best way to win is to teach the fundamentals.

"That means, no wasting time on the floor. Say the exact number of words needed to get your message across. Simplicity in execution. Teach the basic things as well as you can. I feel this has been a direct influence on the success of our team."

Said Vico Nomaaea, the Toros' sophomore guard: "He knows his basketball. Everything he does in practice has helped my game. He's very demanding. He doesn't praise you too often. He tells you straight out what your weaknesses are, and I think that's good."

Although Yanai has had a successful career at Dominguez Hills, he occasionally wonders what it would be like to coach elsewhere. He added, however, that only a "heck of an offer" would get him to leave.

He and his wife, Sae, live with their two children in the South Bay. That, coupled with the large Asian population, are two reasons Yanai prefers to stay. Friends and associates, as well as his dedication to Dominguez Hills, also keep him at the school.

Yanai said that if something positive opens up at a higher level, say Division I, he would certainly consider it.

"But I'm trying to keep from thinking that the grass is greener on the other side," he said. "The grass has been pretty green right here."

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