When the bj-league tipped off in the fall of 2005, Dai Oketani was working as an assistant under Oita HeatDevils head coach Jawann Oldham, a former NBA big man.
Oldham’s tenure in the bj-league lasted just 16 games, and Oita was 4-12 when he was fired. Oketani was promoted to bench boss in January 2006, and he’s become one of the upstart circuit’s biggest success stories.
On Sunday, the 37-year-old Kyoto native became the first coach in bj-league history to amass 300 wins in the league, leading the Iwate Big Bulls to a bounce-back 86-69 triumph over the host Niigata Albirex BB.
In a post-game interview, Oketani told The Japan Times the victory milestone is special to him because of the support he’s received along the way.
“I want to say thanks to (all) concerned with those wins,” said Oketani, who has a 300-152 regular-season coaching record. He’s guided Oita, the Ryukyu Golden Kings (two championships under his tutelage) and Iwate to postseason appearances. “I can’t achieve this without everybody, coaches, staff, players, family, and fans. I am really proud of this because this is from everybody’s efforts. And I also want to say thanks to Iwate, Okinawa and Oita.”
Since Oketani took over as the Big Bulls coach for the Tohoku franchise’s second season in 2012-13, the team has gone 101-37 in regular-season games.
“Coach Dai is the ultimate competitor,” Iwate forward Lawrence Blackledge said after the game. “He hates to lose more than he loves to win and that is why I love playing for him. He expects nothing but excellence from his teams.
“His ability to push players to their full potential is second to none in this league. I am thankful that I get to play for him and enjoy each day of learning the game from the best coach in the bj-league.”
Iwate (27-7) trailed 33-31 at halftime in the series finale in Niigata, then outscored the hosts 30-18 in the third quarter to seize momentum.
The Big Bulls held the Albirex (21-13) to 36 second-half points.
Masato Tsukino paced Iwate with 21 points, He knocked down four 3-pointers and handed out five assists. Scootie Randall scored 18 points with five assists and Blackledge had a 16-point afternoon. Wayne Arnold poured in 14 points, and Abdullahi Kuso grabbed 12 rebounds and swatted two shots. Tsubasa Yonamine came off the bench and doled out 10 assists against one turnover.
Like Blackledge, Randall was excited to be a part of Oketani’s historic win.
“First and foremost, I just want to say congrats to coach on that 300th win,” Randall, a Temple University product, told The Japan Times. “Secondly, he’s a great teacher of the game and knows the game. That’s why he’s receiving this milestone, but playing for him is nothing but fun.
“This being almost two years playing under him has been a learning experience, but he understands the player-coach relationship, which makes him so successful. He allows his players to voice their opinion and takes it into consideration to try things they say.
“(These are) just a few things that are tied to him reaching 300 wins…”
For the Albirex, Kimitake Sato was the high scorer with 19 points. Thomas Kennedy scored 15 points and hauled in eight rebounds, while Shuhei Komatsu added 10.
89ers 93, Wat’s 66
In Sendai, the 89ers improved to 13-5 at home and picked up their second victory in as many days over Aomori.
Sendai (22-12) turned a close game into a rout in the second half, outscoring the visitors 34-17 in the third quarter.
Kejuan Johnson sparked the 89ers with 23 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and seven steals. Center Jeral Davis had 15 points, 12 boards and six blocks, and Adrian Moss added 14 points. Wendell White (11 points) and Fumiya Sato (10) also scored in double digits.
Gyno Pomare and Paul Williams both had 11 points and Gordon Klaiber scored 10 for Aomori (17-17). Makoto Sawaguchi finished with nine points.
Williams grabbed a team-high 14 rebounds (seven offensive).
Crane Thunders 77, Grouses 73
In Imizu, Toyama Prefecture, Carlos Dixon’s double-double and solid perimeter defense helped guide Gunma past the Grouses.
The Crane Thunders (12-20) salvaged a series split on a day when Dixon scored 21 points, raked in 10 boards and dished out four assists. Daniel Northern Jr. added 15 points, seven rebounds and two blocks and Melvin Ely scored 10 points and pulled down seven boards. Yosuke Sugawara added eight points and Kenya Tomori handed out four assists.
Toyama (24-10) was held to 5-for-21 shooting from 3-point range.
Joe Werner paced the Grouses with 17 points and Jamelle Horne scored 14. Masashi Joho and Sam Willard had 13 points apiece, the latter also hauled in 14 rebounds.
Firebonds 105, Brave Warriors 102
In Komoroshi, Nagano Prefecture, Fukushima shot 62 percent from 2-point range and completed a series sweep over Shinshu.
