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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Phoenix coach Kawai given one-year deal for 2012-13

Staff writer

Ryuji Kawai will return to the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix for a second season as head coach, the bj-league team announced on Tuesday.

Kawai, who turns 37 next month, guided Hamamatsu (37-15) to its fourth consecutive Eastern Conference regular-season title and a trip to the championship game, where they were defeated by the Ryukyu Golden Kings on May 20. He had the high-pressure task of replacing the inimitable mentor Kazuo Nakamura, who led the Phoenix to back-to-back championships before stepping down after the 2010-11 season and taking over the same position with the Akita Northern Happinets.

During Kawai's three seasons as Nakamura's assistant, the team won 117 of its 150 regular-season contests. Now, he'll have the difficult challenge of directing the team as it moves to the Western Conference for the 2012-13 season.

In a statement released by the team, Kawai said he'll continue to pursue excellence and build the strongest team he can. He said winning a title remains the top priority.

Meanwhile, commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi's son, Shuto, won't be back, fueling speculation the 26-year-old may step in as the league's youngest head coach next season for the Miyazaki Shining Suns.

* * *

Ryukyu assistant coach Keith Richardson reacted to last week's departure of two-time, title-winning bench boss Dai Oketani, the new Iwate Big Bulls coach, in an emotional message posted on Facebook on Monday, written in both English in Japanese.

Here's what he wrote in English:

"Over the past four years I have had the great pleasure of serving as an assistant coach to one of the greatest mentors in my life. He showed me so much about the game of basketball, how you treat your players and how to be a professional. On top of that he helped me grow as a coach and as a person. Through the tough days and the fun days he was always there when I needed him for direction.

"Coach (Dai) Oketani made me the coach I am today and the better person I will be in my life. Thanks for everything, coach, and good luck in your future."

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