Kyoto Hannaryz point guard Naoto Takushi played a pivotal role in head coach David Benoit’s recent ouster, bj-league sources told The Japan Times.
According to one source, Takushi, the team captain, held a meeting behind closed doors with team management and gave them an ultimatum: fire the coach or else.
Benoit was replaced by assistant coach Kazuto Aono last Friday. Kyoto entered the weekend with a 14-26 record and five straight losses. (Kyoto earned a series split against the Takamatsu Five Arrows last weekend.)
Takushi, who was the Ryukyu Golden Kings’ No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft, played an uncharacteristically low 13 minutes in the Hannaryz’s 93-66 loss to the Rizing Fukuoka on March 28. The source said Takushi was not pleased with Benoit’s “substitution pattern and refused to go back into the game in the second half.”
Takushi, a member of the league’s Best Five Team for the past two seasons, didn’t play on March 29, perhaps a move by the coaching staff to discipline the point guard for what allegedly occurred in the series opener.
The Hannaryz’s front office was contacted by telephone on Monday evening, and team spokesperson Kana Okumura said she didn’t know if Takushi had met with team officials regarding Benoit or other issues.
Okumura declined to comment on what the league insider said about Takushi’s alleged demands.
On Tuesday afternoon, Benoit acknowledged Takushi hasn’t always been a team-first player.
“I had trouble with the kid,” he said, “and he had some trouble with his teammates.”
Benoit characterized Takushi as a reluctant acquisition by the expansion Hannaryz after his two seasons with Ryukyu, where “his attitude (was a problem) in the past and he would disrupt the team.”
“But I knew he was a talented player,” added Benoit, who coached the Saitama Broncos for the previous two seasons.
Benoit said he didn’t know if Takushi had any meetings with team officials or if he asked the team to make a coaching change, but Benoit believes that would jibe with the overall difficulty he had in dealing with the veteran guard.
“That explains a lot to me about the things that happened,” Benoit said.
He added: “I’ve come to find out in the end the guy was going against me.”
Benoit said he and Takushi didn’t always see eye to eye, and that caused “a breakdown on offense and defense and made it (difficult) for the team to be able to stay together.”
The league source, meanwhile, said Takushi “often took games off and didn’t always play hard if he thought the team couldn’t win.”
Reflecting on his playing days, including eight NBA seasons, Benoit said he never had a meeting with team management about one of his coaches.
“If anything, I would make the proper suggestions to the coach,” Benoit said.
“This is a new thing for me — a player having meetings with management.”
During a Tuesday phone conversation, Benoit reiterated his comments from last Friday, citing injuries as the main factor in the expansion team’s struggles, and he said: “I’m not God. I can’t say if this guy or that guy is going to stay healthy. I can’t work magic.”
Now, as the dust settles and the Hannaryz play their final 10 regular-season games, Benoit will have time to look back on his disappointing short stint as the team’s bench boss. And if he coaches again in the bj-league, which he has stated he wants to do, Benoit has already made one thing clear.
“That kid can never play for me again,” he said of Takushi.