Longtime basketball coach Jason Rabedeaux, who guided the Link Tochigi Brex to start the 2010-11 JBL season, died on Monday in Ho Chi Minh City. He was 49.
Rabedeaux died during the ride to FV Hospital after falling at home and being discovered unconscious around 6:20 a.m., according to published reports in Vietnam.
A native of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Rabedeaux coached the ASEAN Basketball League’s Saigon Heat, Vietnam’s first pro basketball team, to a 72-61 home victory over the Indonesia Warriors on Sunday. With the win, the Heat improved to 6-7 in the six-team league.
The ABL website features a video tribute to Rabedeaux. The coach is seen conducting a recent practice and being interviewed on Sept. 11.
On the league website, a statement reads, “Coach Rabs was well known for his passion for getting the best out of his players and always putting the development of basketball in Vietnam as his No. 1 priority since arriving in the country in 2012.”
Rabedeaux’s passion for the game was quite visible.
“Coach Jason is a competitor and I will miss all the coaching battles with him. My condolences are to his family and to the whole Heat team and fans,” Westports Malaysia Dragons head coach Ariel Vanguardia told Malaysian newspaper The Star.
Rabedeaux played high school baseball, basketball and football at Eau Claire Memorial High School. He received all-state accolades in baseball and basketball, according to dairylandexpress.com, a Wisconsin sports website. He played quarterback at Memorial High and led the squad to a 12-1 finish one season and a trip to the state semifinals, the website reported.
“He was a helluva athlete,” Eric Gardow, an Eau Claire native said in a phone conversation with The Japan Times on Tuesday, “All of us idolized him. Athletically, he was so gifted. He was such a good athlete and everybody recognized him for that.”
The 46-year-old Gardow, now the recently appointed associate coach for National Basketball League’s Wakayama Trians, marveled at Rabedeaux’s athletics exploits growing up.
“He went from being an idol to mentor and friend,” said Gardow, who attended Eau Claire North High, a rival school of Rabedeaux’s. “He’s always somebody that I looked up to.”
After high school, Rabedeaux enrolled at the University of California, Davis. He was a four-year starter on the Aggies basketball team 1984-88. He also set a school record for 3-pointers (80) in a single season. In 1995, he was inducted into the Cal Aggies Athletics Hall of Fame.
Rabedeaux was fired by the Brex in December 2010. The defending JBL champion, with a roster that included stars Yuta Tabuse and Takuya Kawamura, was 8-12 at the time. Rabedeaux succeeded Tom Wisman on the Tochigi bench. (Wisman, a former Japan national team bench boss, has returned to lead the Brex for the 2014-15 campaign.)
Rabedeaux coached the Chinese Basketball Association’s Jiangsu Dragons from 2008-10. After his stint in Japan, he coached Al-Manama in Bahrain before taking over at Saigon in 2012.
In recent years, Rabedeaux and Gardow, who coached the NBL’s Chiba Jets during their inaugural season (2011-12, when the team was a part of the rival bj-league), stayed in touch on a frequent basis.
“He was always upbeat,” said Gardow, who described Rabedeaux as someone with “such a basketball style.”
“You could sit and talk with him (for hours) … with stories of players and teams and strategy. He was just easy to learn from.
“He was a great basketball coach with a wealth of knowledge.”
Rabedeaux worked as an assistant coach at the University of Oklahoma from 1995-99 on Kelvin Sampson’s staff, and was a Washington State assistant from 1991-94, also under Sampson. He got his start in coaching as an assistant at North Adams (Massachusetts) State before joining WSU.
In 1999, he became a head coach at age 34 in the Division I college ranks, succeeding Hall of Fame bench boss Don Haskins, who had a 38-year run at the University of Texas El Paso. The Miners went 46-46 in Rabedeaux’s three seasons in charge, including a 23-9 mark in 2000-01, when they went to the NIT and he earned The Sporting News’ WAC Coach of the Year honors. The Miners were 10-22 in 2001-02, and he resigned before the team’s first game the next season. He said the decision was made due to personal reasons, according to published reports.
Rabedeaux worked as Marquette University’s director of basketball operations for four seasons after leaving UTEP.
He had become obese in recent years, reportedly weighing more than 136 kg (300 pounds) at the time of his death. Now, Rabedeaux’s passing becomes a cautionary tale, a reminder, for coaches that a healthy lifestyle is important.
“He’s going to be sadly missed,” Gardow said. “He went way too young.”