New Rizing Zephyr Fukuoka management decided a change was needed after the winless team’s weekend setbacks.
Head coach Ryuji Kawai, who was in his second season in charge, was dismissed on Monday, a day after the team fell to 0-7 by dropping a 73-53 decision on the road to the Akita Northern Happinets.
Bob Nash, who joined the organization as associate coach in the offseason, was promoted to bench boss. (Pending paperwork, first-year staffer Hiroki Usui, a former Hachioji Bee Trains assistant coach, is filling in as temporary head man, including Wednesday’s home game against the Kyoto Hannaryz. Fukuoka fell 81-72 in the midweek clash.)
The task of overhauling the team — a major reclamation project — now falls on Nash’s broad shoulders. Fukuoka lost those seven contests by a combined 96 points, or an average of 13.7 per game).
To orchestrate a turnaround and keep the Rizing Zephyr in the first division are top objectives for Nash, Usui and the restructured coaching staff, which also includes Bob’s son, Bobby, who joined the organization for the 2018-19 campaign.
Fukuoka earned promotion from B2 to the top flight after defeating Akita in the second-division championship series in May. New ownership took over in June.
Team president Yasunori Kanda expressed thanks to Kawai for his role in Fukuoka’s success last season, but said he needed to make a coaching change.
“Although it was difficult timing at the beginning of the season, I decided that it is necessary to take measures to hammer out (matters) early to achieve team goals,” Kanda said.
There were wholesale changes to the core of the team that excelled last season. Seven newcomers are on the current roster, including established veterans Masashi Joho and Dexter Pittman, both of whom played under Nash at his previous coaching stop with the Toyama Grouses.
Nash, now 68, led the Grouses from 2012-17, then took a break from coaching.
In an interview with The Japan Times, he admitted the transition to team leader comes at a difficult time.
“First, I would like to start by saying Coach Kawai is great person and coach. He was put in a tough situation with the new ownership,” Nash told The Japan Times. “This is a results-based business. With lack of success in the preseason and our slow start to the regular season, management made a business decision.
“Secondly, my return to coaching was to be in a supportive role. It was not my intention to be head coach. I love Japan and this was a way for me to return with my son. My wife loved everything Japanese so Bobby and I wanted to return to honor her with giving back to those who gave her so much joy and happiness to her,” he added, referring to Domelynne, who passed away in July 2016.
“Third, our team has struggled with creating a style of play that meet the needs of all the players. We have struggled to score and our defense gives up too many transition and second-chance points. These things aren’t fixed overnight, so step by step we will begin to rebuild our foundation on offense and defense.
He added: “We have asked for total buy-in to the changes by all members, players, trainer and support staff. The B1 League is a whole different level and it is unforgiving if you don’t bring your A game. With the lack of practice time, we can’t make changes, we will make adjustments slowly.”
Nash acknowledged that the Rizing Zephyr face a big challenge to turn their season around, and he cited the team’s early schedule as a difficult stretch of time. The team had seven of 10 October games on the road, and six of its 10 November tilts are away matches. Among November’s road trips are treks to Okinawa to face the title-chasing Ryukyu Golden Kings and another to encounter the Tochigi Brex.
In addition, former Arizona State post player Eric Jacobsen has been limited to four games due to an ankle injury. He hasn’t played since Oct. 13.
“We knew it would be difficult, then you add in the injury of Eric Jacobsen,” said Nash, who also previously coached the Saitama Broncos (2010-11) in the bj-league era and had a four-plus decade association with the University of Hawaii as a standout forward (and later played in the NBA and ABA), assistant coach and head coach. “We will play the hand that is dealt and see what happens from this point forward. We ask our fans to stay supportive.”
Fukuoka is working to develop greater cohesion among returning players and other newcomers, including Tenyoku You, Blake Aoki, Kazuya “J.” Hatano and Shota Tsuyama.
Through Sunday, Pittman, a former Miami Heat center, is the top scorer (15.0 points per game), and captain Yasuhiro Yamashita is contributing 6.5 points, 4.3 assists and 2.1 steals.
Team spark plug Josh Peppers, who was instrumental in the team making the jump from B3 to B2 under Kawai’s predecessor, Kentaro Hori, was not re-signed in the offseason. Peppers joined the Koshigaya Alphas, a third-division club who were 6-0 through last weekend.
The B. League on Tuesday announced that this season’s All-Star Game will be held on Jan. 19 in Toyama.
Alvark Tokyo forward Joji Takeuchi doesn’t grab the spotlight like other veteran stars. Maybe it’s because he’s not a flashy player, though he has the ability to make highlight-reel dunks or nifty no-look passes.
Above all, Takeuchi’s blue-collar approach to the games shines through.
Sunday provided a classic example of that. In Tokyo’s 66-46 triumph over the visiting Kawasaki Brave Thunders, Takeuchi finished with nine points, eight rebounds with three steals and two blocks for the defending champions.
That effort didn’t go unnoticed, nor has his impact during coach Luka Pavicevic’s reign.
After the game, Pavicevic said this about Takeuchi: “Joji is a pillar of our seriousness, or our standard and approach. Sometimes he can score easier, sometimes less easier, but he’s always in our defense a stable base. In our offense, he’s allowing us to keep our offense in good decisions — passing and powerful. . . . Of course I wish him to continue like this. He’s playing well.”
Insight on Bjelica
Serbian big man Milko Bjelica brought veteran leadership to the Alvark in the offseason after a long career in Europe.
Asked to assess what impact Bjelica, 34, is making, Alvark center Alex Kirk said, “He has some size to him. He can obviously shoot the ball, obviously played in the European system at the highest level in Europe for a long time. So that’s really beneficial experience. He’s a smart player. He definitely can pass. I think for him there’s definitely some big adjustments
“But for us, I think he kind of really fits in with the offense. . . . But I just see him getting better and better with time so he can adjust to the guards, just like I was last year. I didn’t think I started out last year very well, but when I got to figure out how to play with Daiki (Tanaka), with the guards I think it was a big deal.”
A look ahead
Starting Friday, all 18 top-flight teams are scheduled to play a two-game set over the next five days. The matchups: Ryukyu vs. Kawasaki (starts Friday); Nagoya vs. Fukuoka, Shibuya vs. Yokohama, Niigata vs. San-en, Toyama vs. Akita and Kyoto vs. Tokyo (begins Saturday); Hokkaido vs. Tochigi (tips off Sunday); and Shiga vs. Mikawa (commences Monday). …
Meanwhile, in the second division, Sendai 89ers fans are awaiting newcomer Jerome Tillman’s first appearance on the court. The veteran forward, an Ohio University alum who played for the Levanga Hokkaido (2013-16) and Nagoya Diamond Dolphins (2016-18), joined the 89ers this week, the team announced on Thursday. Sendai (7-2) travels to face Hachioji (2-7) on Saturday and Sunday.
Top-five statistical leaders through Wednesday include familiar names and some top newcomers this season.
Scoring — Tochigi’s Ryan Rossiter (27.9), Niigata’s Davante Gardner (27.1), Kyoto’s David Simon (22.9), Toyama’s Leo Lyons (22.5) and Toyama’s Joshua Smith (21.3).
Rebounding — Lyons (12.4), Smith (12.3), Shiga’s Gani Lawal (12.1), Osaka’s Josh Harrellson (12.0) and Rossiter (11.5).
Assists — Kyoto’s Julian Mavunga (8.5), Ryukyu’s Narito Namizato (8.5), Yokohama’s Takuya Kawamura (6.0), Chiba’s Yuki Togashi (5.9) and Mikawa’s J.R. Sakuragi (5.9).
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IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5