Basketball

Japan Basketball Association dismisses men’s national team coach Hasegawa

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Since his appointment two years ago, Kenji Hasegawa has firmly developed the Japan men’s national team.

But with the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo on the horizon, for which the team has not been guaranteed a spot, the Japan Basketball Association made a daring decision.

The nation’s basketball governing body announced on Thursday that it had parted ways with Hasegawa at the end of November.

The JBA has already started a search for Hasegawa’s successor, who will likely be a foreigner. JBA technical director Tomoya Higashino said at a Thursday news conference at the JBA office that the organization would look to introduce the new head coach between next spring and summer.

American Tom Wisman, the present head coach for the B. League’s Tochigi Brex, was the last non-Japanese national team bench boss. He was at the helm between 2010 and 2012.

Higashino said that one of the criteria for selecting the new head coach will be that the individual has coaching experience at the Olympics.

Before the next head coach is hired, Higashino announced that 48-year-old Serbian Luka Pavicevic, a former head coach for Montenegro who was named an adviser for the JBA’s technical committee at the beginning of November, will serve as the interim head coach.

In addition to the head coaching change, the JBA also plans an overhaul of the national team staff, including the assistants.

Higashino didn’t guarantee it, but said the new head coach is expected to lead the men’s national team through the 2020 Olympics.

For the public, the news of Hasegawa’s departure came out of the blue. The 56-year-old, who’d served as head coach for the Akatsuki Five since April 2014, said that his contract would expire in March 2018, and understood he wouldn’t be Japan’s head coach at the 2020 Games. Hasegawa added that the JBA told him that it wanted to select a new coach for the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics and beyond, while FIBA introduces a new home-and-away qualifying format for the World Cup starting next fall.

“I’ve working as hard as I possibly could for this job, yet we didn’t win a single game at the OQT (Olympic Qualifying Tournament for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in Serbia in July), and I feel responsible,” said Hasegawa, who added that he also feels he’s helped the national team grow during his tenure.

“But if I’m not the one who’s leading this team until Tokyo (Olympics), it’s better to begin with a new person right away and that’s why we came to the conclusion.”

The JBA stated that it informed Hasegawa of its decision to let him go.

Higashino, however, appreciated how Hasegawa guided the national squad, developing its players and accomplishing some things since he took over.

Hasegawa led the team to third- and fourth-place finishes at the 2014 Asian Games and 2016 FIBA Asia Cup, respectively. Those results were better than what Japan had had in the previous decade (in the FIBA Asia Championship, predecessor of the Asia Cup, Japan never finished above fifth place since the 1997 edition,when it was the runner-up).

“(Hasegawa) has absolutely contributed to the development of our men’s national team,” said Higashino, who revealed that the coach would somewhat remain in the JBA circle to help develop young talent in the country.

Hasegawa said that he wasn’t given enough time to train his players and it left him with a sense of regret.

He also said that Japan plays too few international games to develop sufficiently.

“The team needs to play more genuine games so it makes further developments,” said Hasegawa, who has won numerous titles, including four national collegiate championships, as the head coach for Aoyama Gakuin University.

Meanwhile, Higashino revealed that the JBA would host training camps more often — at a monthly pace — for provisional national team players, which would consist of over 50 players from all generations, going forward. It will have two camps, with about 25 players in each, this month at the National Training Center.

The men’s national team is scheduled to play international development games on Feb. 10 and 11. The opponents and venues will be announced later.