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Nanbu takes control of men's national volleyball team

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

A day after the stunning news of Gary Sato’s dismissal, the Japan Volleyball Association announced Thursday that Masashi Nanbu would replace the American as the men’s national team head coach.

Nanbu, who currently serves as head coach of the Panasonic Panthers of the V Premier League, will immediately take the national squad duty, and is scheduled to leave the corporate club after the annual Kurowashiki All Japan Tournament in May to focus on the heavy task.

Nanbu’s debut with the Ryujin Nippon will be in the intercontinental round of the FIVB World League in later May. The team will also compete in the Asian Games in Incheon from late September.

“While I’ve worked as the corporate team head coach, I’ve wanted to do this one day,” said 46-year-old former top player Nanbu, who guided the Panthers to three V Premier League titles since he took the helm in 2007, said at a Tokyo news conference.

“I would like to definitely make the men’s national team stronger, being the part of the rebuilding process.”

The general manager of the men’s national team Haruhito Kuwata said that the term for Nanbu would rub through the 2016 Olympics.

Yuko Arakida, the general manager of the national team development committee, said that the JVA had to ax Sato, who became the first foreign-born head coach for the national team, men or women, last April, not just based on his results with the team, but because of differences between Sato and the JVA in terms of how they would like to develop the team.

She didn’t accuse Sato, under whom Japan lost all five of its FIVB World Grand Champions Cup matches and failed to qualify for the 2014 world championships. But she added that the 59-year-old coach’s methods were a little too advanced for the Japanese players.

“As much as we wanted to see the fusion of the American volleyball and Japanese volleyball,” said Arakida, a gold medalist in the women’s volleyball in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, “coach Gary’s way would have worked very well with mature, independent athletes like those of the United States, but I’d have to say it was a little too early for us to adopt here.”

The major blow was that Japan failed to qualify for the 2014 world championships as stated above. Although at that point, the dismissal of Sato wasn’t really an option. But as Sato and the JVA struggled to compensate for the gaps in-between, the organization eventually began to consider making a change.

Arakida said the JVA held interviews with five candidates, both from inside and outside of Japan, in search of a possible replacement for Sato in late last year. Nanbu was picked from that process, and his hiring was finalized in a January 29 board meeting.

The JVA executives at the news conference insisted that it was a tough decision to make but that it was a necessary step because they felt a sense of urgency for making the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and beyond — the 2020 Tokyo Games.

So the mission for Nanbu is simple — take Japan to Brazil in 2016. The Osaka native said that he would start with defense to make the team more competitive.

“We’ve got to work on our receiving,” he said. “But of course that’s not enough to be able to win. You’ve got to have good offense to win. What I envision is, play good defense and then relay that to good offense.”

Nanbu also said that the Japanese players would need to get accustomed to playing against foreign counterparts, who tend to be taller and more experienced, more often by holding more exhibitions and training camps abroad.

“My goal is to make the team to equally play against the world’s top four teams and win a medal by the 2020 Olympics,” he asserted. “In order to achieve that, we’ll definitely need to get in the 2016 Rio Olympics first. We’ll work on the rebuilding process for that.”