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Grouses need coach after Shimoji steps down

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

After nearly finishing with their first winning season in franchise history, the Toyama Grouses will not have Kazuaki Shimoji at the helm in 2012-13. Serious health issues appear to be the primary factor, league insiders told The Japan Times.

The Eastern Conference club announced on Wednesday that Shimoji would not return for a second full season in charge. His contract had expired and that opens the door for another coach to step in.

Shimoji took over as head coach in February 2011, when Kohei Eto was fired with the team stuck in last place in the Eastern Conference with an 8-18 record. Shimoji led the Grouses to a 5-13 record to close out the season.

Toyama went 25-27 this past season and guard Masashi Joho became the first Grouses player to be named to the league’s Best Five team. Shimoji’s overall coaching record was 30-40 with the Grouses. The 35-year-old had served as an assistant coach for the Niigata Albirex BB since 2006 before joining Toyama.

The Grouses were a strong rebounding team this past season, and that inside muscle — led by Devin Searcy’s 10.7 boards per game (tied for the fourth-best output in the league) — gave the team their first taste of respectability since joining the league along with the Takamatsu Five Arrows as expansion clubs in the fall of 2006. (The Grouses were 61-171 in the regular season entering 2011-12.)

Shimoji’s departure didn’t shock one league insider.

On Wednesday, the source told The Japan Times, “I don’t know who the next coach will be, but a (former Grouses player) told me last week that Shimoji had health problems. He said that he wouldn’t be surprised if Shimoji never coaches again.”

One veteran coach reacted to the news this way: “What a shame. . . . Maybe back to the drawing board (for Toyama).”

“Mr. Shimoji has had a major heart problem, and he had big surgery on his heart three times in the past,” another league insider said.

The source said Shimoji had coped with Marfan Syndrome, which is described by Webster’s New World College Dictionary as “a hereditary disorder characterized by abnormalities of the blood circulation and the eyes, abnormally long bones in the limbs and very mobile joints.”

Wikipedia cites heart defects as a major issue that people with Marfan Syndrome must cope with.

While apparently enduring serious health problems, Shimoji had invigorated the Grouses and helped the franchise build for a successful future. At the same time, “he completed one of his dreams,” a Hokuriku-based hoop pundit pointed out, “to become a head coach in the bj-league. But at the end of the season, he felt his (physical) condition exhausted him too much.”

“It is unlikely he will come back to this league for a head coaching job,” the source predicted.

The Grouses, Miyazaki Shining Suns and Osaka Evessa will join seven other clubs with already announced newly hired sideline supervisors in the 21-team circuit for the upcoming season.

Shimoji issued a statement thanking the team’s entire staff, as well as boosters, volunteers and the local media, for their support and encouragement.

“The players gave me fighting spirit through competition,” he said. “I really appreciate it . . . “