The Toyama Grouses, mired in the midst of another miserable season, have fired head coach Kohei Eto. The move was announced by the bj-league on Wednesday.
Former Niigata Albirex BB assistant coach Kazuaki Shimoji was named the Grouses’ new coach.
Toyama (8-18) has the worst record in the seven-team Eastern Conference. Since the team’s inception in 2006, the Grouses have never had a winning season; in fact, they’ve never come close to reaching .500.
Through Sunday, Toyama’s all-time record is 56-158.
The 34-year-old Shimoji, who inherits a staff without an assistant coach after serving from 2006-10 on the Albirex staff featuring several assistants, faces a daunting task to transform the hapless franchise into a winner.
In a statement issued by the team, Shimoji said he’s determined to work hard to improve the team, acknowledging that it will be a step-by-step process.
This question, however, must be asked: Does the front office have any clue how to build a team that has a legitimate chance to contend for a playoff spot, now or in the near future?
Eto, a 28-year-old Osaka Prefecture native, was the first bj-league coach to lose his job this season. He was Tokyo coach Bob Hill’s assistant on the Eastern Conference squad at the 2010-11 All-Star Game on Jan. 23 in Osaka.
Eto’s team struggled in a number of areas. The Grouses went 4-10 on the road and 4-8 at home with Eto at the helm.
In addition, Shimoji’s focus will involve improving the team’s assist-to-turnover ratio; the Grouses have 303 assists to date and 413 turnovers. What’s more, they are a bad shooting team — 27.6 percent on 3-pointers, 46.4 percent from 2-point range and 59.9 percent at the free-throw line.
Building for the future: Last week at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2, two of the league’s top up-and-coming guards exhibited their skills in the Tokyo-Fukuoka series.
The teams split the high intensity series, with the Rizing winning the opener, when Akitomo Takeno scored 19 points, his second-highest output of the season.
The Apache bounced back in the rematch, when Kensuke Tanaka, who earned his first start of the season, had seven points and four assists in 25 quality minutes.
Tanaka had back-to-back 18-point games on Jan. 9 and 15 and has had strong outings in recent practices, helping Tokyo coach Bob Hill make the decision to give him a start in place of Byron Eaton in the backcourt.
So how did Tanaka react to the coach’s decision?
“I told him and he was just sitting there and he just kind of took it and ran with it. That’s kind of the way he is,” Hill told reporters on Jan. 27. “I think that was his first (pro) start ever, so I was a little concerned about that . . . and he handled everything extremely well.
“He didn’t play nervous at all.”
As for Takeno, now in his fourth season in the bj-league, Hill observed that the 173-cm spitfire guard is a gifted scorer not unlike Tokyo’s Cohey Aoki, who at 167 cm is the league’s shortest major contributor.
But to become an elite player in this league, Hill believes Takeno has a lot of work to do, primarily in the weight room.
“I think he’s got to get stronger,” Hill said. “Guys like that size, when the ball goes in the paint, and they are involved in it, they get bounced around pretty good and the play is above their head. So the only way to maintain their presence there is to try to get stronger, so you can maintain your position because they both get knocked out of position.
“That’s just the way it is.”
Of course, Takeno’s shooting touch is impressive. Still only 25, he’s among the league top pure scorers among Japanese players and entered the season averaging 10.4 points in 123 games, beginning with a solid 20-game stint (8.1 points) for the Rizing Fukuoka during their inaugural season in 2007-08.
Takeno spent the next two seasons with Niigata, averaging 13.0 points in 2008-09 and 8.6 points last season. This season, he’s averaging 9.7 points in 30 games and shooting a league-best 46.2 percent from 3-point range and 85.4 percent at the charity stripe. That’s why every coach would want him to get to the foul line with regularity.
In this department, he has room for growth. His season-high total in free-throw attempts is five (on two occasions).
“Strength is going to help his defense and his offense,” Hill said, citing suggestions for Takeno that’s also applicable to Aoki. “He’s an excellent shooter. He’s got a very consistent release, both of them do. He’s young. He’s a little taller than Cohey, but he’s got to get stronger. And as he matures, he will get stronger.
“But if he can continue to work on that even a little bit more, I think that will help him. Strength is his biggest challenge.”
Big loss: All-Star guard/forward Mikey Marshall of the Shiga Lakestars said Wednesday he’ll be sidelined for four to six weeks with an unspecified stress fracture. One of the league’s top all-around players, Marshall is tied for No. 7 in the league in scoring (18.3) and is seventh in minutes (931).
Shiga (18-10) is tied for first in the Western Conference with last season’s championship runnerup, the Osaka Evessa.
Other moves: Injured big man Anthony Coleman was released by the Akita Northern Happinets, who filled his roster spot by signing Korean forward Jung Se Young last week. Coleman appeared in 19 games and averaged 5.6 points.
Also, Tokyo Apache power forward Kendall Dartez, a former University of Louisville and NBA Development League player, has been released. Dartez appeared in 21 games (19 starts) and averaged 10.8 points and 5.9 rebounds. Dartez was brought in off the bench last Thursday, his final game in an Apache uniform, and he had eight points in eight minutes.
“It was a tough decision for both parties,” Apache general manager Conor Neu said, “but we agreed this was best for the team going forward.”
One league insider said the rumor is Dartez quit the team.
Dartez’s departure could give 19-year-old forward Jeremy Tyler increased playing time and a spot in the starting lineup. He’s come off the bench in every Apache game since the season began in October.
Neu said, however, the Apache plan to search for a foreign player to replace Dartez on the roster.
Also Tuesday, the Ryukyu Golden Kings finalized a deal with 202-cm forward Dillion Sneed, an East Tennessee State product.
Sneed, 26, has played professionally in France, the Netherlands, Italy and South Korea. Most recently, he suited up for Aix-Maurienne Savoie Basket in the French League.
League accolades: Saitama Broncos point guard Kenny Satterfield is the January MVP, the league said on Tuesday.
Satterfield averaged 23.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.5 assists to lead the resurgent Broncos to a 4-2 record in the month. He had 31-and 33-point outputs in January.
Also Tuesday, the league named Shiga power forward Gary Hamilton the Lawson/Ponta Player of the Week after a 16-point, 20-rebound effort and a 12-rebound outing in games against visiting Saitama last weekend.
Hamilton helped the Lakestars earn a sweep.
Upcoming games: This weekend features the following eight matchups: Akita vs. Takamatsu, Shiga vs. Shimane, Sendai vs. Ryukyu, Niigata vs. Hamamatsu, Saitama vs. Toyama, Kyoto vs. Tokyo, Oita vs. Miyazaki and Fukuoka vs. Osaka.
Did you know?: Only four of the league’s 16 teams have losing records at home: Akita (4-10), Miyazaki (5-9) and Takamatsu (5-9) and Toyama (4-8). . . . Hamilton hauled in 70 defensive rebounds in six January games.
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