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Golden Kings picked Oketani as new coach to improve on defense

by Ed Odeven

Ryukyu Golden Kings general manager Tatsuro Kimura made a difficult decision at the conclusion of Year One, firing head coach Hernando Planells and initiating a rebuilding process when the foundation for the future was still being established.

Earlier this week, Dai Oketani, who had spent the past three seasons as the Oita HeatDevils head coach, was named the second coach in Golden Kings’ history.

Two facts stick out when looking back at the 2007-08 expansion Golden Kings:

1) The team lost 34 of 44 games.

2) The Golden Kings allowed a league-high 89.6 points per game last season.

The latter statistic is something Kimura believes Oketani will make a priority, a focal point from Day One for the young team.

“He will teach the importance of team defense,” Kimura said.

“In his days at the helm of the HeatDevils,” Kimura said, “I heard that he often benched players who he thought were not playing team defense in the way he wanted them to play. He is brave enough to do this type of thing to install the team defense foundation.”

Looking ahead to the future, Kimura points to defense as the key to his team’s success.

The reason?

“We, Okinawa’s Ryukyu Kings have been trying to establish a fast-tempo offensive basketball (team). It doesn’t necessarily mean to score high points, but quick transition games were what we were trying to realize.

“Last season, our transition was very fast; however, our defense was not good enough to start fast breaks as many times as we wanted. To start fast breaks, you have to have defensive rebounds. To have defensive rebounds, you have to play solid defense.”

The HeatDevils made the playoffs in the second season of the 30-year-old Oketani’s stint in Oita.

Thus, Kimura noted, the young coach has had success in the bj-league, which expands to 12 teams for the 2008-09 season.

When the league began play in the fall of 2005, Oketani was one of the original six coaches.

This fact, made Oketani an appealing candidate for the Golden Kings’ coaching vacancy.

“We did not want to bring in somebody who didn’t know the bj-league,” Kimura said. “It was one of the most important aspects. The league is still young, but at the same time is growing rapidly.

“There is a huge difference between zero-years experience and three-years experience. We needed somebody who has experience in the bj-league when we decided to change the head coach. We would not want to start from scratch again.”

Tsutomu Isa will remain Ryukyu’s assistant coach, a man who has earned the players’ trust, according to the GM.

“He is going to be the bridge between the new head coach and the Golden Kings’ players,” Kimura said. “Oketani and Isa met and they get along with each other very well. I am very confident they are going to do a good job together.”

Asked how many other candidates there were to fill the coaching vacancy, Kimura declined to say who they were, but indicated there were several others.

For Oketani, a fresh start in Okinawa is something his new boss observed has made him an excited, appreciative man.

“He is a very humble person,” Kimura said of Oketani. “And he seems like he considers this opportunity as a growing process as a head coach. As mentioned, he knows how to teach and coach defensively.

“Now I will require him to fasten his game upon what he has: a defensive game. He takes it as a new challenge. By challenging (himself), he thinks he can expand his coaching capacity. That is what he said to me, and one of the reasons why he is excited.”