Kazuhiro Shoji, a former Niigata Albirex BB player at the start of the 21st century, takes over as the team’s new head coach as the franchise prepares for the inaugural B. League season.

The Albirex made the announcement on Thursday.

Shoji, 42, returns to Niigata after a three-month stint as an assistant for the Takamatsu Five Arrows to close out the 2015-16 campaign. His new challenge puts him in charge of a team assigned to play in the B. League’s 18-team first division.

The Saitama Prefecture native was on the Albirex bench as an assistant for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons under then-bench boss Fujitaka “Bomber” Hiraoka.

Niigata went 34-18 this past season under coach and general manager Kazuo Nakamaura, whose contract wasn’t renewed.

Shoji, a left-handed shooting forward, began his lengthy pro career with the JBL’s Sumitomo Metal team in 1997 before suiting up for Toyota Motors and Daiwa Shoken (Securities). He joined Niigata in 2000 and remained with the club until 2005. He then played for the now-defunct Fukuoka Red Falcons in the JBL Super League in 2005, followed by a three-year stint with the Saitama Broncos. He went to the Takamatsu Five Arrows for one season (2009-10) and three more with the Akita Northern Happinets (2010-13).

Shoji began his coaching career as a head coach at Apple Sports College in Niigata in 2013, a position he held for two years.

When Shoji joined the Broncos in 2006, he told The Japan Times he embraced his role as a veteran mentor to the team’s younger players.

“I’m one of the older players on the team so what I want to do is I want to talk with the younger guys and (say), ‘Hey, we are going to have our good times and we are going to have our bad times, but we’ve got to try to make the bad times as smooth as possible so that we can win the game,’ ” Shoji said in October 2006.

“That’s what I would like to tell the younger players.”

Now, as a head coach in a new pro league, Shoji will be in the spotlight as the face of the franchise. It’s his job to guide Niigata on a path to success.

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