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Shiga promotes female manager Morita to assistant coach

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Asami Morita has earned a promotion with the Shiga Lakestars. And her new position is unique for a woman in a men’s professional sports league.

The 29-year-old Nara Prefecture native will work as an assistant coach and team interpreter under new bench boss Koto Toyama during the upcoming season, the bj-league club announced this week.

Morita was the team manager last season, when the Lakestars advanced to the second round of the playoffs under departed head coach Chris Boettcher.

Before joining the Lakestars coaching staff, Morita worked as a staff assistant for the NCAA Division I Idaho State women’s basketball team and for Arizona Western College, a two-year school. She then served as the Kansai University women’s coach.

Morita said on Wednesday that she’s “delighted” to return to the Lakestars for another season.

“I will do my best,” she added, saying she aims to provide “as much support as possible for Coach Toyama and the players as the assistant coach,” according to a team-issued news release

Former UCLA guard Natalie Nakase became the first female head coach in Japan’s men’s professional basketball ranks, when she replaced Dean Murray on the Saitama Broncos bench in November 2011. Nakase coached the Broncos for the remainder of the season, finishing with 12 wins in 41 games. (The team, which has never had a winning season since the bj-league’s inception in 2005, went 16-36 that season.)

Nakase, who began working as a video coordinator for the Los Angeles Clippers in 2012, started the 2011-12 campaign as Murray’s assistant. She had served on longtime NBA mentor Bob Hill’s coaching staff for the now-defunct Tokyo Apache during the previous season.

Solid foundation: Coming off a 40-12 regular season, the best in the Iwate Big Bulls’ young history (they joined the bj-league in 2011), sideline supervisor Dai Oketani’s squad identified the importance of continuity as it aims to reach the Final Four.

The Big Bulls re-signed guards Tsubasa Yonamine and Masato Tsukino for next season. They are two key components of the team’s play at both ends of the court.

The 31-year-old Yonamine is entering his ninth bj-league season. He appeared in all 52 games in 2013-14, his first with Iwate, averaging 5.2 points per game. He dished out 192 assists against 77 turnovers with 45 steals.

“I am very pleased to be able to play for the Iwate Big Bulls also (again) for the 2014-15 season,” Yonamine said.

Tsukino, 25, also saw action in 52 games. He scored 6.7 ppg with 115 assists and 59 turnovers. He joined the Big Bulls in 2012.

Tsukino said he’s determined to compete for a chance to go to Ariake Colosseum in May, when the league’s annual Final Four is held. With a strong will and preparation, he added, his focus will be on reaching that goal.

In the paint: After center Paul Williams was traded to the Aomori Wat’s on Monday, floor leader Dexter Lyons, his Takamatsu Five Arrows teammate for two seasons (2012-14), analyzed what Williams’ departure will mean for the Five Arrows.

“Paul’s double-double numbers will be missed, especially on the rebounding end of the spectrum,” Lyons told The Japan Times on Friday.

Will Lyons’ role and responsibilities change without Williams in a Five Arrows uniform next season?

“I still have the same mental approach in leading this team and helping Coach Kenzo (Maeda) with keeping our guys aggressive on both sides of the ball,” said Lyons, who averaged 17.6 points per game last season.

Lyons believes the 208-cm Williams will be a big contributor for the Wat’s, who advanced to the playoffs in their inaugural season.

“I’m sure Paul will be able to help Aomori with his ability to put the ball on the floor and make the correct read,” Lyons stated. “Paul is a good passer out of the double team as well.”

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