Jun Nakanishi launched his pro basketball career during a period of major changes — nonstop expansion for a decade — here. And so he has witnessed the ups and downs of Japan pro basketball since the inception of the now-disbanded bj-league in 2005.
As a rookie guard, who was selected No. 5 overall in the first bj-league draft, he suited up for bench boss Joe “Jellybean” Bryant’s Tokyo Apache in the circuit’s inaugural season. Two years later, the Tokyo native was a player on another first-year club, the expansion Rizing Fukuoka, who were led by fiery sideline general John Neumann.
In the years that followed, Nakanishi moved around the country, playing for the then-powerhouse Osaka Evessa and Iwate Big Bulls, had two more stints with the Rizing and also saw time with the Tokyo Cinq Reves and Yamagata Wyverns, his final team, before retiring in 2017.
Now 36, Nakanishi is tasked with rebuilding the Rizing Zephyr Fukuoka (the same organization that he suited up for during more than half of his career). Nakanishi was named the team’s new general manager last week.
The former Santa Monica (California) College player earned a promotion from assistant coach/team interpreter, serving under bench boss Bob Nash. The latter took over as head coach after Ryuji Kawai was relieved of his coaching duties in October following the team’s 0-7 start this season.
When the B. League was launched in 2016, the Rizing Zephyr won the B3 title in the first season, earning promotion to B2. Last season, the club topped the Akita Northern Happinets to capture the B2 playoff crown, getting promoted again as a result.
Without star forward Josh Peppers and other players from last season’s Fukuoka club moving elsewhere in the offseason, the Rizing Zephyr (11-39 through Wednesday) have struggled to compile wins. They are a seeking to stave off relegation as the season marches toward its finish in late April.
“It’s in the middle of the season, but I am very honored to be able to start my career as a GM in Fukuoka, where I (played) and was able to grow,” Nakanishi said in statement last week. “The GM position is a very responsible and important position to steer the team. I will listen carefully to the players’ voice and become a bridge to the front office. We will also try to instill basketball as a culture in Fukuoka.”
Nakanishi insisted that “the team will be united and fighting toward remaining in B1.”
Nash, a former University of Hawaii, Saitama Broncos and Toyama Grouses head coach, told The Japan Times on Tuesday night he is thrilled that Nakanishi was given this opportunity.
“First of all, I’m ecstatic about Jun’s rise from player development, to assistant coach and now GM. He has a great vision for the organization moving forward,” Nash said.
“His journey to his current position didn’t happen by accident. It was a journey that started with him being a serious-minded player. No job is ever too big or small for him. He figures out what needs to be done and takes the appropriate action. I guess his major attribute is his adaptation to the environment he is placed in.”
The coach added: “He will be a great ambassador and leader for the organization. His popularity as player, true friend and trusted family man will be his compass in his new role.”
While Nakanishi is relatively young for his new front-office role, Nash is confident he will grow into his new position and have success.
“There will be growing pains, but those pains will become less and less with time on the job,” Nash said before adding, “We are proud the Rizing organization is giving one of the original members of the family a chance. He will be a great executive.”
Last season, Nakanishi served as a skills coach for the second-division Bambitious Nara before turning to Fukuoka again.
Upon his retirement in July 2017, he delivered a heartfelt message on his blog in both Japanese and English. It was a revealing portrait of a man at the crossroads in his life.
He wrote: “Through my 12 years of my professional basketball career, I have met a lot of people who had a strong impact in my life. I would like to take this moment to thank all of my teammates, rivals, coaches and staffs for motivating me to work hard to get to where I am at. Y’all gave me a reason to grind and compete out there on the court. Also, I would like to thank my friends, fans and sponsors for sticking with me for 12 long years and supporting me no matter what.
“Most importantly, I want to thank my family for believing (in) me and making everything possible for me to pursue my basketball career. I’m so proud myself being a role model for my three children that someday they will find something they truly have passion for. You won’t see me in a uniform, but I will continue loving the game of basketball . . .”
Sacre’s super production
Sunrockers center Robert Sacre produced back-to-back career-high scoring games last weekend as a pro. He dropped 44 points on the Kyoto Hannaryz on Saturday, then scored 46 in overtime on Sunday as Shibuya completed a two-game sweep.
Indeed, a rare accomplishment in pro hoops.
David Nurse, a well-known NBA shooting coach who also works for the Sunrockers, credited Sacre for his increased productivity, deflecting any credit for the veteran player’s success.
“That’s all Rob and the work he has put in,” Nurse told The Japan Times on Tuesday. “(It) has nothing to do with me. Great guy and super hard worker.”
In the past 10 games, Sacre, a former Los Angeles Lakers and Gonzaga University player, has scored 22 or more points on seven occasions.
He’s now averaging 19.6 points per game, ninth-best total in the league while shooting 52.2 percent from the field.
A look ahead
Here are the weekend’s two-game matchups: Chiba vs. Tochigi, Tokyo vs. Akita, Kyoto vs. Nagoya, Hokkaido vs. Shibuya, San-en vs. Niigata, Yokohama vs. Kawasaki, Toyama vs. Mikawa, Shiga vs. Osaka and Fukuoka vs. Ryukyu.
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