Bob Nash’s passion for basketball is as visible as a Hawaiian rainbow on a clear day.
For Nash, playing and coaching the game he loves has always been special.
Which is why leaving the Toyama Grouses after five seasons at the helm wasn’t easy for Nash, a former University of Hawaii standout whose college success led to a career as an ABA and NBA forward.
The Grouses front office didn’t offer Nash a contract for the 2017-18 season. Instead, the B. League team this week announced the hiring of a new head coach, Miodrag Rajkovic, who hails from Serbia, and Canadian assistant coach BT Toews, who led the Sunrockers Shibuya last season.
Rajkovic, 46, has worked in Serbia and Poland in recent years. He’s also an assistant on the Milwaukee Bucks’ NBA Summer League squad.
Nash’s Grouses went 18-42 last season, but avoided demotion to the B. League’s second division after a solid finish. In his four previous seasons in charge in the bj-league, Toyama went 35-17 in 2012-13, 42-10 in 2013-14, 35-17 in 2014-15 and 39-13 in 2015-16, reaching the title game and finishing as championship runner-up to the Ryukyu Golden Kings in the league’s final campaign.
Reached in Hawaii, Nash, a thoughtful, articulate man, reflected on his time with the Grouses and the end of his tenure with the team.
“First I would like to thank the Grouses organization for giving me the opportunity to serve as their head coach for the past five seasons,” Nash told The Japan Times. “I would have wanted to stay one more year to coach with less of a clouded mind and heavy heart. But it is what it is.”
Before the 2016-17 season, Nash’s wife Domelynne died of cancer in July at age 65. Preparations for the season were unlike anything Nash and his son, Bobby, who served as a Grouses assistant coach, had ever experienced before.
“I felt the loss of my beautiful and talented wife hit our family emotionally very hard,” Nash admitted. “Two days after her funeral, Bobby was headed to Toyama to coach the team in my absence as I finalized some business matters. I got to Toyama only a couple of days prior to our first game. I didn’t get the chance to get to know the personalities of the new players. I also didn’t fully get to work out the imports-on-the-court restrictions rule. Which was problematic for us most of the season.
“We turned our season around once we settled on personnel and all members got healthy.”
Indeed, it was a difficult start. The Grouses went 2-23 to open the season. They won nearly half of their games the rest of the way. No easy feat.
“Because of our bad start to the season the goal became to stay in the B1 division,” noted Nash, the 2015-16 bj-league Coach of the Year. “Which we were able to accomplish.”
Nash, who turns 67 in August, guided the Saitama Broncos during the 2010-11 season, his first time coaching a pro team. Before that, he was associated with the University of Hawaii for decades as a player, assistant coach and, eventually, head coach (2007-10).
He takes pride in the role he served in Toyama.
“For me coaching at Toyama was about changing the mindset and the culture of how we play in a shared system. Also to treat each member of the organization as family. Doing things away from the court with the wives and children.
“My wife helped to plan and hosted (Grouses guard Takeshi) Mito’s family when he got married in Hawaii.”
He also cited visits with Grouses star Masashi Joho and his former teammate Tatsunori Fujie during their past visits to Hawaii, noting, too, that Grouses big man Sam Willard and his wife Morgan had their honeymoon in Hawaii.
“We have entertained countless number of friends in Hawaii from Toyama and all parts of Japan,” Nash told The Japan Times.
In Nash’s view, being the Grouses coach was about much more than just wins and losses. He cared deeply about establishing roots with the locals.
“Our goal was never to just be a coach but to be a part of the community,” Nash commented. “We tried to make our community better. Being a member of the Toyama Catholic Church plays a huge part in connecting me and my family to those citizens in Toyama who needs help. My wife worked alongside some great people to prepare and deliver hot meals to the homeless. My wife created some fundraising programs to help provide funding for the meals program.”
He added: “When she found out about her illness and if something happened to her, we were instructed to continue to help the church, the meal program and the nuns in Toyama. Bobby, (Nash’s daughter) Erika and myself were able to make a sizable donation to help these organizations.
“Coaching is a business and we fully understood that we could be fired at anytime. But that will never affect the friendships we have forged.”
This summer, Nash has entertained many visitors in Hawaii and San Diego, including Joho for nine days in Hawaii. The Grouses shooting guard’s visit to the Aloha State included work, too.
Nash mentored and ran workouts for Joho and also got time to spend with his star pupil’s wife, Mayu, and infant son, Mayato.
The Grouses’ Tsubasa Ohara also stayed in Hawaii for a week to train under Nash’s watchful eye and “get better,” the coach pointed out.
Though he’s not plotting Toyama’s 2017-18 season, Nash is keeping busy.
“I have a family from our church and the meal program coming on July 24 to visit my wife’s grave and to (have) vacation,” he said, referring to guests from Toyama. He added that from Aug. 14-22, Bob, Sanae and Joie Lopez, close family friends from Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, will be visiting Hawaii. (Bobby Nash, who followed in his father’s footsteps at the University of Hawaii, played for the Shiga Lakestars from 2008-10 before a stint with the Broncos in 2010-11.)
Asked about the end of his tenure with the Grouses, Nash summed it up this way: “I don’t leave the Grouses organization with any negative feelings. My time there had ended, but my friendships will continue.
“I still feel I have a lot to give as a coach, I don’t feel like I’m outdated in my coaching.
“My level of work ethic is very high. I watched and prepared scouting reports and scouting videos on every team. Each of my players got a paper scouting report, watched highlight clips and we guarded the opponent set for three days in practice. If we didn’t win, it’s not because we weren’t prepared, but because the other teams had better talent.
“I will end by saying my family is blessed to have met so many wonderful people in Japan and I’m eternally grateful to the Grouses organization for giving me the opportunity to represent their organization as the head coach.”
Nash extended positive aspirations for the team’s new coaching staff, including Yuta Miyanaga, a veteran guard who will step into a new role as a player/assistant coach this upcoming season.
His parting message to the Grouses’ rabid supporters: “To all the fans, sponsors and boosters, please keep supporting the Grouses, the championship is still the goal and the team can’t do it without your support.”
In Hawaiian, Nash issued a warm concluding note: “Mahalo nui loa, Toyama (Thank you very much, Toyama).”
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