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Yokohama looks to Tom Wisman for renewal

by Ed Odeven

Tom Wisman, who guided the Tochigi Brex to the inaugural B. League title in May 2017, is returning to the sideline to lead the Yokohama B-Corsairs.

As expected, the team made a formal announcement earlier this week, setting the stage for Wisman’s latest reclamation project. He served as team adviser for the B-Corsairs from late November until the end of this season. Terms of the contract were undisclosed, but Wisman said he’s looking to make it a long-term deal.

In a phone conversation Thursday morning, Wisman said building better team chemistry is a key objective.

Good chemistry has been “a hallmark of my teams over the years,” Wisman noted.

“We must improve upon where we were last season,” he acknowledged. “We didn’t have that cohesion to build real chemistry.”

He described it as the “process of improvement.”

Wisman said he is fully committed to building a complete program. “The potential is really there to build a program,” he added.

Yokohama fought off demotion to the second division for the second straight year, but finished with an 18-42 regular-season record. The team has gone through a stretch of coaching instability, with Satoru Furuta getting axed early into the 2017-18 campaign and his replacement, Shota Shakuno, being succeeded by Wisman. Shakuno will pursue coaching opportunities elsewhere.

Wisman said the 34-year-old Shakuno did “an honorable job” under difficult circumstances, “and we wish him success.”

As for next season, “we don’t want to be in the relegation battle again,” Wisman said.

To reach that goal, the B-Corsairs will need to develop into a more consistent team.

Looking back on their rocky campaign, Wisman said the B-Corsairs put it all together in some games, getting some important victories to stave off demotion.

“There were players that stepped up when it really counted,” he said, citing the contributions of guards Masashi Hosoya, Ryo Tawatari, Jotaro Mitsuda and Takuya Kawamura, forward Jeff Parmer and center Hasheem Thabeet. November signee William McDonald, a veteran big man, worked himself back into shape, dropping 20 kg and solidifying the frontline.

Wisman, who turned 69 in March, has worked in global basketball for decades in both the men’s and women’s pro ranks. He’s spent time as the men’s national team head coach in England, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Japan and Qatar. He piloted Tochigi to the 2008-09 JBL title in his first stint as coach there.

A native of Illinois, Wisman began his head coaching career in 1976 at Crystal Palace in England. He guided pro teams in Australia (Newcastle Falcons) and South Korea (Wonju Naray Blue Bird) in the 1990s. Wisman’s ties to Japan date back to the 1980s, when he served as an associate head coach for Isuzu Motors in the JBL. He returned to the club in 1997 and remained until 2004, when it was then known as the Yokohama Giga Cats.

In a July 2017 interview with The Japan Times, Wisman admitted he was not ready to retire. At Tochigi, Wisman said, he wanted to have a chance for the team to defend the title with him at the helm. That didn’t happen, though, as he was not offered a contract extension.

“My pride will not let me accept being pushed into retirement,” he said at the time.

The B-Corsairs, who began play in 2011, reached the bj-league Final Four as a first-year expansion team in the spring of 2012, then captured the title in May 2013 under then-coach Reggie Geary. Michael Katsuhisa and Taketo Aoki, members of Geary’s original staff, both served stints as head coach after his departure following the championship season. (Yokohama has not had a winning season since the 2012-13 campaign, when they went 35-17.

To change that, Wisman said the team will need to develop young players and make some roster changes. For now, he said, it’s important that the players get some rest and take their mind off the game for a few weeks. Then, he added, it’s time to begin off-season training, including core-strength exercises and some individual skill sets.

Change in Sendai

Dai Oketani is moving back to Tohoku to begin the next chapter in his coaching career. He is the Sendai 89ers’ new coach, the team announced on Thursday.

After three seasons with the Osaka Evessa, Oketani parted ways with the club in May. Oketani, 40, takes over the 89ers, a second-division team that went 21-39 in 2017-18, its first season in B2. Toshihiro Goto and Daisuke Takaoka both served in the top spot last season, with Takaoka taking over in January after Goto’s departure following a 13-15 start.

The well-traveled mentor landed his first head coaching gig with the Oita HeatDevils, then moved on to the Ryukyu Golden Kings (2008-12) and Iwate Big Bulls (2012-15) during the bj-league era. He led Ryukyu to two bj-league titles and took Iwate to the Final Four.