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Nakamura’s coaching tree stretches throughout league

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Now entering his third season in charge of the Akita Northern Happinets, septuagenarian sideline supervisor Kazuo Nakamura’s influence goes far beyond his current team.

Nakamura’s proteges are working throughout the bj-league, with three of them serving as head coaches in the 21-team circuit: Ryuji Kawai (Shinshu Brave Warriors), Koto Toyama (Bambitious Nara, an expansion club) and Shuto Kawachi (Sendai 89ers). The three men, who served under Nakamura with the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix, are all beginning their first seasons with their respective teams.

Kawai’s Brave Warriors have missed the playoffs in each of their first two seasons. He stepped into the spotlight as Hamamatsu head coach in 2011 after Nakamura guided the club to back-to-back championships, then stepped down to take over in Akita, his hometown.

And Kawai, 38, displayed his coaching chops in leading the Phoenix back to the championship game in May 2012, when it finished runnerup to the Ryukyu Golden Kings.

Toyama, 30, led the powerhouse Golden Kings to a league-record 42-10 in his first and only season at the helm before being axed. He quickly landed on his feet again, grabbing the reins of his third team — he coached the Miyazaki Shining Suns from 2010-12 — so he’s endured the growing pains of being with a brand new club, which will serve him well in Nara.

Kawachi, who turns 28 on Aug. 5, is taking over a Sendai squad that missed the playoffs last season. This is his first head coaching job, so the pressure will be on him to develop his own identity and put his stamp on the team.

Expect all three men to seek advice from Nakamura from time to time, but don’t expect him to dish out too many so-called tricks of the trade. After all, Nakamura remains hungry to steer his team to the Final Four for the first team in franchise history, and this season also holds extra significance for Akita, which is hosting the All-Star Game for the first time.

Nakamura told The Japan Times he would like to coach at least until he’s 75, maybe 80; he’ll turn 73 in December.

He has long had a love affair with coaching and admitted as much in a September 2011 interview. He revealed then that NCAA coaching titans Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight (now retired) are two basketball bosses he admires. They also happen to be Nos. 1 and 3, respectively, on the NCAA Division I all-time career wins list; Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim is second, and he’s a mentor to Gunma Crane Thunders coach Ryan Blackwell.

“I learned a lot from (Duke’s) Coach K — practice atmosphere, game atmosphere. I went there (Durham, North Carolina) directly and met him in person,” Nakamura said at the time. “Also, when Coach K went to Hawaii (for games), I met him there as well.”

Asked about his experiences meeting the inimitable Knight, Nakamura recalled, “I spent a week in Indiana, met Bob Knight and went to practice there for one week. But then Bobby told me I was too noisy and to never come back.

“I walked into his personal area and was too noisy. I guess Bobby didn’t like that.”

Of course, there are other mentors who have impacted the coaching careers of others within the league. Dai Oketani, the current Iwate Big Bulls coach, provided more than a few coaching pointers to Tsutomu Isa when he was a Golden Kings assistant from 2008-12, a glorious run that included two title-winning squads. Now, Isa is the new coach in Okinawa, with the added expectation of taking the Golden Kings back to the Final Four after a one-year absence.

And though he is now coaching in the rival National Basketball League (renamed JBL), Zeljko Pavlicevic also influenced a pair of current bj-league head coaches: Hamamatsu’s Tomoya “Coach Crusher” Higashino and Shimane’s Vlasios Vlaikidis.

Higashino served under Pavlicevic when the latter was the Japan men’s national team coach, ending at the 2006 FIBA World Basketball Championship. Vlaikidis’ ties to Pavlicevic, his predecessor in Shimane, go back to the early 1990s; at the time, Pavlicevic coached the Greek League squad Panathinaikos, and Vlaikidis was his assistant.

The reigning champion Yokohama B-Corsairs, meanwhile, are now led by Reggie Geary’s protege, Michael Katsuhisa.

Geary was the 2011-12 Coach of the Year and led Yokohama to two Final Fours, with Katsuhisa assisting him. He took over as the Chiba Jets’ new coach in the NBL after the team’s offseason defection.

Plans derailed: Center Rashaad Singleton won’t suit up for the Shimane Susanoo Magic until at least next February because of an obscure rule, The Japan Times has learned. Thus, the team’s planned Twin Towers, with 216-cm Jeral Davis and 213-cm Singleton teaming up in the frontcourt, is now on hold.

Sources familiar with the situation said Singleton is facing a one-year probation period, instituted by the league after he missed a deadline for a blood test in February. At the time, he was on the verge of joining the Gunma Crane Thunders, and took a required test in Gunma Prefecture, according to multiple league insiders, but was taking flu medication which affected the test results.

He would have needed to retake the test to play for the Crane Thunders, but the import player deadline passed, meaning he became ineligible.

Fast forward to the official announcement on Aug. 19, with Singleton joining the Susanoo Magic.

Singleton, who flew to Japan to prepare for the season, was not aware he was listed as ineligible to play, sources said. Singleton has departed Japan, he confirmed in an email, and plans to play elsewhere in the coming months.

He described this whole ordeal as a “misunderstanding.”

Seeking some clarity on the situation, this reporter asked the bj-league’s public relations department:

*Based on this rule, did the league inform all teams that Singleton is currently ineligible to play?

*Did Gunma ever relay that information to the league office in the first place?

*Who was in charge of this matter at the league office?

League spokesman Kentaro Umehara declined to comment.

Susanoo Magic president Daisuke Akaike did not respond to multiple inquiries from this newspaper.

One Eastern Conference coach said the league office failed to communicate with the Susanoo Magic front office in a timely fashion. He added: “I’m sure they didn’t know (about Singleton’s medical tests).”

B-Corsairs update: Yokohama has signed veteran center Wayne Marshall for the 2013-14 season, the team announced Wednesday.

The Temple University product has previously played for the Osaka Evessa and Shinshu Brave Warriors.

Marshall is the team’s first import signing of the offseason.

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