Basketball / B. League | B. LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Former New Zealand national team coach Nenad Vucinic hired to lead Kumamoto Volters

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Well-traveled coach Nenad Vucinic served an assistant for the New Zealand men’s national team during the 2006 FIBA World Basketball Championship in Japan.

Thirteen years later, Vucinic returns to Japan for the next challenge of his coaching career: guiding the Kumamoto Volters.

The second-division club formally announced his hiring on Thursday.

Vucinic, 54, replaces Takayuki Yasuda, the team’s bench for the past three seasons. (Yasuda turns 30 on July 15.)

Kumamoto went 45-15 in the 2018-19 campaign and placed first in the B2’s West Division.

The Volters were 44-16 in 2016-17 and went 41-19 the next season, but they haven’t accomplished their goal of winning promotion to the top flight.

“I am excited about joining Kumamoto,” Vucinic said in a statement. “I hope to bring my experience to help the club achieve their long-term goal of reaching B1 and becoming one of the best clubs in Japan. I always had respect for Japanese people and Japan as a nation, so this opportunity is a way to get them to know them a lot better.

“Our team and our support staff together with you fans and sponsors can achieve that,” the Serbian mentor added. “Let’s go through good and bad times with our determination to achieve.”

A native of Belgrade, Vucinic spent the majority of his playing days as a small forward with the Nelson Giants (1989-2000) of New Zealand’s National Basketball League. He migrated to New Zealand as a teenager, then played his final game for the New Zealand national team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

He also coached Nelson from 1996 to 2001 and again from 2004 to 2007; it’s a team in which he’s held an ownership stake. He collected five NBL Coach of the Year honors while with the Giants and piloted the team to league titles in 1998 and 2007.

Vucinic guided OKK Beograd in the Serbian League in the 2002-03 season. From 2007 to 2014, he was the New Zealand national team head coach. He took the Tall Blacks to the FIBA World Championship in 2010 and again in 2014.

Most notably, he guided New Zealand to a title over Australia in the 2009 FIBA Oceania Championship. (The Tall Blacks won 177-162 on aggregate in the two-game series, with each club posting one victory.)

Former Tall Black player Pero Cameron, who served as an assistant under Vucinic, said his mentor left his mark on the national team.

“As a coach, he made me believe in myself while being supportive, always building your confidence,” Camero was quoted as saying in a FIBA.com article in 2014. “I know the general New Zealand public has no idea what an influence he has on the world stage in our sport. His meticulous planning and creativity as a coach is something I aspire to.”

Vucinic’s pro coaching career also includes stops in Estonia (BC Kalev/Cramo), Turkey (Darussafaka S.K.), Italy (Fulgor Libertas Forli and Sidigas Avellino; he guided Sidigas to a 16-14 record this past season, his lone season at the helm) and Lebanon (Byblos).

In the 2017-18 campaign, he was a consultant for the Shanxi Brave Dragons, a Chinese Basketball Association team.

On the move

Takumi Saito, a backup point guard for the Alvark Tokyo during their back-to-back championship seasons, has joined the Shiga Lakestars, the team announced on Thursday.

Saito averaged 3.6 points and 2.0 assists in 28 games this past season. As a rookie, he appeared in nine games in 2017-19.

Shiga head coach Shawn Dennis said that Saito is a key pickup for the club.

“I am so excited to work with another outstanding young player in Saito,” Dennis commented. “After winning championships with Tokyo he is ready to contribute to helping the Lakestars rise up the ladder.

“Saito adds to our already exciting young group. He brings extreme quickness and is a very good shooter. He will add something special to our playmaking abilities on the court.”

In a profile posted on the Alvark team website, Saito was asked to name one player he’d like to play alongside. His response? Kyrie Irving.