Fukushima frontcourt standout Terrance Shannon scored 29 points on 11-for-17 shooting and collected a team-best 10 rebounds. Verdell Jones III added 25 points and nine assists, Masaya Karimata had a 23-point afternoon and Takumi Masuko and Shinya Murakami chipped in with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
The expansion Firebonds reached triple digits in points for the third time.
Fukushima (12-22) made 22 of 28 foul shots.
DeVaughn Washington led the Brave Warriors (13-19) with 26 points and Patrick Sanders scored 23. Mohamed Abukar had 19 points and six assists. Masamune Tate drained four 3s in a 16-point effort.
Golden Kings 98, HeatDevils 65
In Tomigusuku, Okinawa Prefecture, the reigning champions dictated the tempo and dominated defensively as Oita endured a blowout loss.
Ryukyu (29-5 overall, 16-2 home) capitalized on its frequent visits to the free-throw line to run up the score.
The Golden Kings were 23-for-31 at the line; the HeatDevils were 4-for-4.
Anthony McHenry led Ryukyu with 18 points and Anthony Kent, who was 9-for-11 at the charity stripe, finished with 17 points and eight rebounds along with two blocks. Draelon Burns chipped in with 16 points, while Kibwe Trim scored 11 points and picked up 12 rebounds. Ryuichi Kishimoto chipped in with 10 points and six assists.
Demetri McCamey had 16 points for Oita (12-22), Drew Barham scored 14, Kellen Thornton had 11 and Todd O’Brien 10.
Evessa 82, Bambitious 78
In Kishiwada, Osaka Prefecture, Seth Tarver and Josh Dollard scored 17 points apiece and Naoto Nakamura poured in 13 as the Evessa prevailed against Nara.
Osaka (21-13) has won four straight games.
Tarver had seven rebounds and four steals.
Takuya Soma scored 12 points for the Evessa and Yutaro Nishi had 11, including 3-for-3 from beyond the arc. Veteran forward Gary Hamilton quietly put his imprint on the game, finishing with five points, six rebounds and five assists.
Osaka’s Shunki Hatakeyama added seven points and five assists off the bench.
Bambitous forward Chehales Tapscott had 23 points and 12 rebounds and point guard Tatsuya Suzuki, who leads the league in assists (6.6 per game) scored 17 points and chalked up 14 assists.
Taishi Kasahara had 11 points for Nara (10-24).
Phoenix 93, Susanoo Magic 71
In Fukuroi, Shizuoka Prefecture, Hamamatsu jumped out to a 10-point lead after the opening quarter and maintained control the rest of the way against Shimane.
Mo Charlo had a team-high 19 points and six assists for the Phoenix (28-6) and Nile Murry scored 17 points. Olu Ashaolu contributed 14 points and five assists and Jermaine Green finished with 11 points. Shingo Okada rang up nine points.
Joe Chapman canned five 3s en route to 17 points for the Magic. Wesley Witherspoon scored 16 points and Satoshi Kawai had a season-high 15. Edward Yamamoto supplied 10 points for Shimane (11-23).
Lakestars 80, Five Arrows 75
In Moriyama, Shiga Prefecture, Terrance Woodbury and Ray Nixon combined for 44 points, igniting the Lakestars to a triumph over Takamatsu.
Shiga, which also won Saturday’s series opener, improved to 21-11 under first-year coach Koto Toyama.
Woodbury had 27 points and Nixon added 17. Both players were 4-for-7 from beyond the arc.
Masahiro Kano led the Lakestars with seven assists. Jeff Parmer scored eight points and dished out four assists. Yutaka Yokoe matched Parmer’s scoring total, while Chris Holm hauled in 12 rebounds.
For the Five Arrows (10-24), Dexter Lyons had 16 points and Andrais Thornton and Justin Watts scored 15 apiece. Koki Yabuuchi and Hiroyuki Kikuchi added nine and eight, respectively.
Hananryz 87, Rizing 60
In Kameoka, Kyoto Prefecture, the Hannaryz led by 33 points entering the fourth quarter and routed Fukuoka for the second time in as many days.
Ryan Forehan-Kelly paced Kyoto (28-6) with 18 points and Reggie Warren and David Palmer each scored 17.
Palmer sank 3 of 4 3-point shots. Warren grabbed a team-best 12 rebounds. Kevin Kotzur added nine points and nine boards.
Josh Peppers scored 25 points for Fukuoka (7-27), which lost its seventh straight game. Cyrus Tate had 11 points and Kirk Van Slyke 10. John Humphrey added eight points on 3-for-15 shooting.