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Geary done with Yokohama, poised to take over in Chiba

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

In a major announcement that was expected for weeks, Reggie Geary told The Japan Times on Monday evening that he won’t return to coach the defending champion Yokohama B-Corsairs.

The 2011-12 bj-league Coach of the Year has been linked to the Chiba Jets’ head coaching vacancy for weeks.

Basketball insiders said the former NBA guard is poised to take over as Chiba’s bench boss in the coming days, though his return to Japan isn’t expected until mid-July for the team that defected to the NBL.

“The B-Corsairs are just facing too many financial difficulties to make me a competitive offer,” Geary told The Japan Times in a followup interview on Tuesday. “It was not an easy decision for me to leave the players and fans of Yokohama where we made history. But all things considered, I have to do what’s best for me and my family.

“I’m still considering offers in both Japan and in the U.S. I hope to be able to make an announcement soon.”

Geary coached the B-Corsairs, who sold a 51 percent stake in the team last week to a J2 soccer club Tokyo Verdy shareholder, for two seasons, compiling a 66-38 record as the first coach in franchise history, including a pair of Final Four trips.

A league source said veteran B-Corsairs forward Taketo Aoki, who turns 40 in January, and assistant coach Michael Katsuhisa are the top candidates to replace Geary. Aoki, a Kanagawa Prefecture native, has played in the bj-league since its inception in 2005 and has indicated for several seasons he wants to be a head coach.

Yokohama star sixth man Draelon Burns, a Best Five guard in 2012-13, has reached a deal to play for the rival Akita Northern Happinets, where he’ll reunite with former B-Corsairs big man Chas McFarland, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Also Monday, The Japan Times learned that Atsushi Kanazawa, who led the Rizing Fukuoka to a championship runnerup finish in his first full season in charge, will be moving on to the NBDL (renamed JBL2) as the TGI D-Rise’s new coach.

Of the four teams that appeared in the Final Four on May 18-19, three will have new coaches next season. Honoo Hamaguchi of the Kyoto Hannaryz is the only one returning to the same team.

“The bj-league is a mystery with no answers,” one league source said. “Kanazawa did an amazing job, so of course he’s released . . . “

Shunsuke Todo was named the Osaka Evessa’s new head coach on Monday, and the bj-league’s offseason coaching carousel is as busy as ever.

Todo replaces Bill Cartwright, who opted to not return for the second year of his contract. Cartwright orchestrated the Evessa’s impressive turnaround last season. The Western Conference squad went 17-11 under the former Chicago Bulls head coach.

The Evessa, once the league’s original dynasty (championships in 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08), were 5-19 to start last season before Cartwright arrived.

Todo received a one-year deal from the Evessa.

Todo, 36, has worked as a JBL assistant coach and in that role for the Japan national team (2011-12). He coached the WJBL’s Denso squad last season. He hasn’t worked in the 21-team bj-league in any capacity.

“He is young, but he is developing a great career by himself,” Osaka president Motofumi Iguchi said.

Hirokazu Nema will leave the Shiga Lakestars and become Todo’s assistant coach.

Iguchi said in a Monday telephone interview that the team wanted Cartwright to return. He said the franchise “appreciated 100 percent what he’s done for us.”

The new-look Evessa don’t plan to re-sign imports Dwayne Lathan, Rick Rickert, Mike Bell and Nathan Walkup.

Veteran guard Haruyuki Ishibashi, who has played for Shiga, Osaka and the Iwate Big Bulls, will be added to the Osaka roster for next season. Guard Yosuke Sugawara will also join the Evessa after a pair of stints with the Ryukyu Golden Kings.

Al Westover, meanwhile, is finished after two seasons with the Shiga Lakestars, the veteran sideline supervisor telling this newspaper on Monday evening he’s returning to Australia, where he played and coached since the 1970s before coming to Japan. He will next work for the Australian College of Basketball.

Westover, a California native, guided the Lakestars to a pair of playoff appearances in two seasons. Shiga was 65-39 in the past two regular seasons.

“Shiga was good to me, and I thank (team president Shinsuke) Sakai and the Lakestars for the opportunity,” Westover wrote in an email. “I loved Otsu (Shiga Prefecture), my team, and our boosters. It was a good two years, a great experience for me and my wife. I’m disappointed that we didn’t win the championship, but the team is close, and I wish them all the best for the upcoming season.

“I won’t be coaching a team,” Westover said of his new job, “but will be trying to develop the young talent here in Australia.”

Lakestars management has held talks with former Niigata Albirex BB coach Matt Garrison, who took the squad to the Final Four in May, about the Shiga coaching vacancy.

Garrison was the Coach of the Year this past season. He is also a former Niigata and Takamatsu Five Arrows player.

Building from scratch: The expansion Aomori Wat’s added three players on Monday as the roster begins to take shape for the upcoming season.

The trio:

*Guard Yuki Kitamuki, who averaged 15.5 points in 52 games for the Saitama Broncos last season.

*Small forward Yuta Kojima, who scored 4.8 ppg and also appeared in 52 regular-season contests for the now-defunct Miyazaki Shining Suns.

*Shooting guard Daichi Shimoyama, who played sparingly (43 minutes in 13 games) for the Sendai 89ers.