Basketball / BJ-League | BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Osaka goes with proven winner in Oketani

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

As expected, the Osaka Evessa have hired Dai Oketani as their next head coach, teaming him up with advisory coach Bill Cartwright, who doubles as the Mexican national team bench boss, to take the team to the next level.

The Evessa, the first dynasty in bj-league history, made the announcement on Wednesday. In the 2014-15 season, coach Shunsuke Todo’s second and last at the helm, the Evessa posted a 28-24 record.

Can Oketani restore Osaka’s former championship pedigree?

That will be the challenge moving forward. Oketani, a Kyoto native, guided the Iwate Big Bulls for the past three seasons, compiling a 115-41 mark and three playoff appearances and transforming Iwate into a perennial title contender. Iwate reached the Final Four for the first time in May.

By hiring Oketani, the Evessa have made a serious commitment to winning. He guided the Ryukyu Golden Kings to titles in the 2008-09 and 2011-12 seasons and is the winningest coach in league history, having collected his 300th victory last season.

In a concise statement issued by the Evessa, Oketani declared: “I want to work hard to be able to win.”

That’s his personality, league observers have stated for years. His competitive nature is fierce.

Take the Eastern Conference first-round series against the Fukushima Firebonds in early May, for example. After the series opener, Big Bulls star Scootie Randall said Oketani is always focused on “winning every game.”

The Evessa, meanwhile, have not won a playoff series since 2011.

Restoring the franchise’s former glory becomes an urgent task for Cartwright, a former Chicago Bulls head coach and Evessa mentor (he ran the show for the final 28 games of the 2012-13 season; Osaka went 17-11 after a 5-19 start before his arrival), and Oketani.

Cartwright has five championship rings from his days with the Bulls dynasty, three as the starting center in the early 1990s and two more as one of legendary leader Phil Jackson’s assistants.

New Nara leader: The Bambitious Nara have handed the reins to Kohei Eto, it was announced on Wednesday.

Eto, 32, becomes the team’s third head coach in as many seasons.

The Bambitious went 12-40, the worst record in the Western Conference, last season under Ryutaro Onodera.

From 2013-15, Eto served as bench boss for the WJBL’s Niigata Albirex BB Rabbits. In February 2011, he was fired by the Toyama Grouses after the team’s 8-18 start. It was his first season at the helm.

Looking at the challenge in front of him, Eto said he “wants to build a foundation.”

Uncertain future: Due to a lack of support from the Fukuoka Prefectural Basketball Association, the Rizing Fukuoka have announced they are abandoning their plans to enter the new JPBL, the merger between the NBL, bj-league and NBDL, for the 2016-17 season.

The team posted the announcement on its website on Wednesday.

The Rizing entered the bj-league as an expansion team for the 2007-08 campaign. They qualified for the playoffs in each of their first seven seasons before slipping to 13-39 this past campaign.

One of the chief requirements for entry in the new league is a strong measure of support from each team’s local prefectural basketball association, as required by the Japan 2024 Task Force, the outfit propped up by the Japan Basketball Association and FIBA, basketball’s world governing body, to reform the nation’s hoop foundation and overall structure.

The Rizing have not received a letter from the FPBA endorsing their plans to join the new league. And that’s one of the requirements to do so, task force officials said.

What remains unclear is if the Rizing or outside groups will form an aggressive, effective public campaign and/or petition drives to apply pressure the Fukuoka Prefectural Basketball Association to endorse the team’s entry into the JPBL.

Furthermore, the franchise’s survival outside of the JPBL would appear to be an impossible. If it doesn’t join the JPBL, which league would it compete in?

Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, Kobe’s father, took over as Rizing coach for the second half of their rocky season. As of press time, his contract has not been renewed by the club.

Feedback: Send an email to: edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp

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