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Toyama dumps coach again; Ishizaki eyes Europe


Staff Writer

The Toyama Grouses’ predictable blueprint — one that’s failed repeatedly — contained the following decision on Wednesday:

Coach Kazuaki Shimoji was fired after 18 regular-season games (13 losses) in charge, the end of another lousy Grouses season.

And now the Grouses, who have never had a winning record in five bj-league seasons, will begin searching for their fourth head coach in less than three years. Charles Johnson guided the team in 2009-10. Kotei Eto was 8-18 before he was shown the door last season, and Shimoji never had ample time to put his stamp on the team.

The Grouses went 13-31 last season, again failing to reach .500 for the first time.

“I’m a bit surprised that Shimoji isn’t continuing at Toyama, with the infamous ‘completed’ contract,” a longtime league insider said facetiously. “The Grouses finish in last place every year, then repeat the process of replacing the coach and finishing in last place again. Maybe it’s not the coaches.”

There has been speculation that Shimoji may return to his former stomping grounds as the new head coach of the Niigata Albirex BB. He had served on ex-coach Masaya Hirose’s staff for several seasons before moving on to Toyama for the 2010-11 campaign.

Now the Grouses are back to square one, starting over. Again.

Ishizaki’s plans: Japan national team guard and All-Star Takumi Ishizaki, who played for the Shimane Susano Magic in their inaugural season, is exploring the possibility of playing ball in Europe next season, The Japan Times has learned.

Ishizaki’s agent, Sam Murakami, said Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Germany and France are among the places that are potential options at this point.

Ishizaki’s primary focus at this point, though, is national team duties. Japan is set to play in the upcoming FIBA East Asian Championship from June 10 to 15, followed by the FIBA Asian Championship in September.

Signficant oversight: Vince Rawl, who passed away April 23 at age 50, is still listed as a league adviser on the league website’s English page.

He lost an eight-month battle with cancer and died in Texas. A prominent businessman, Rawl had been a co-owner of the Oita HeatDevils and a league partner, first beginning an association with Oita in 2007. He has not been involved in team decisions for the past few seasons, though.

Commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi’s message after Rawl’s death, was posted on Legacy.com on April 26.

Here is that message:

Dear Mr. Vincent Rawl,

Your deep and warm heart always encouraged us to go forward and start new things. Without your support and encouragement we would have never been able to bring so many Japanese kids to the U.S. to play basketball with American kids. Even though we cannot see you, your memory and your influence lives on. We will think of you forever.

Our deepest condolences to the family, friends, and associates of Mr. Rawl.


Toshimitsu Kawachi

The fact that the bj-league hasn’t issued a press release or posted news on its website about Rawl’s death and his contributions to the league disturbs some longtime observers. And it defies common sense.

“You know, I don’t know why there wasn’t an announcement, either,” one hoop insider wrote in an email to The Japan Times. “Has the league forgotten that Mr. Rawl almost literally saved the league in 2007? He gave them $3.5 million when the league was about to flame out.”

Rawl’s longtime business associate and basketball agent Jerald Wrightsil, who also resides in Austin, Texas, offered his thoughts on Rawl’s involvement with the bj-league in an exclusive interview with The Japan Times. He said Rawl’s contributions were even greater than the above source stated.

“Vince had great aspirations for Japanese basketball and he put his money where his mouth was in that respect by investing over $5 million of his own towards the game there,” Wrightsil said. “He didn’t have a political agenda, and it can be argued that he didn’t have a financial motivation as his investment hasn’t blossomed to date. But his dream was a unified league in Japan, not the JBL vs. bj-league He just wanted the best to play the best.

“It’s not known to the public but at one point Vince wanted to donate his stock towards raising funds for the earthquake/tsunami victims. This never happened but he loved the people there that much.”

Now, Wrightsil hopes to keep Rawl’s passion for sports alive by staging a charity event in the fall.

He explained the idea this way:

“My proposal, in his honor, is to play a preseason ‘friendly invitational’ . . . the Lawrence V. Rawl Invitational to be held in September of 2011. This invitational will take the Nos. 1 and 2 teams of the JBL vs. Nos. 1 and 2 teams of the bj League. … All of the funds raised will be donated to the victims of the earthquake/tsunami/Fukushima incident and a Japanese cancer research foundation in Vince’s name — similar to the Jimmy V Classic (in the United States)

“This is a great cause for people not remotely associated with the politics of basketball, JABBA (Japan Basketball Association), or sports. This would benefit those displaced, hungry, suffering from a natural disaster and cancer.

“The bj-league has agreed, in private with me, to participate in such an event but the issue will be to convince the JBL and JABBA,” he continued. “I think that the death of Vince and the incidents are somewhat helpful in getting these guys past the crap that keeps inhibiting the game there.”

Around the league: HeatDevils guard Kimitake Sato, one of the league’s better Japanese guards, will participate in summer workouts with teammate Matt Lottich in the United States, giving him a chance to gain experience and quality competition against a different group of players. The HeatDevils, meanwhile, have not yet announced who will coach the team next season.

Former Shiga Lakestars and Akita Northern Happinets coach Bob Pierce traveled to Beijing this week and saw Sun Ming Ming, the 236-cm center who played for the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix in 2008-09, in practice. Sun currently plays for the Beijing Ducks.

Free agency: Shiga Lakestars shooting guard Masashi Joho, arguably the most electrifying Japanese scorer in league history, has become a free agent after two solid seasons with the Western Conference club.

Joho averaged 13.1 points per game in 2011-12 and 15.0 ppg in 2009-10. He helped the Osaka Evessa win a pair of championships (2005-06 and 2006-07) before playing the next two seasons for the Apache and making vital contributions to Tokyo’s two championship runnerup squads.

Other prominent free agents announced this week by the league office include Osaka guard/forward Billy Knight and Takamatsu Five Arrows guard Satoshi Takeda, as well as Tokyo floor leader Cohey Aoki’s, the only five-time All-Star in league history, and teammate Jumpei Nakama.

Knight, a key member of the Phoenix’s 2009-10 title-winning squad, told The Japan Times he wants to return to Osaka. But the team’s front office, he added, appears interested in signing another player.

Also, Niigata point guard Naoto Takushi,who played for the Ryukyu Golden Kings and Kyoto Hannaryz before moving on to Niigata, has become a free agent. There’s speculation that Takushi will join Shimane, filling Ishizaki’s shoes if he doesn’t return to the club. Albirex point guard Takato Saito isn’t expected to return to the team, either.

Veteran guard Shoji Nakanishi, who played for the Susanoo Magic during their inaugural season, is now a free agent, too.

Do you have a story idea about the bj-league? Send an email to edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp