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Constant coaching chaos having a negative impact

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

When the 2013-14 season tips off in October, three head coaches are expected to be in charge of the same Western Conference teams from the get-go for a third straight season.

That fraternity of three is comprised of Kenzo Maeda of the Takamatsu Five Arrows, Al Westover of the Shiga Lakestars and Yukinori Suzuki of the Oita HeatDevils. Westover’s return has not been formally announced yet.

Maeda was handed a one-year contract last week after helping Takamatsu rebound from a disastrous 2-50 campaign in 2011-12. The Five Arrows went 20-32 in his second season at the helm.

And Rizing Fukuoka bench tactician Atsushi Kanazawa should be back in charge for his second full season, too, after guiding the Kyushu club to a championship runnerup finish, the best performance in the franchise’s six seasons.

Also in the West, the Bambitious Nara will hand the reins to an as-yet-unnamed coach for their inaugural season. Other coaching spots will be announced in the days to come.

The annual draft is scheduled for mid-June. With the Miyazaki Shining Suns dropping out of the league, the West will once again have 10 teams for next season.

Meanwhile, the chaotic coaching carousel, which often defies logic, is in full swing. In the span of just over a week, the bj-league Coach of the Year (Matt Garrison of the Niigata Albirex BB) and the coach of the team with a league-record 42-10 season (Koto Toyama of the Ryukyu Golden Kings) were shown the door by their respective teams.

Fujitaka “Bomber” Hiraoka, who has been with the Albirex organization since 2000, first as a player, and since 2005 as an assistant under Masaya Hirose and Garrison, is poised to become the next coach. Tsutomu Isa, another longtime assistant, is the new Ryukyu boss.

Garrison’s announced departure on Monday stunned many people that follow the league, but not all longtime insiders shared that sentiment.

Or as one insider put it: “I was not surprised they did not bring Matt back. When they first hired him, Bomber was very pissed off and had a grudge against Matt the whole time. He has been scheming his way to be the head coach all along while acting like a good assistant.”

On the other hand, one former bj-league coach, who knows the high-turnover nature of the business, wrote in an email to The Japan Times, “I personally would like to see Hiraoka get a shot. I thought he was going to get it the last time around. He’s paid his dues and deserves a shot there or elsewhere. If he doesn’t get it, he needs to move on and go to another team.”

Said another well-connected source who requested anonymity, “I’m not surprised at all. (It was) a no-win situation for Matt with Hiraoka on the bench. Hopefully Matt will get picked up for another job here in Japan. He has grown as a head coach and is a good Xs and Os guy. He communicates well with his players, which is a must these days.

“He’s a very nice guy on and off the court. I wish him the best.”

Garrison had two winning seasons, both capped by playoff appearances with Niigata, a 28-24 record in 2011-12 and a 36-16 mark this past season. In a results-driven business, the Albirex’s improvement was indeed solid, but in the eyes of team management, including general manager Manabu Kosuge, who was well aware that Garrison wanted to return to the team for the upcoming season, not considered good enough.

That said, Garrison’s coaching impressed a lot of people in the 21-team league.

“He led the team to first place in the Eastern Conference,” one East head coach who requested anonymity said in a Monday interview. “He managed his players well. That’s why they won. . . “

Despite Niigata’s overall success over the past two seasons, the bigger story pinpoints the lack of stability throughout the league in key leadership positions and the unrealistic expectations pinned on head coaches.

“To be honest,” a hoop observer stated Tuesday,” bj-league teams, and the entire league for that matter, have left a bad taste with a lot of people, (including) possible coaches and players. So it’s a matter of potential candidates not trusting the league/teams as a whole.

“Besides, what coach wants to sign just a one-year deal when asked to build a team, a team that you have no control or input with player selection and people who have never played the game are pretending to know it all? But yet fire coaches just because they don’t make it to the Final Four (Ryukyu). It’s ridiculous.”

Reflecting on the fact that many teams have failed to embraced continuity, Osaka Evessa power forward Mike Bell said, “I don’t understand how organizations expect to build if they are always destroying the pieces that created success.”

Around the league: Coach Reggie Geary, who guided the Yokohama B-Corsairs to the championship on May 19, is a candidate for the Chiba Jets’ head coaching vacancy, a league insider told The Japan Times.

The Jets have defected to the NBL (formerly called the JBL) for the 2013-14 season. Coach Shinji Tomiyama was fired earlier this week after one season in charge. Chiba went 26-26 in the regular season and reached the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

Geary was the 2011-12 bj-league Coach of the Year, leading the B-Corsairs to the Final Four and after a 31-21 regular-season record. They went 35-17 this season and defeated the Rizing Fukuoka 101-90 in the title game at Ariake Colosseum.

Geary has expressed interest in landing an NBA assistant coaching job in the future.

A former NBA player, Geary has held talks with B-Corsairs management about a new contract for the coming season. Stay tuned. . .

New hire: Shuto Kawachi was named the Sendai 89ers’ new head coach on Thursday.

Kawachi turns 28 on Aug. 5. He is the second 27-year-old to be hired as a bj-league head coach in the past three years. Toyama was 27 when he first stepped onto the sideline with the Miyazaki Shining Suns in 2010.

Sendai went through two coaches — Bob Pierce and Takao Mabashi, who’s also the general manager — in 2012-13, when they stumbled through a 20-32 campaign.

The new 89ers coach’s father is commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi.

The younger Kawachi played for the Hamamatsu Higashimiakwa Phoenix in 2008-09, the team’s first season in the bj-league. He then served as an assistant coach under Kazuo Nakamura and Ryuji Kawai from 2009-12, when the Phoenix won a pair of titles (2009-10, 2010-11) and a championship runnerup spot.

This season, Kawachi spent time observing the St. John’s University men’s basketball team in New York.

Kawachi said it’s his goal to return the 89ers to the playoffs.

Feedback: Got at story idea about the bj-league? Send an email to edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp