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Friday, June 17, 2011


Nakamura hopes to bring winning ways to Akita

Staff writer

Fiery leader Kazuo Nakamura is officially on board as the Akita Northern Happinets' new head coach. The announcement, made earlier this week, was in the works for weeks.

News photo
Big job ahead: Kazuo Nakamura, who led the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix to the last two bj-league titles, is the new coach of the Akita Northern Happinets. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

It was a major story The Japan Times broke in the days before the Final Four in May.

Nakamura guided the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix to back-to-back championships before accepting this new challenge in his home prefecture. The 70-year-old replaces original coach Bob Pierce, who was let go after one season at the helm.

Akita went 18-32 as an expansion team in 2010-11.

The move gives the Happinets a retro-JBL look in the front office with Nakamura (longtime involvement with OSG Phoenix, Hamamatsu's former name before it defected), playing manager Makoto Hasegawa (a longtime Isuzu star) and adviser Mototaka Kohama (ex-Isuzu and national team head coach)

On Wednesday, meanwhile, the Shinshu Brave Warriors hired Takatoshi "Big Bashi" Ishibashi as their first coach.

Ishibashi, fired in March by the Shiga Lakestars in his first season there, is the first sideline supervisor in league history to be handed the reins for three teams. He also served as the Toyama Grouses' bench general leading the team from December 2008 until that season's end, when Toyama finished 11-41.

Around the league: Will Graves and Sek Henry, both of whom played for the Happinets last season, are gaining interest from NBA clubs as potential signings during the offseason.

Graves recently participated in pre-NBA Draft drills for the Toronto Raptors.

"Chances are he'll work out for several (NBA) teams," a hoop insider told The Japan Times.

Graves averaged 22.2 points in 16 games for the Happinets. This included a 41-point outburst against Niigata on April 3. The 198-cm swingman attended the University of North Carolina, but was kicked off the team before the season for a violation of team rules.

Henry started 46 games as a rookie for Pierce's club, averaging 18.7 ppg. He had a season-best 42-point performance on March 9 in a double-overtime win over the Tokyo Apache. Henry, the source said, is expected to attend an NBA team's veteran camp in mid-June.

Former Tokyo Apache power forward/center Jeremy Tyler, meanwhile, is projected as a first-round pick in next week's NBA Draft, according to many hoop experts. The San Diego native, a developmental project under veteran mentor Bob Hill last season, is listed as a first-round pick by several online scouting sites.

Tyler turns 20 next Tuesday, two days before the draft. (Look for an analysis of Tyler's draft prospects, including an exclusive interview with NBA scouting director Ryan Blake, son of scouting legend Marty Blake, in The Japan Times in the coming days.)

Toyama update: It was erroneously reported in this space last week that the Grouses have gotten rid of coach Kazuaki Shimoji. In fact, his contract was extended for one more season.

Shimoji replaced Kohei Eto last spring, and the Grouses went 5-13 with him at the helm. The team's routine turnover in coaches year after year led to this reporter's speculation that Shimoji was out of a job.

Quotable: "The JBL/bj-league argument always gets me when people act like the JBL games are so vastly superior. Many problems in both leagues, and the JBL product is nothing to write home about.

"I remember going out to watch Coach Ten (Kensaku Tennichi) coach a game for Panasonic, before he was fired and went to Evessa, against Mitsubishi in Chiba, I think. Maybe 300 fans in a very empty gym. National team players on both teams. Not a high point for the JBL.

"Both leagues need to remember that they're not competing against each other so much as they are competing against the NBA experience, as well as professional baseball and soccer in Japan."

-A hoop insider, issuing a challenge for both leagues to make the sport better and attract more fans.

Closing commentary: On the eve of the league's annual draft, several clubs still had not filled coaching vacancies (or potential openings). The Oita HeatDevils, Kyoto Hannaryz, Sendai 89ers, Yokohama B-Corsairs and Niigata Albirex BB all need a sideline supervisor, while there's no word if Bob Nash will return for a second season with the Saitama Broncos.

For teams to gain legitimacy in the public eye, especially in a league that has failed to do that, it's the notion here that general managers and coaches ought to be seen working in tandem to develop a winning product.

The draft is a big part of that.

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