SAITAMA – Championship experience dots the Shiga Lakestars roster.
From head coach Koto Toyama’s stint as an assistant coach for the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix’s 2009-10 title-winning team to veteran forwards Ray Nixon and Jeff Parmer teaming up to help lead the squad to a second championship under Kazuo Nakamura in May 2011, those experiences serve as building blocks for the Lakestars.
Toyama, 32, is a bench boss for a fourth franchise in as many seasons.
Following his departure from the now-defunct Miyazaki Shining Suns in 2012, the Hokkaido native spent one season each with the Ryukyu Golden Kings (who fired him after they went 42-10 but failed to defend their title or reach the Final Four) and expansion Bambitious Nara before being hired by Shiga.
Parmer and Nixon have reunited as teammates this season. The former stayed with the Phoenix until 2013, then suited up for the Shinshu Brave Warriors last season. The latter competed for the Lakestars for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 campaigns, went back to Hamamatsu last season, and is now on his second tour of duty with the Kansai-based franchise, which will finish above .500 for the sixth straight season.
Having both played under the now-retired Nakamura, who turned 74 in December and led the Akita Northern Happinets for three seasons, Parmer and Nixon said they can see the influence that the respected mentor has on Toyama’s coaching philosophy. (In fact, Nakamura’s coaching tree extends throughout the league under former Hamamatsu staff members-turned sideline supervisors: Akita’s Makoto Hasegawa, Sendai’s Shuto Kawachi, Shinshu’s Ryuji Kawai and Fukushima’s Hiroki Fujita.)
Shiga, meanwhile, improved to 30-16 on Sunday, handing the host Saitama Broncos a 104-69 beatdown. The Lakestars have won four straight and eight of their last 10.
Looking at the influence that Nakamura has had on Toyama, Parmer had this to say at Saitama Municipal Gymnasium after the series finale: “He has his own ideas in certain ways, and also he has some similarities to Kazuo. Each way is good.
“For me, I love his energy and the way he coaches us. He’s striving for us to attain a certain excellence, and that’s the only way you’re going to get better — if you have a coach that’s always pushing you. . . . He just wants us to get better and I love that about him as a coach and I respect that.
“That helps me play harder and be a better leader out there on the court,” Parmer added after his 22-point, six-assist, three-block, two-steal performance.
Nakamura stays actively involved in observing his former staff members’ teams, including the Lakestars.
Has that helped Shiga?
“Well, at the beginning of the season, coach was really finding his way on how to really use us and our strengths,” recalled Parmer, who is tied with Yu Okada as the team’s second-leading scorer (13.1 points per game, trailing only Terrance Woodbury’s 18.2).
A conversation with Nakamura after Shiga faced host Akita on Dec. 6-7 (two losses for the visitors, which dropped them to 11-5) proved helpful for Toyama.
Parmer recounted Nakamura’s message to Toyama: “If you want to win games, you have to use Jeff and Ray more.”
“So after that, he’s been pretty consistent on trying to do that, and that has helped us as a team. Kazuo has been a huge influence on him this year,” Parmer said of his coach.
Which has meant Nixon, who has made the most of his court time, will be called upon to be a key contributor. The University of Wisconsin alum leads the team in 3-pointers made (94) and dunks (21) and is averaging 12.3 ppg.
Despite Nakamura’s advice and longtime mentorship, Toyama, a manager for the JBL’s OSG Phoenix from 2005-08 before the team defected to the bj-league, is putting his own stamp on the Lakestars.
“He bring his own brand of basketball,” Parmer insisted, “because he wants us to be more of like a motion team, move the ball and nobody is holding the ball and stagnant with the ball. He wants everybody to get involved in the game, and that’s his own style, and it’s working for us.
“Everyone is knowing their role and taking heat to the role, and that’s the difference between him and Kazuo.”
With Toyama at the helm, the Lakestars study successful NBA teams and watch game highlights (Atlanta Hawks and San Antonio Spurs, for instance) as a learning tool.
“He’s definitely up on the NBA,” Parmer said of Toyama.
Toyama also gleaned material while watching a Chicago Bulls-Houston Rockets showdown, especially a 21-4 Chicago run, according to Parmer.
That game turned into a talking point for Toyama and Co. Or as Parmer put it: “When you guys don’t have the rhythm, you have to do certain other things to get the rhythm. He was showing how the Chicago Bulls got the rhythm from the Rockets, and after that the game’s over.”
Nixon agreed with Parmer that Nakamura and Toyama share similar traits on the court.
“They are both extremely passionate coaches,” Nixon said. “Kazuo has a bit more extreme style, but it definitely shows in Coach Toyama and the way he goes about coaching the basketball game. He wants to leave an imprint on his players and make sure that they all do well, and I think he got a lot of that from Coach Kazuo.”
Is Toyama as fiery as Nakamura during practices and games?
“It really depends on us,” Nixon told The Japan Times. “If we’re playing well and doing the things that we’re supposed to do, then he’s pretty laid back, but just like Kazuo, when things get out of hand, that’s when the intensity picks up.”
There are times, too, when Toyama keeps his emotions in check. “Sometimes he even says it in practice like, ‘Right now, I want to yell at you guys, but I’m not,’ ” Nixon explained. “So that let’s us know we need to tighten things up and get back to square one.”
The Kyoto Hannaryz (38-8), Ryukyu Golden Kings (39-9) and Hamamatsu (38-10) are ahead of the Lakestars in the Western Conference standings, but Shiga is locked into the fourth-place spot as the season winds down.
“There’s a couple of games that we could have won, and could’ve been in a better position or a higher seed or whatever, but I think he’s doing an excellent job with our team this season,” Nixon said of Toyama.
And that carries over to defense as well. The Lakestars rely on help defense, players staying actively vocal.
“Everybody has to talk, and there’s going to be some breakdowns in the game,” Nixon said. “We have to stay focused and change our mind-set if things to bad. . . . He tries to instill that in us to always stay focused, be aggressive on defense and always help each other out.”
Weekend slate: One series (Oita-Shiga) begins on Friday, while the rest of the teams await Saturday’s series openers. Those matchups are: Shinshu vs. Niigata, Kyoto vs. Shimane, Aomori vs. Akita, Iwate vs. Saitama, Fukushima vs. Tokyo, Toyama vs. Sendai, Gunma vs. Yokohama and Osaka vs. Takamatsu.
Plans to build: The Ryukyu Golden Kings are finalizing plans for construction of a new 10,000-seat arena in Okinawa, according to published reports.
Team president Tatsuro Kimura told the Ryukyu Shimpo that the Golden Kings are looking at different sites, and he plans to hold further talks with local government officials. Okinawa City and Naha were cited as potential candidates for a new home gym.
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