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Niigata dumps Coach of Year

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Matt Garrison, the 2012-13 bj-league Coach of the Year, has not been retained for next season.

The Niigata Albirex BB made the announcement on Monday, eight days after the team’s season ended.

Albirex GM Manabu Kosuge and Garrison met early last week after the season wrapped up and the Eastern Conference regular-season champion’s Final Four appearance at Ariake Colosseum. Garrison described it as a positive, forthright meeting, but said he was not offered a contract for 2013-14.

“Obviously we had a great season,” Garrison said by telephone from Niigata on Tuesday. “We came up short with an amazing shot . . . a tough way to lose at the buzzer.”

He was referring, of course, to Yokohama B-Corsairs guard Draelon Burns’ buzzer-beating baseline jumper over Albirex big men Chris Holm and Rodney Webb that sent eventual champion Yokohama into the championship game against the Rizing Fukuoka. The Albirex lost 54-52 in the Eastern Conference final, and the Kyoto Hannaryz beat them 79-72 in the third-place game.

Garrison said team management “was happy with the job I did, but just decided to go in another direction.”

Garrison led Niigata for two seasons, posting a 64-40 record in the regular season and 3-4 in the postseason. The Albirex went 28-24 last season. (In five Final Four appearances since the bj-league was launched, the Albirex are 1-9 overall at Ariake.)

The Albirex were ousted from the 2011-12 playoffs in a three-game series, which included a mini-tiebreaker, by the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix. This season, Niigata set a franchise record for wins (36), center Chris Holm was named to the Best Five team and grabbed a league-best 14.5 rebounds per game and the Albirex were the league’s top 3-point shooting team (38.6 percent).

Longtime Albirex assistant coach Fujitaka “Bomber” Hiraoka, who has served in that role since 2005, is expected to be named the team’s next head coach. League insiders insist he’s the only candidate for the position. The 39-year-old is a former Niigata guard (2000-05).

Garrison called Hiraoka “a very good coach.”

With Hiraoka in charge, it would “really be a pretty easy transition for the team. He knows the system,” Garrison added.

Garrison has expressed interest in coaching another bj-league team next season.

“I know Japan, the league, the players, the coaches,” the Montana native told The Japan Times. “I’ve learned a lot these past two years. It makes sense to pursue (other coaching vacancies).”

He praised the veteran leadership and skills of forward Yuichi Ikeda and guard Kimitake Sato, and said Shuhei Komatsu and Hirotaka Kondo have made big strides over the past two seasons. He added that Holm, guard Nile Murry and forward Rodney Webb and Taj Finger all made sacrifices for the greater good of the team.

Around the league: In other news, the Chiba Jets parted ways with bench boss Shinji Tomiyama after one season, it was announced Monday. The Jets, who have defected to the NBL (formerly called the JBL) went 26-26 in the regular season before falling to the Toyama Grouses in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Before joining the Jets, Tomiyama stepped into the spotlight as the second coach in Iwate Big Bulls history. He went 12-14 to close out the 2011-12 season. Vlasios Vlaikidis had a 7-19 record at the helm before stepping down

Meanwhile, the Wakayama Trians have formerly announced that ex-Shimane Susanoo Magic coach Zeljko Pavlicevic will lead the NBL team next season. (Vlaikidis replaced Pavlicevic last week at Shimane.)

Elsewhere, the Gunma Crane Thunders and head coach Ryan Blackwell agreed to basic terms of a one-year contract for next season.

Blackwell guided the Osaka Evessa from 2010-12. He was named the Crane Thunders bench boss in early November, replacing Tadashi Hayashi, who was 0-8 to start the club’s inaugural campaign.

New team: The bj-league has awarded an expansion franchise to a Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture-based group, Fukushima Sports Entertainment, Inc., for the 2014-15 season

This will increase the number of Tohoku-based clubs to five. The Sendai 89ers, Akita Northern Happinets, Iwate and 2013-14 expansion club Aomori Wat’s are the others.

Commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi said in a new release that the league hopes the Koriyama team can help contribute to the rebuilding efforts in the region in the aftermath of the March 11, 2011, disasters.