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Aomori Wat’s set to name Munakata first coach

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Former Toyota Motors Alvark coach Koju Munakata will be named the first bench boss in Aomori Wat’s history, The Japan Times has learned.

An announcement is expected in the coming days, a basketball insider with knowledge of the situation said on Monday.

Munakata, an Aomori native, coached the WJBL’s Hitachi High-Tech Cougars the past two seasons. Hitachi posted a 5-17 record this season.

In 2011-12, the team went 12-4 in the regular season. The WJBL playoffs are currently under way, but with Hitachi out of the picture, the team can begin making plans for next season — the post-Munakata era.

The Bambitious Nara, the bj-league’s other expansion team for the 2013-14 season, haven’t named their first coach yet.

A former JBL guard, Munakata suited up for the Japan Energy squad from 1989-98, then played for Toyota from 1998-2006. The 178-cm Munakata was a playing assistant for the Alvark in 2005-06. Munakata earned JBL Best Five accolades in 1994.

Munakata served as an assistant coach for Toyota in the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons, then held the top post from 2008-10. The Alvark went 18-17 and 20-22 in those two seasons under Munakata.

One source doesn’t believe Munakata commanded respect within the Toyota organization.

“He only lasted two years at Toyota and was reportedly not that well-liked by his players, especially Takehiko Orimo,” the source said, referring to the longtime Japan national team star. “Orimo played with him for a long time, but after Munakata became an assistant, Orimo didn’t care for him. Orimo was phased out by head coach Torsten Loibl and assistant coach Munakata, so he left for Hokkaido in 2007.”

Orimo, 42, was the oldest active player in the JBL this season, and also handles team executive duties for Levanga Hokkaido.

As for Munakata, there remain questions about his coaching credentials, the source said.

“He had talent at Toyota but couldn’t win,” the source told The Japan Times on Monday. “Don Beck took over basically the same team in 2010 and had them winning the JBL championship in 2011-12.”

Indeed, the Alvark ended a five-year title drought last spring. Before that, Toyota won three straight crowns through 2007.

In a related development for the 2013-14 campaign, sources say the bj-league plans to reduce its import quota per team to three (from four) as a cost-cutting move.

Evessa update: Winning in double overtime on Saturday and then in OT on Sunday against the host Rizing Fukuoka, the Osaka Evessa have improved to 13-25 overall, 8-6 since Bill Cartwright was named the team’s third head coach of the season on Jan. 20.

Cartwright didn’t expect an easy rematch on Sunday.

“I knew this would be as tough as yesterday’s game,” he said on Sunday.

“At (the) beginning, we couldn’t play good enough against Fukuoka’s hard play, so we couldn’t swing the momentum back in the first half.

“But in the third and fourth quarters we played good (basketball) — driving to the net and getting momentum back.”

Cartwright praised the individual effort of his players.

“Each player did a good job for their roles, so that we could swing momentum (in our favor). I think we could step up by fighting through this game,” the former Chicago Bulls bench boss said.

Osaka, which has won four of its last five games, plays host to the Shinshu Brave Warriors this weekend.

Evessa guard Shota Konno, meanwhile, is the Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP winner, it was announced on Tuesday.

The Osaka native scored a career-high 36 points on 14-for-19 shooting, including 3-for-4 on 3s, in the double-OT triumph on Saturday over the Rizing, and had four rebounds, four assists and three steals.

In the Sunday rematch, he had 11 points and two steals.

Konno, who turns 28 on March 29, is averaging 8.6 points per game. He had his previous season-high output in points (20) on March 3, the Evessa’s last game before the Fukuoka series.