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Coaching carousel back in full swing for summer

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

With Ryan Blackwell out of the picture, will the Osaka Evessa hire an experienced, big name coach or hand the reins to another rookie bench boss? Or will the team simply hire from within and promote Blackwell’s assistant, 33-year-old Keisuke Hirose, to the top spot?

Blackwell, who brought a defensive-first approach to the job, is the bj-league’s first official coaching casualty of the offseason.

Expect several other teams to make a change in the coming weeks; after all, contracts for the 2011-12 season expired on Thursday. And some teams will be smart to hire replacements before the June 18 draft, giving general managers and new coaches a chance to shape team’s rosters well in advance of next season.

Anywhere else, Takamatsu Five Arrows sideline supervisor Kenzo Maeda would have been shown the door after the team’s 2-50 season. But for a franchise with the bar set so low, three straight disastrous seasons have given way to zero expectations besides loss after loss.

As bizarre as it sounds, here’s one speculative blurb dished out to this reporter on Wednesday: “Don’t know if it’s true or not, but heard Maeda was told he has to be at least .500 after 10 games in the fall,” a well-connected source said, “or he will be fired.”

Shinshu Brave Warriors coach Motofumi Aoki has been the favorite for months to take over as the Tokyo Cinq Rêves’ first coach. If Aoki leaves the Nagano club, expect his assistant, Takatoshi “Big Bashi” Ishibashi, to replace him.

Shimane Susanoo Magic coach Zeljko Pavlicevic, a former Japan national team boss, has committed to guiding the Western Conference club for a third season. Also, Sendai 89ers bench boss Bob Pierce will be back in charge for a second season.

Furthermore, Shiga Lakestars coach Alan Westover received a new two-year contract from the Kansai-area club. (Like players in the bj-league, coaches generally all receive one-year contracts, though a few get two-year deals.)

The Saitama Broncos, 16-36 in 2011-12 under two coaches (Dean Murray, Natalie Nakase), will probably not have Nakase at the helm next season.

Speaking of Murray, he has accepted a job in the Korean Basketball League as an assistant coach for Anyang KGC.

Around the league: Promising youngster Narito Namizato, who averaged 11.0 points and 4.2 assists (ninth-best output in the league) for the Ryukyu Golden Kings this season, dreams of becoming the second Japanese to play in the NBA after Yuta Tabuse.

Will Namizato get serious consideration from NBA teams? Probably not.

Should he try instead to latch on with an NBA Development League team and thus have a chance for steady exposure in the next few years? Yes. That would be a smarter decision for the 22-year-old.

“I can’t see him playing (in the) NBA or the EuroLeague, but he would probably get an opportunity in the D-League,” Westover said. “There’s a thousand little guards coming out of college each and every year, and he would have to get more physical, improve defensively. Could he guard Chris Paul and other NBA players? Plus, he’d have to learn new systems, and be able to run a team at that level. That’s a big jump from the bj-league.”

Asked if Namizato is an NBA-ready player right now, one league insider, who requested anonymity, said, “He is full of potential, but, at this point in his career, no. He is not strong enough. He needs to add about 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of muscle. He also needs to work on a consistent outside shot. He is able to do things because he has a great supporting cast in Okinawa and the floor is properly spaced, which allows him to penetrate and showcase his individual skills.”

One Eastern Conference coach agreed with the insider’s overall assessment.

“He is a great competitor and knows the game well and it would be exciting for him if he got (an NBA) tryout to see how he measures up,” the coach said.

“With that said, that is a completely different level. . . . (And) if you look at all the talented imports that play in the bj-league that rarely get a chance at those tryouts and make a roster, it is unlikely that he would make it, but that is what the game is all about, taking advantage of opportunities.”

Chasing a dream: Since leaving Japan in 2009 at age 39 to pursue a full-time career as an official, 20-year U.S. Navy man and former bj-league referee Tim Greene has paid his dues donning a whistle in the WNBA and in the Atlantic-10 Conference.

So, the question is: Can Greene get promoted to the world’s top league, and become the first official from Japan’s fledgling pro circuit to call games in the NBA?

“I would say 50-50,” said a veteran official who asked to be unnamed for this article. “I think Tim could work in the NBA, but it comes down to a numbers game. If there is a mass exodus of officials (5-10 guys) in a year, then he has a good shot at making it.

“The NBA will always choose the younger guy, as they will get more mileage out of them. If not, you will see him work the WNBA for the next 10-15 years, plus college ball which isn’t a bad gig for a guy who started officiating in Yokosuka.”

Drug testing: After the first widespread drug testing in league history in late March, the league’s lack of transparency raised many eyebrows, and continues to do so after the May 20 championship game triumph gave the Golden Kings their second title. Not one player was named for failing drug tests.

“When the story first broke I thought maybe 10 or 15 players (failed the drug tests),” the league insider said.

“Once I heard teams were allowed to test their own players and report back to the league, I changed my number to zero. What team in their right mind would damage their own product by announcing a positive test on one of their own player(s)? If a team did report a positive test to the league, then all I can say is wow.

“Will we ever know the truth?”


Do you have a story idea about the bj-league? Send an email to edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp