Basketball / B. League

Bob Nash pilots Fukuoka to first victory, believes team headed in right direction

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

It’s too early to determine if the Rizing Zephyr Fukuoka’s Saturday victory will have a profound impact on their performance this season.

But every pro sports franchise needs a first win to help lay a foundation for any given season. Indubitably, that’s what Saturday’s shocking 40-minute contest accomplished.

It took much longer than Fukuoka had hoped to get victory No. 1, but Saturday’s 100-47 home triumph over the Kyoto Hannaryz was significant in helping the Kyushu-based club turn the page on its rough start — 11 straight losses before the jaw-dropping rout. That season-opening slide included an overtime loss to Kyoto in the series opener on Friday night.

With a win, finally, in the books, the Rizing Zephyr had a short window of time to savor the feat, which began with a 26-9 lead after one quarter and a 54-21 halftime advantage over Kyoto, which played without star forward Julian Mavunga.

Benjamin Lawson’s 23 points and 16 rebounds, Dexter Pittman’s 22-point effort and former bj-league MVP Masashi Joho’s 18 point-outing (six 3-pointers) guided Fukuoka to a positive finish for the first time since the B. League season opened in early October.

And for a team that made the jump from the second division to B1 and saw its coach from 2017-18 (Ryuji Kawai) dismissed two weeks ago, the significance of this victory cannot be overstated. It was vital. Now. A cathartic victory.

Former University of Hawaii head coach Bob Nash, who replaced Kawai, summed up the mood of the team hours after Saturday’s runaway win.

“First of all, I’m extremely proud of my team for staying together during our growing pains,” Nash, who previously coached the Saitama Broncos and Toyama Grouses, told The Japan Times on Sunday. “We felt like we let the Friday game slip away after playing so well. But to my team’s credit they gave a great effort today and we came away with a much-needed win.”

Nash commended his squad for its quality passing and ball-handling decisions. Fukuoka had 28 assists and eight turnovers.

“I’m most proud that they shared the ball,” was the way he put it.

“We are a long ways from being a consistent winning team but we are showing signs of basketball maturity,” he added before spelling out the team’s current focal points. “I ask our players to do three things: play harder than the opponent; try to be smarter than the opponent; (and) do it together. Tonight all three boxes were checked.”

Nash preaches a team-first mindset and an all-for-one approach to the game. That’s been his overall message since replacing Kawai.

“Our goal as a team is to let our system be the star for the team,” Nash stated. “Our offense and defense is still developing, but it’s based on a shared principle. Each player does his part within the system for the benefit of the team. I have only been in charge for a couple of weeks, but I like the direction we are headed.”

There’s no time for Fukuoka to dwell on the taste of Saturday’s victory. Three big road games are on the horizon this week, starting with Wednesday’s showdown in Okinawa City against the Ryukyu Golden Kings (10-2), followed by a weekend set against the East Division powerhouse Tochigi Brex (10-2).

“We have a tough week ahead of us,” said Nash. “We look forward to the test and finding out more about ourselves against these excellent teams.”