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Grouses coach Ishibashi maintains passion for winning

by Kaz Nagatsuka

It’s quite easy to locate the 210-cm Takatoshi Ishibashi on the floor during a basketball game, and it won’t take too long to see when he’s in agony.

“Painful,” he said, describing his gig as the head coach of the struggling Toyama Grouses, after a 96-72 loss to the host Tokyo Apache on Feb. 14.

“Now I’ve come to realize why head coaches knit their brows.”

It seems that Ishibashi is knitting his brows even tighter, and his expression articulates that point — that he’s the captain of a sinking ship.

And rightfully so. After all, his team is 10-24 and sits in last place in the bj-league’s six-team Eastern Conference. (See Sunday’s roundup on page 19.)

Ishibashi, a 40-year old former center, became coach on Dec. 9, replacing interim coach Hirokazu Nema.

Masato Fukushima, who had guided the Grouses since its inception in 2006, was fired on Nov. 10 after the team got off to a 3-7 start.

Ishibashi’s tenure began well, with Toyama winning four of those first five contests. But the Grouses then reverted back to their old form, dropping nine straight games.

Ishibashi, who had not held official coaching posts in the past, said that he really thought over whether he should accept the job offer from the ballclub “for about 10 days.” He said he made his decision to take it because basketball has been a big part of his life, and he didn’t want to run away from the challenge.

The former Japan national team player, who had contributed to the club’s fan activities, including serving as an arena master of ceremonies at Grouses games, said that being a head coach makes him more nervous than being a player.

Why?

Because as a coach, Ishibashi noted, he has so much responsibility and needs to concentrate on the entire team all the time.

Ishibashi added that giving his charges motivation to keep playing is one of the most important and difficult aspects of his job, especially since there are no easy wins for the team right now.

“I’ve said, ‘You have to think why you guys play basketball,’ ” said Ishibashi, who formerly played for the Grouses and retired in 2007.

“Then I continued, ‘It’s tough to win and you aren’t blessed financially, but you love this game, don’t you? You’ve got to know how enjoyable it is to perform in front of the fans.’ “

Toyama shipped two of its best foreign players — frontcourt standouts Rodney Webb and Babacar Camara — out of town recently. Webb now plays for the Sendai 89ers and Camara joined the Takamatsu Five Arrows two weeks ago.

And the situation appears to have gotten worse. The Grouses brought only 10 players to Tokyo for the aforementioned series against the Apache.

Toyama wants to play a run-and-gun, up-tempo game, which it hasn’t been able to do yet, according to Ishibashi. And so the situation is tough on him.

But it’s not because he feels great pressure from the daunting tasks of his new job, but because he wants to bring victories to the team and his players.

“It doesn’t matter what my feeling is,” he said. “As long as I’m frustrated, it’s not a big issue. It’s about the team and it’s about the players.

“I just want to make the team win.”