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Ex-NBA player Benoit named head coach of expansion Hannaryz

by Ed Odeven

The Kyoto Hannaryz have turned to David Benoit to lead the team from Day One.

Naturally, the former NBA player welcomes the challenge.

In an introductory news conference on Monday in Kyoto, the former Saitama Broncos coach told reporters he hopes to guide the team to a championship in its first season.

“To achieve that, we need support from the boosters,” Benoit said. “We would like them to come to the arena to watch us play. We’d like to play games so that the fans want to come to the arena again.”

The bj-league expansion team, the league’s 13th club, will begin play in the fall of 2009.

And it will play in a competitive market featuring the three-time champion Osaka Evessa and the Shiga Lakestars, who nearly earned a playoff berth in their first season in 2008-09.

Hannaryz general manager Junya Goto selected five finalists for the coaching job. In the end, he hired a coach with two years of limited success on his resume.

Kyoto also hired Kazuto Aono, a former Saitama player who served as an assistant coach and Benoit’s interpreter in the past two seasons, as the team’s assistant coach.

Benoit, 41, retired as a player after the 2006-07 season with the Broncos and became the team’s head coach.

Over the next two seasons, the Broncos played well at times, bad at times and often had mediocre performances. Benoit cited injuries as a factor in Saitama’s poor play.

Saitama posted a 21-23 record in 2007-08 and missed the playoffs. This past season, Benoit’s club went 19-33 and didn’t qualify for postseason play.

An undrafted forward out of the University of Alabama, Benoit played in 492 regular-season games in the NBA, starting in the 1991-92 season. He played for the Utah Jazz, Orlando Magic and New Jersey Nets and made 179 career starts, averaging 18.9 minutes per game and 7.0 points per game.

Benoit played in 57 NBA playoff games, many alongside Jazz stalwarts and future Hall of Famers John Stockton and Karl Malone. Benoit made his final NBA appearance in the 2000-01 season with the Jazz. He later played with current NBA star Yao Ming on the Shanghai Sharks, a Chinese Basketball Association team.

It will be a busy summer for the Hannaryz. The bj-league draft will be held on June 15. The Hannaryz will conduct player tryouts on June 26.

It will also be a time for Benoit to get acclimated to Kyoto’s world-famous cuisine. He admitted as much during the news conference, telling reporters he’d like to find out where the good restaurants in Kyoto are.

“We’d like to use our own experience and establish a strong squad,” said the 33-year-old Aono, who attended college in Kyoto. “Not only for the team, but we would also like to devote ourselves to improve the whole basketball (scene) in Kyoto.”

The team also hopes to add Kyoto-area players to the roster, according to Benoit.

James: I’m OK

INDEPENDENCE , Ohio (AP) LeBron James finally talked about not making the NBA Finals, and insists Cleveland’s loss to Orlando will not impact his future with the Cavaliers.

James stormed out of Amway Arena without speaking to the media Saturday night after the Cavs were eliminated with a 103-90 loss to the Magic in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. The league MVP, who also did not shake hands with Olympic teammate Dwight Howard or congratulate any Orlando players as he left the floor, said Sunday that he’s happy in Cleveland and feels the Cavs made major progress this season.

“I’m great. I feel great about this situation that’s going on,” James said. “You want to continue to get better, that’s all you can ask. We got better and I feel this team will be better next season. You don’t want to take a step backward. I think we went forward from the Boston series (a Game 7 loss in the semis) last year.”

“Hopefully we can go forward next year.”

The Cavaliers won 66 regular-season games and their second Central Division title this season.