/

Chaos continues in Osaka as Evessa fire coach

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

How the mighty have fallen.

The Osaka Evessa, the bj-league’s first dynasty, fired head coach Zoran Kreckovic on Monday, a day after the Western Conference squad fell to 0-4 by losing 74-67 to the host Shiga Lakestars. The team also released veteran big man Larry Cox, a 211-cm Mississippi Valley State product.

General manager Takao Furuya took over as head coach on Tuesday, the team announced.

Ex-Niigata Albirex BB coach Masaya Hirose and former Oita HeatDevils and Rizing Fukuoka mentor Tadaharu Ogawa have both had success in this league and led teams to the playoffs. Both would have been considered good hires by many around the league.

The Serbian coach’s team, bearing zero resemblance to the potent makeup of experienced, proven winners in this league from past seasons, had also lost all three of its preseason games by a combined 60 points against the Kyoto Hannaryz, Shiga Lakestars and Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix on Sept. 15-17 in the Seiki Cup.

Kreckovic was unavailable for comment. He became the second coach in league history to go winless during his stint in charge. Tony Hanson served as the Oita coach to close out the 2010-11 season after L.J. Hepp was fired and the team lost all 10 games.

Kreckovic’s ouster came at the earliest stage in league history, following HeatDevils coach Jawann Oldham’s 4-12 stint to begin the 2005-06 season and ex-Saitama bench boss Dean Murray’s 4-7 tenure in 2011-12.

The Evessa began the season with back-to-back defeats at home against the Takamatsu Five Arrows — 80-66 on Oct. 13 and 69-66 a day later. By opening the season with two wins, Takamatsu had equaled its victory total from 2011-12, when it lost 50 games.

“I guess that’s what happens when you lose to Takamatsu,” one longtime player said facetiously of Kreckovic’s firing.

But in talks with several league insiders, there was speculation for days that Kreckovic’s days were numbered, that a shakeup was imminent. One source even said that Furuya, a former team manager, wanted to get rid of Kreckovic and the team’s three imports, including forwards Andre Coimbra and Nathan Walkup, but encountered resistance from the team’s ownership.

There’s been chaos and uncertainty for the three-time champions for weeks. After the blowout preseason losses, Osaka general manager Hirotaro Nomamoto, who had held that post since 2005, was relieved of his duties.

Now, the timing of Kreckovic’s ouster gives the front office some time to revamp the rosters before its next games on Nov. 10-11 against Oita. (The team’s next home series isn’t until Nov. 23-24 against Shimane.)

Veteran forward Rick Rickert, a second-round draft pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2003, is poised to sign a contract with the Evessa, according to sources. Rickert was one of the league’s top rebounders (10.7) and averaged 13.6 points per game for Kyoto last season.

Forward Mike Bell, a major contributor last season who’s currently unsigned, could also be on the team’s wish list.

The Evessa’s roster construction has been problematic. Point guard Temi Soyebo, who visited a local shrine with his teammates on Oct. 10, never played a regular-season game and wasn’t listed on the team’s Oct. 11 list of signings. Soyebo reportedly sustained a preseason injury before his departure from the squad.

Only three contributors from last season — guards Satoshi Takeda (6.5 ppg in 2011-12), Masashi Obuchi (6.4 ppg last season) and Shota Konno (4.3) — returned to fill key roles.

Almost the entire roster had changed since ex-bench boss Ryan Blackwell’s last game in charge in the playoffs in May against the Hannaryz.

Cox averaged 9.0 ppg and had 15 points, 19 rebounds and five blocked shots in his regular-season debut and 11 points, 11 boards and five blocks in the team’s last games.

Overall, Osaka’s offense has struggled to make shots on a consistent basis. The team is shooting 37.1 percent from inside the 3-point arc.

Blackwell had guided the Evessa to two playoff appearances and a 67-35 record over the past two seasons.

Original coach Kensaku Tennichi led the Evessa to titles in 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08, five consecutive Final Fours and four championship game appearances. Tennichi’s teams went 160-68 in the regular season. The Evessa have never had a losing season.

Former Osaka star Lynn Washington’s March 13 arrest for suspicion of smuggling a package of marijuana into Japan began a series of events that has unraveled the organization’s chain of command and stability.

All charges against two-time MVP Washington were dropped, but Blackwell was made the scapegoat for his association — and friendship — with the popular player. The rapid disintegration of a once-model franchise has been epic, and a number of long-time fans have shifted their allegiance to the JBL2′s Hyogo Storks, The Japan Times has learned.