Basketball / BJ-League | BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Sato takes over for Munakata as Aomori bench boss

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

The Aomori Wat’s have selected Nobunaga Sato as the second head coach in franchise history.

The announcement was made on Wednesday.

Sato, 44, was a longtime player in the JBL (the NBL’s predecessor), suiting up for Sumitomo Metal, Aisin, Fukuoka and Panasonic.

“I am very grateful to the team for giving me such an opportunity,” the Akita Prefecture native said in a statement.

He said he takes the job with a sense of “heavy responsibility,” aiming to win the championship.

Before joining the Wat’s, Sato coached at his alma mater, famed basketball powerhouse Noshiro Technical High School in Akita, from 2008 until March.

Interestingly enough, another former Noshiro coach, Mitsuhiko Kato, Yuta Tabuse’s high school mentor, made the jump from high school to the pros in 2008 to take over the JBL’s Link Tochigi Brex. He didn’t last the season, and his replacement, Tom Wisman, guided the Brex to a championship.

Meanwhile, Koju Munakata, Aomori’s original coach, left the squad after two seasons and a pair of playoff appearances. He built a solid foundation for the club, with the Wat’s playing around .500 ball since joining the bj-league, going 27-25 in 2013-14 and 23-29 this past season.

Munakata has filled the Shinshu Brave Warriors’ vacancy.

The rapidly shifting coaching landscape in the bj-league has seen 13 of 22 returning teams part ways with their mentor from last season.

The status of veteran coaches Joe Bryant (Rizing Fukuoka) and Bob Nash (Toyama Grouses) for the upcoming season has not been revealed yet.

Progress made: After initial resistance and an announcement last week revealing uncertainty about their future existence, the Rizing have secured the backing of the Fukuoka Prefectural Basketball Association for its future entry into the Japan Professional Basketball League.

Without the FPBA’s endorsement, the Rizing did not meet one of the requirements set forth by the Japan 2024 Task Force, which was set up by FIBA and the under-turmoil Japan Basketball Association to overhaul the sport here.

It’s unclear how much clout players, fans and citizens had in convincing the FPBA to change its mind, but a plethora of social media posts related to the team’s possible end could not have hurt the cause.

The JPBL, which is scheduled to tip off in the fall of 2016 consisting of 40-plus teams which currently compete in the bj-league, NBL and NBDL, in three divisions.

Talk from Toronto: Forward Olu Ashaolu’s sustained a setback at the Toronto Raptors’ two-day free agent minicamp last week: an apparent ankle injury on the opening day in Toronto.

After a stellar regular season, the 27-year-old University of Oregon product scored the final basket for the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix in their championship triumph over the Akita Northern Happinets last month.

Despite the injury, can the 200-cm Ashaolu still land a spot on an NBA Summer League roster?

That remains to be seen.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey told The Japan Times that the planned evaluation of Ashaolu was cut short.

“Olu is athletic, big,” Casey said. “He unfortunately got hurt the first day of camp. We did not see him enough to say if he could make the jump (to the NBA).”

No surprise: The Kyoto Hannaryz have retained coach Honoo Hamaguchi for the 2015-16 season. He is now the league’s longest-tenured bench boss with one franchise.

Hamaguchi has been at the helm since 2011. He guided the Hannaryz to a league-record 44-8 mark last season, but the Kansai club’s run of three straight Final Fours ended.

Staying busy: Former Kyoto and NBA big man Lance Allred has become a keynote motivational speaker and established his own company, L Squared Productions, to promote his work. He’s also preparing to host the Lance Allred Deaf Basketball Camp June 22-25 in Utah.

Visit for more details.

New leader in Gunma: Well-traveled Okinawan Hirokazu Nema has been promoted to head coach, the Gunma Crane Thunders announced on Thursday.

Nema, who served as the team’s assistant coach last under Charlie Parker, has worked in the bj-league for a decade. He wrapped up his playing career with a two-year stint with the Toyama Grouses (2006-08).

For the next two years, he worked as a Grouses assistant. Then he joined the Shiga Lakestars and worked as an assistant and bench boss during the 2010-11 campaign before returning to his former role under Al Westover until 2013.

The 36-year-old Nema takes over a Crane Thunders team that made a huge turnaround after a woeful start and qualified for the playoffs for the first time as a third-year franchise.

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