Hobbs replaced as Japan’s basketball coach

by Kaz Nagatsuka

The Japanese national basketball team almost seems cursed. Every time it tries to move forward, there is some kind of disturbance.

First off, Team Japan suffered major setbacks when it lost two of its best players in Takuya Kawamura and Yuta Tabuse, both of whom left the squad to compete for a spot on an NBA team in the United States.

The latest one is the replacement of its head coach. The Japan Basketball Association announced on Sunday that David A. Hobbs stepped down from the helm due to a “health issue,” which the 60-year-old American has claimed to have had since the FIBA East Asia Championship.

Hobbs has not resigned officially, but is unlikely to return to the job.

As an emergency measure, the JBA appointed Osamu Kuraishi, a former head coach of the Hitachi Sunrockers, as the new floor general to lead the squad for the upcoming international tournaments, including the FIBA Asia Championship in Tianjin, China, next month.

Speaking to the media before the national squad’s training camp at Tokyo’s National Training Center on Monday, Kuraishi, who had been serving as the national team’s chief, calmly explained that there were other candidates for the job. But the JBA ended up with him because he had seen the style of play Hobbs had tried to install.

“I’d been the chief and it was almost like a general manager position. I mean, I was at the position where I shouldn’t step down onto the floor,” said Kuraishi. “But while we tried to have a long-term vision, with which Hobbs agreed, we thought that it would be quite difficult to ask other coaches to share that because it’d take some time.

“Since I know the current players and what Hobbs had been doing, (the JBA) asked me to take this job.”

After wrapping up a three-day training camp on Wednesday, Team Japan will fly to Las Vegas to hold another training camp and play a few exhibition games, including ones against the New Orleans Hornets and NBA Development League squads from July 8-15.

The team then competes in the Jones Cup tournament from July 18-26 in Taipei and comes back to National Training Center for the final training sessions from July 31-Aug. 5, before the FIBA Asia Championship from Aug. 6-16.

The national team resumed its activity, breaking a year-and-a-half silence this spring, when Hobbs became the head man in February, and assembled top players to form the provisional national squad for the East Asia Championship and Asia Championship.

Japan is desperate to gain a spot in next year’s FIBA World Championship in Turkey.

Kuraishi said that although Team Japan qualified through the East Asia Championship, it still needs to develop as a team to evenly battle with other nations in the Asia Championship.

“Hobbs and I think that Japan lacks size and power,” the 53-year-old Kuraishi said. “To make up for that, we need to effectively capitalize on the full-court game and zone defense.”

Kuraishi proclaimed that he is going to follow Hobbs’ ways and styles. On his player selections, Kuraishi said that he won’t necessarily persist with Hobbs’ choices, and is open on whom he uses more and picks as his starting five.

“We’ll play some 13 games until the end of July and we’d like to try a lot of things through them,” Kuraishi said.