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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Big Bulls hire Oketani; Tokyo, Ryukyu fill spots

Staff writer

That was quick.

News photo
Big challenge: After guiding the Miyazaki Shining Suns for their first two seasons in the bj-league, Koto Toyama was named the 2011-12 champion Ryukyu Golden Kings' new head coach on Monday. MIYAZAKI SHINING SUNS / BJ-LEAGUE

Officially, the Iwate Big Bulls' time without a head coach lasted, well, less than a day.

Dai Oketani, who led the Ryukyu Golden Kings to two bj-league championships in four seasons, is Iwate's new bench boss, it was announced Sunday.

Shinji Tomiyama, who stepped in as sideline supervisor after Greek mentor Vlasios Vlaikidis' resignation in January, did not receive a new contract, the Big Bulls revealed Saturday.

The Golden Kings, meanwhile, filled their coaching vacancy on Monday by selecting Koto Toyama, whose stint with the Miyazaki Shining Suns came to an end last week.

Toyama, 29, guided the Shining Suns to a 22-30 record in 2011-12, his second season in charge. Miyazaki was 13-37 in its inaugural season.

Before joining Miyazaki, Toyama had been a Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix assistant coach for two seasons, and served as a manager on fiery coach Kazuo Nakamura's staff when the team played in the JBL and was still called the OSG Phoenix (2005-08).

One Eastern Conference coach thinks Toyama was a bold hire by the Golden Kings.

"(This) could be an inspired choice. Toyama has the potential to be an excellent coach," he said.

Will Ryukyu be in a rebuilding mode next season?

The coach framed the team's next chapter this way: "The questions are: Why break up the chemistry of a proven winner? (And) how will Jeff (Newton) and the rest of a championship team respond to the change?"

Phoenix guard Wayne Arnold, who has been with the club since 2009, thinks Toyama has potential for success with the Golden Kings.

"Koto is much like Kazu in his style of coaching," Arnold said Monday evening. "I know he will help them continue to be a great defensive team as well as having them play with championship-caliber intensity. As far as personality, you never really know how personalities of the coach and players will translate."

Iwate went 19-33 in its inaugural season. Vlaikidis was 7-19 at the helm, and Tomiyama guided the club to a 12-14 record, including five straight wins to close out the season, while general manger Motofumi Iguchi upgraded the roster.

Oketani, 34, becomes the third coach in league history to take over three teams. Sendai 89ers coach Bob Pierce, who previously guided the Akita Northern Happinets and Shiga Lakestars, was the first to take three franchises to the playoffs. Motofumi Aoki, who has guided the Shinshu Brave Warriors, Tokyo Apache and Takamatsu Five Arrows, is the other coach with three supervisory roles already since the league began in 2005.

On Monday, Aoki was appointed the expansion Tokyo Cinq Rêves' first head coach, a move that was expected for months and first reported by The Japan Times.

Six-time All-Star guard Cohey Aoki, who played for the now-defunct Apache from 2005-11 before the franchise folded, is reportedly set to return to Tokyo to suit up for the new franchise, a league insider told The Japan Times on Monday. Aoki played for the Osaka Evessa last season.

After hiring Oketani, the Golden Kings went from a 10-win expansion club in 2007-08, the year before his arrival, to 41 wins and a championship in their second season. They've been title contenders every year since, reaching the Final Four four times, including three trips to the championship game. They were 147-59 in the regular season in Oketani's steady tenure.

Oketani had been appointed the Oita HeatDevils' head coach in January 2006 and stayed in that position until the end of the 2007-08 season.

The Big Bulls have offered Oketani a three-year contract, according to the Ryukyu Shimpo.

To one league insider, who has closely kept tabs on the Golden Kings since they entered the league, Oketani's departure was not exactly stunning, considering what he described as an overbearing management style employed by Tatsuro Kimura, the team president/general manager.

"Oketani was extremely successful, but I have a feeling that Kimura-san was breathing down his neck," the source said.

"Kimura-san is someone who wants the credit for everything. Yes, he put the team together but it's the coaching staff that has to work and mold the team together.

"Kimura-san wants control and he meddles in affairs in indirect ways. He's not necessarily a micromanager, but you know and feel his presence.

"Coach Oketani was with the team for four years; that's honestly longer then I thought he would stay. He showed poise, patience and kept it together."

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