Rera Kamuy close to deal with Bryant

by Ed Odeven

Joe Bryant is poised for a return to Japan.

The veteran bench boss is set to become the next head coach of the Japan Basketball League’s Rera Kamuy Hokkaido, hoop insiders have told The Japan Times. An announcement appears imminent.

Bryant, who coached the Tokyo Apache for the first four seasons (2005-09) in the rival bj-league’s history, did not receive a new contract after guiding the club to its second straight trip to the finals and three playoff appearances overall. The Apache, undergoing a series of major cost-cutting measures this season under new ownership, opted to give the job to ex-Takamatsu Five Arrows bench boss Motofumi Aoki.

The Sapporo-based club, meanwhile, has posted a 34-78 records in its three seasons, placing seventh two times and eighth overall in its inaugural season. Tomoya Higashino has been the only head coach in team history, but he was fired after Rera Kamuy went 12-30 this season.

Higashino also served as an assistant coach under Zeljko Pavlicevic for Japan’s 2006 FIBA World Championship national squad.

Bryant, 55, guided the Apache to a 92-84 regular-season record during his tenure with the club. Under his tutelage, guards Cohey Aoki and Masashi Joho blossomed into bona fide stars and helped the team earn runnerup spots to the Osaka Evessa and Ryukyu Golden Kings, respectively, in the aforementioned finals.

Bryant spoke repeatedly of the need to give Japanese players a chance to compete as equals against foreign players in the bj-league, and Aoki and Joho, who now plays for the Shiga Lakestars, have made steady improvements since they entered the league.

Bryant has not coached this season. He did entertain an offer to become the head coach for Nuova AMG Sebastiani Basket, a team in the Italian League, where he played for several years after his NBA career ended in 1983. He also visited with Apache officials just before the 2009-10 season tipped off in October in a last-ditch effort to retain his job for the season.

Instead, Bryant has had several months to relax and spend time with family at his Las Vegas home, as well as spoil his grandchildren. He has also kept close tabs on the NBA season, especially the daily news involving his son Kobe’s team, the reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Bryant, who has also coached in the WNBA and the ABA, would bring name recognition to Hokkaido. But he would face a major adjustment by primarily coaching Japanese players.

Unlike in the bj-league, where three non-Asian foreigners per team are currently permitted on the court at all times, JBL rules dictate that only one foreigner per team is allowed on the court at any time — that is, unless the player becomes a naturalized Japanese citizen (like J.R. Sakuragi, formerly Henderson, of the Aisin Sea Horses).

Shooting guard Takehiko Orimo, who turns 40 in May, is Rera Kamuy’s most well-known player. He was the team’s top scorer (14.7 points per game) last season.

When the news becomes official, Bryant will be the first former bj-league coach to accept a head coaching position in the JBL.