Former UA star Geary finds coaching success in Japan

Reggie Geary, former Arizona star and assistant, coaches pro team to league title in Japan.

When former Arizona basketball player Reggie Geary was being carried around and flung into the air, he knew he had accomplished something special.

Time zone be damned.

Actually, he had accomplished something more than special. He became the first foreign-born coach to win a basketball championship in Japan when his Yokohama B-Corsairs defeated the Rizing Fukuoka on Sunday for the championship in the country's most competitive league.

“It’s a great honor,” Geary said via email about his title. “There have been a number of great coaches who have coached in Japan with NBA, NCAA, and Euroleague experience, so I realize how difficult a feat this is. When my players were tossing me into the air after the championship victory, knowing I was the first foreigner to experience it, it brought me great pride and satisfaction.”

The former UA guard — a premier defensive stopper during Arizona’s Final Four run in 1994 — had done himself and his Yokohama team proud. The B-Corsairs defeated Rizing Fukuoka 101-90 to win the title, the Kanto region’s first in the eight-year history of the league. They finished the regular season with the second-best record at 35-17.

Last year, Yokohoma flirted with the championship, finishing third.  This year, well, there was no more flirting. And Geary had an inkling that something more was possible after he received the league’s Coach of the Year award last season.

"Obviously you're hopeful any time you begin a season that it's going to be a success,” Geary said. “We knew replacing Justin Burrell, the 2011-12 (league) MVP would be difficult. But I felt more comfortable coming into the season with myself, with my returning players and the newly acquired ones. And we knew what to expect with coaching in Japan.

"The one thing I did feel was that if we were able to get back to the Final Four, we would be better prepared to take advantage of the moment having already gone through it last season and finishing third overall. Going into the Final Four this year, we were ready for it."

Everything was more comfortable this past season for Geary, whose family moved to Japan to be closer to him and become more ingrained in the culture. Tucson had been Geary's home after stints as an assistant at UA (under Russ Pennell and Mike Dunlap) and then at Southern Methodist.

"We have really enjoyed living here,” he said. “The people of Japan are very nice, it's a beautiful country that is one of the safest on Earth, and the food is delicious. The city of Yokohama and the boosters of the B-Corsairs have been incredible to me and my family and have made this transition such a wonderful experience.

"Obviously being away from family and friends in the States can be difficult, but the fact that we are experiencing this unique opportunity together as a family has been so rewarding for all of us in so many ways."

But he’ll be home soon. And it'll be a triumphant return.

"As you can imagine, with the two-year run of success I've just had with the Yokohama B-Corsairs, other professional teams in Japan and in America have expressed interest in me,” he said, without getting specific. "Since I definitely have aspirations of coaching and living back in the U.S. at some point, my family and I are just weighing our options as to what is best for us. While I don't know for sure what my future will be just yet, I am grateful for this journey I have been on here in Japan with the Yokohama, and I look forward to what will happen next. In the meantime, we are excited to get back to the Old Pueblo.”

Until then, he'll have some time to savor his time in Japan and championship win.

"The coaching profession is not an easy one,” he said. “My coaching career in its first decade has been an interesting one, but also one most coaches would feel blessed to have. And I am.

"I've worked with a number of quality coaches at excellent institutions and organizations, been a head coach in two major leagues and have learned a number of lessons about the business of basketball. I would love to find that place where my family and I can stay for 10 years. But, until then, I'll continue to work hard to win games, improve as a coach, and be patient yet hungry."

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