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Former Tokyo players train with ex-coach Hill in Texas

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Former members of the Tokyo Apache have strengthened their friendship in recent days in Texas.

In two days last week, Ex-Apache coach Bob Hill worked with guards Cohey Aoki, Jumpei Nakama and Minoru Kimura at Trinity University in San Antonio, and the members of the defunct team also enjoyed catching up over food and drinks.

Hill, a former San Antonio Spurs head coach, described the workouts with the Japanese trio this way:

“Jumpei and Cohey are coming off surgery so they could not have any contact. Kim was fine and has improved so much. I’m very proud of him.”

“We did an hour and a half of shooting drills both days,” said Hill, who is mulling offers for the coming season, including in China.

Seven-time All-Star Aoki, who joined the Tokyo Cinq Reves after playing for the Osaka Evessa following the Apache’s demise, continues to impress Hill with his precision perimeter shooting.

“Cohey shot the ball extremely well,” Hill said. “He made 181 3s in 10 minutes. He made 90 in five minutes the first day and 91 in five minutes the second day.

“That is incredible shooting. He is a special shooter and should have been invited to try out for the national team. They really missed out not at least giving him an opportunity.”

Nakama, now with the Shiga Lakestars, said he was happy to meet his former coach again.

“Coach Hill is a really great coach and a good person, too,” Nakama said.

The ex-Apache trio traveled to California after spending time in Texas. That gave them a chance to meet ex-teammates Mike Chappell, who calls the Tokyo guards his “Far East brethren,” and former team assistant and Saitama Broncos bench boss Natalie Nakase, who now handles video production duties for the Los Angeles Clippers.

On the move: Team rosters continue to take shape for the upcoming season.

Ryukyu star Jeff Newton has reached an agreement to play for the Golden Kings for a sixth season, it was announced earlier this week. Newton, an Indiana University product, has played for five championship-winning squads, starring for the Evessa from 2005-08 before joining Ryukyu.

Kimura, a backup for the Yokohama B-Corsairs the past two seasons, is moving to the Iwate Big Bulls. The 30-year-old appeared in 51 games in 2012-13, averaging 2.6 points per contest.

Also this week, guard Hikaru Kusaka reunited with his former Sendai 89ers coach, Honoo Hamaguchi, leaving the Tohoku club to sign a free agent deal to play for the Kyoto Hannaryz.

Kusaka, dubbed “Mr. 89ers,” is the only player in the league to suit up for the same franchise for each of the first eight seasons.

The 30-year-old saw limited playing time in his final Sendai season. Now, he said he’s happy to rejoin Hamaguchi and Kyoto athletic trainer Yuichi Kitagawa, who, like Hamaguchi, was with the 89ers for six seasons (2005-11).

In a statement posted on the Hannaryz’s website, Kusaka said he’s excited for the opportunity to play for the Hannaryz, who advanced to the Final Four in 2011-12 and 2012-13.

“The goal is to win, of course,” Kusaka said, before addressing the team staff and boosters with this message: “Let’s fight together.”

In other moves, guard Takamichi Fujiwara, who has played for the Shiga Lakestars since 2008, is moving back to the Niigata Albirex BB, his former club in the league’s infancy. Fujiwara averaged 7.2 points in 52 games last season, with 137 assists and 42 steals.

Post player Rodney Webb, meanwhile, has reached a basic agreement to return to the Albirex. He averaged 10.8 ppg for the Eastern Conference regular-season champion in 2012-13.

Fallout in Fukuoka: A league insider told The Japan Times on Thursday that Atsushi Kanazawa’s perspective was not respected by the team’s front office. This happened even though Kanazawa steered the Rizing to the championship game in his first full season in charge.

That led to his imminent departure from the club. Kanazawa will coach the TGI D-Rise, an NBDL (renamed JBL2) team next season.

“(Kanazawa) said the team didn’t accept his opinion,” a well-connected insider told The Japan Times, “and he thought the NBL is a better league in the future that’s why he moved early like this year.”

Getting to know . . . Shunsuke Todo: The Evessa’s new coach, Shunsuke Todo, will have his hands full as the Kansai club turns the page after the Bill Cartwright era, which lasted all of 28 games (17 wins, 11 defeats).

A team tryout is scheduled for July 15, giving the 36-year-old Sapporo native his first busy evaluation day.

In a Wednesday phone interview, Todo said it’ll be a “big challenge to rebuild,” acknowledging the team’s 22-30 record last season was atypical in the franchise’s ultra-successful eight seasons.

Osaka’s first non-winning season now puts Todo in position to embrace that challenge. The keys, he said, are “commitment to winning, commitment to strive for excellence and a commitment to rebuilding the team.”

Team president Motofumi Iguchi, who is 34, and Todo will form a young partnership in working to return the franchise to stability.

“We share the same passion to rebuild the team,” said Todo, who attended NCAA Division III Rowan University in New Jersey.

Indeed, Todo admitted, there’s pressure stepping into the spotlight as Cartwright’s successor, but said he’s thankful for the opportunity.

“I want stability, want it for our organization and fans,” he said.

Todo lists Shuji Ono, the JBL’s Hitachi Sunrockers coach, and Tom Wisman, former Japan national team coach for whom he served as an assistant, as mentors. He said he has great admiration for Duke University bench boss Mike Krzyzewski.

Todo said he considers the late John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success “my bible” as a coach.

Todo first discovered Wooden’s basketball theories while browsing at a Barnes & Noble bookstore in the U.S., “when he was 19 or 20,” he recalled. “I just saw it one day. . .”

“I read his book and it made so much sense,” Todo said. “I was surprised in the simplicity of the book.”

Todo, a psychology major in college, mentioned Wooden’s pyramid traits of industriousness and enthusiasm as characteristics that define him as a coach.

Catching up with . . . Andy Ellis: Former Oita HeatDevils standout Andy Ellis, who attended Texas Tech and played under legendary coach Bob Knight, is teaching the next generation of players at Trinity Christian School in Lubbock, Texas. He also serves as the school’s golf coach and assistant athletic director.

A high-scoring, bearded big man in his playing days in Japan, Ellis’ career also included stops in Israel and Turkey.

“We are a (Class) 4A private school here in Texas,” Ellis wrote in an email to The Japan Times.

“We have a very fundamental team but aren’t very big. We are small and fast, similar to the Japanese teams without the Americans. It is fun for me (because) it makes every game a challenge just like when I was playing. I just love being around basketball and don’t think I will ever not be involved in it.”

Ellis led the league in scoring (25.1 ppg) in his final season with the HeatDevils.

Wrote Ellis: “Last year was my first year (coaching) and I really enjoyed that. I miss playing a lot but the body pretty much decided that I couldn’t do that anymore.”

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