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Kyoto’s success no surprise under coach Hamaguchi

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Piece by piece, Kyoto Hannaryz coach Honoo Hamaguchi has cobbled together an impressive resume. He is the bj-league’s only bench boss to be in charge of a team on opening day in all nine seasons.

Through Sunday, Hamaguchi’s overall regular-season record is 252-154, winning games at a 62 percent clip. The Hannaryz (33-17) are vying for a third straight trip to the Final Four, but have this weekend off before closing out the season on April 26 and 27 against the host Aomori Wat’s. They have already locked up the No. 2 seed for the Western Conference playoffs, thus earning a bye into the conference semifinals.

The fact that Kyoto has won six straight games and nine of its last 10 shouldn’t be a big surprise to anyone who has been following Hamaguchi’s career. His teams are always competitive, and he’s still chasing his first championship in the fledgling circuit.

The 2013-14 Hannaryz have three of the league’s most recognizable standouts: rebounding maestro Chris Holm, who’s third in the league in rebounds (11.8 per game along with 9.0 points per game); perimeter marksman Yu Okada (10.2 ppg and 95 3-pointers); and smooth-shooting David Palmer, the 2006-07 MVP for the title-winning Osaka Evessa (14.2 ppg).

Former Washington Wizard Edwin Ubiles is the team’s top scorer at 16.0 ppg and forward Joe Werner has made an easy transition from the Chiba Jets to the Hannaryz and provided 11.0 points and 7.4 rebounds. Shun Watanuki, whose potential impressed his then-Osaka head coach Bill Cartwright, the ex-Chicago Bulls bench boss, last spring, has quietly made a big impact for Kyoto, with 8.8 ppg, 128 assists against 49 turnovers with 64 steals. Another newcomer, ex-Sendai forward Takuya Komoda, has converted a solid 51 percent of his shots from inside the arc.

As constructed by Hamaguchi, the Hannaryz have a versatile, diverse mix of talent. Veterans are expected to set the tone, and that’s what they do.

Hamaguchi has guided his teams to seven consecutive winning seasons, starting with the Sendai 89ers, the franchise he led from 2005-11. (His first two 89ers teams went 18-22 and 19-21 in 2005-06 and 2006-07.)

The 44-year-old Oshima Island native took over in Kyoto for the 2011-12 season and led it to a 34-18 record, then a 29-23 mark the next season. The Hannaryz’s winning ways are expected, with Hamaguchi putting his stamp on the team before the Kansai-based club ever set foot on the floor for the 2011-12 season’s opening.

It all starts with the basics. Or as Hamaguchi told The Japan Times in a March 2011 interview in Kasukabe, Saitama Prefecture, “My philosophy has always consisted of three things. Respect each other; fundamental team basketball; and play hard, play together.”

“I think teams that think fundamentals are important should win games,” he noted during that post-game interview.

This isn’t rocket science. Those are common-sense principals, building blocks of success that work at any level.

League legend Lynn Washington, who won three championships with the Osaka Evessa and played under inimitable sideline supervisor Bob Knight at Indiana University, recognized Hamaguchi’s coaching ability and didn’t hesitate to discuss it with the press.

“He is a great coach,” Washington, now an assistant coach at San Jose City College, said in a 2011 interview with The Japan Times. “He expects all of his players to be professional. . . . They all say he is a great leader that demands professionalism from all his players. I could easily play for someone like that.”

Special two: Fukuoka guard Cohey Aoki, the only eight-time All-Star in league history, scored his 5,000th bj-league point on Sunday in a game against Shinshu, becoming the second Japanese player in league history to reach that milestone. Toyama guard Masashi Joho, Aoki’s former Tokyo Apache teammate, accomplished the feat on April 6 against Aomori.

This season, the 33-year-old Aoki is averaging 9.8 ppg, and the 31-year-old Joho, is scoring 17.4, the league’s seventh-highest output.