Dice Yoshimoto forged his own path to Knicks summer league coaching position

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LAS VEGAS — Knicks summer league coach Dice Yoshimoto is firm on one thing. He won’t answer questions asked in Japanese.

Yoshimoto, who has been Tom Thibodeau’s right-hand man as video coordinator since he coached in Chicago, was surprisingly named the Knicks’ summer league coach last weekend. It was an opportunity to show diversity as Yoshimoto is one of the few Asian coaches in the NBA.

One source close to the Knicks head coach said Yoshimoto has been Thibodeau’s “utility man’’ across the years, able to help in various ways.

During his postgame press conferences in Las Vegas, various Japanese reporters have popped in. But, according to a source, Yoshimoto is more comfortable speaking basketball in English because of the terminology.

“I think [diversity] is important,’’ Yoshimoto said before the Knicks faced the Pistons on Friday night in their fourth game here. “At the same time I’m focused on getting better. I want to be the best coach I can be. I’ve been fortunate to be able to learn from a guy like Coach Thibs. I think he’s the best coach in the league.

Dice Yoshimoto
USA TODAY Sports

“Over the years I’ve learned from everybody. It started off with Coach [Mike] Fratello and Lawrence Frank [with the Nets]. Coach [Mike] Malone in Denver. Two years ago, I worked in college with Tom Crean.’’

In 2008, Yoshimoto joined the Nets after getting his master’s in education at Fordham. He played Division III basketball at Johnson & Wales in Providence, R.I., receiving a degree in sports-event management. That’s not exactly a normal pathway to the NBA.

He hooked up with Thibodeau in Chicago. When Thibodeau was fired, he worked under Malone in Denver. When Thibodeau was let go by Minnesota in 2019, Yoshimoto joined Crean’s staff at Georgia.

But Yoshimoto always comes back to Thibodeau. With the Knicks, Thibodeau has given him the title “assistant to the head coach.’’

The Knicks were off to a 2-1 start in summer league, losing the opener to the Raptors, then improving with wins over the Pacers and Lakers. They will face the Cavaliers on Saturday.

“My job is to tell him what I see,’’ Yoshimoto said.

Has Thibodeau told Yoshimoto to yell more, the way the Knicks head coach does? English is Yoshimoto’s second language.

“He just tells me to be me,’’ Yoshimoto said. “I have to be comfortable in my own skin and find my own voice.”

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