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Friday, May 29, 2009
Veteran coach Neumann finished in Fukuoka
By ED ODEVEN
Although he guided the Rizing Fukuoka to the postseason in each of their first two seasons, coach John Neumann will not return to the bj-league team next season.
Fukuoka decided not to offer the veteran floor boss a contract for the 2009-10 season, he confirmed during a telephone conversation from Fukuoka on Wednesday evening.
"I wish them well," said Neumann, speaking in a courteous manner about his ex-team just hours before boarding a plane. Neumann was scheduled to fly to Moldova, where his wife and young daughter now reside.
"But I want to be back in the bj-league (next season)," the 58-year-old added. "I want to stay in this league. I'm willing to talk to anybody."
Neumann said, for example, he would like to be given the opportunity to rebuild the Toyama Grouses, a team that has posted a 31-105 overall record in its first three seasons. (The Grouses have not announced if Takatoshi Ishibashi will return as coach next season.)
Neumann, the 2007-08 bj-league Coach of the Year, said he has great respect for bj-league commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi, citing that fact as one of his reasons for wanting to return to Japan.
Neumann is the second former NBA player to lose his job as a bj-league coach this offseason. David Benoit, 40, resigned from his position with the Saitama Broncos after two losing seasons.
Is this the start of a new era in the bj-league, one in which teams are reluctant to shell out the money to invest in foreign coaches, ones with the word "NBA" on their resume?
That remains to be seen.
But anyone with a true understanding of the sport will tell you that having ex-NBA players involved in some capacity in the bj-league is a good way to help raise its low profile in this sports-crazed nation.
Tokyo Apache coach Joe "Jellybean" Bryant, another ex-NBA player, has been the only coach in the team's four-year history.
The Rizing went 20-24 as an expansion team in 2007-08 and placed third in the Western Conference. In the West's wild-card playoff game in Shikoku, Neumann led the team to a magnificent upset of the Takamatsu Five Arrows, who were 30-14 in the regular season and had reached the championship game in the previous season. That earned the upstart team a trip to the Final Four in Tokyo.
Despite a rash of injuries this season, the Rizing finished 22-30 and placed fourth in the six-team West. Fukuoka went 13-13 on the road, a key factor in reaching the playoffs once again.
Former Rizing standout Michael Gardener led the league in assists (6.8 per game), was No. 2 in steals (2.3) and third in scoring (25.5) this season while playing for the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix, the Eastern Conference regular-season champion. Gardener had been one of Fukuoka's building blocks in its expansion season.
Another key player from the 2007-08 season, power forward/center Jeffrey Price, averaged 17.9 points and 8.8 rebounds per game for the Oita HeatDevils.
In a recent interview, Neumann, a native of Memphis, Tenn., said he wanted the Rizing to re-sign both players last summer precisely because he knew they could once again make key contributions this season. Also, both players fit well into Neumann's run-and-gun offense and intense, high-pressure defense.
As a collegiate scoring sensation, Neumann averaged 40.1 points per game for the University of Mississippi in the 1970-71 season, leading all NCAA Division I players.
Neumann, a guard/forward, played in the NBA and ABA from 1971-78 before finishing up his playing career in Germany. Since then, he has been a longtime coach with a track record of success around the world, including stops in Belgium, China, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Kuwait, Lebanon (led the national team to an appearance in the 2002 FIBA World Championship) and Saudi Arabia, as well as in the CBA and the International Basketball Association in the United States.
According to a story posted on NBA.com in 2002, Neumann earned five Coach of the Year accolades during many years in Europe. The story also cited the fact that Neumann was the CBA Coach of the Year runnerup in 1982, when George Karl, who now coaches the Denver Nuggets, nabbed the award.
A year later, the Neumann-coached Bay State Bombardiers faced the Albany Patroons in the CBA championship round. Neumann's team lost the series in seven games against the Patroons, who were then coached by Phil Jackson, who now owns nine championship rings as an NBA coach.
And now, Neumann still possesses a fierce desire to pass on his knowledge of the sport acquired over several decades.