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Don’s Basketball Alumus Bill Cartwright to Coach in Japanese Pro League

Although no longer affiliated with college basketball or the NBA, former USF basketball star Bill Cartwright continues to be a part of the sport in a unique way, continuing to show his dedication and love for the game. On January 22, Cartwright was hired as head coach for Osaka Evessa, a professional team in Japan’s BJ (Basketball Japan) league. The 55 year old will now be responsible for returning the once-elite Japanese franchise to relevancy, and proving that he can make a home for himself and build a reputation as a top-notch coach, all in a foreign country.

Cartwright arrived at USF in 1976 and immediately had a positive impact on the basketball team. After putting up solid numbers as a freshman, the 7’1” center developed into a standout player as a sophomore, leading the Dons to a 29-2 record. In 1978 and 1979, his last 2 years at USF, the team advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, and as a senior Cartwright averaged 24.5 points and 15.7 rebounds while leading the team to a record of 22-7.

After completing his decorated collegiate career, Cartwright was selected with the third overall pick in the 1979 NBA draft. He went on to have a memorable 16-year NBA career, highlighted by the three championships that he won as a member of the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls from 1991–1993. He retired in 1995, but was not ready to say goodbye to the game of basketball, and it wouldn’t be too long until he was back in the Bulls locker room as an assistant coach. In the middle of the 2001-02 NBA season, Cartwright was named head coach of his former team. He maintained that position until the 2002-03 season, when he was fired after the team got off to a 4-10 start.

Upon being dismissed by the Bulls, Cartwright spent many years serving as an NBA assistant coach, first for the New Jersey Nets and later the Phoenix Suns. However, until accepting the job for Osaka Evessa, he had not assumed the position of head coach since his days in Chicago. Becoming a coach for a team in a Japanese league is somewhat unorthodox by the standards of former NBA players and coaches, but Cartwright views this new chapter in his life as one of opportunity and possibility, and, as told to Ed Odeven of The Japan Times, one that brings  “great challenge and fun…personally, I love a challenge.”

This challenge that Cartwright speaks of will be no small one. Osaka Evessa stood at a dismal 5-19 when Cartwright took over as coach, good for ninth place in the 10-team Western Conference. In order to make the playoffs, the team will have to reach sixth place in the conference by the end of their 52-game season. Despite the odds stacked against them, there have been recent signs of hope. In the games that Cartwright has coached since his arrival, Osaka Evessa has gone 2-0. Although their back-to-back victories were 89-79 and 83-73 wins that both came against the last-place Miyazaki Shining Suns, Cartwright is optimistic about the team’s future.

“The team has, I believe, played well in meaningful situations,” Cartwright said to Odeven.

“In close games, we’re really not that far away. The goal for this season is to develop our team into the best team we can be.”

If Cartwright is able to inject a shot of energy into Osaka Evessa, the results certainly have the potential to be exciting. The team is not without talent, as it has recruited both former NBA and collegiate players from the United States. Forward Rick Rickert played college basketball at Minnesota, and was taken as the 55th pick in the 2003 NBA draft. Guard Dwayne Lathan was a standout at Indiana State. If Osaka Evessa can put the pieces together and rally around their new coach, they have an outside shot to make the playoffs. For a franchise that won three championships in a row after its inception in 2004, this may seem like a somewhat meaningless accomplishment, but for the current team that has seen three coaches in the past two seasons, it would be a promising step forward.

By taking the job as head coach in Japan, Cartwright rejoins the group of USF basketball alums who are still involved with the sport. KC Jones, who won a pair of NCAA championships with the Dons in 1955 and 1956, is presently a color commentator for Hartford University’s men’s basketball team. Bill Russell, who played with Jones during the most successful stretch in USF basketball history, has remained involved with NBA basketball throughout his life. He has maintained close relationships with players on the Boston Celtics, and in 2009 the NBA Finals MVP was named the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP Award.

Although immediate prosperity may not be the most likely outcome of Cartwright’s new coaching role, he is ultimately eager to become immersed in a new culture and learn the ways of basketball in a country that he had previously been unfamiliar with.

“I’ve always wanted to come here (to Japan),” Cartwright told Odeven.

And, while getting used to a new life and a new team to monitor and teach, the former Don will surely use the knowledge he gained from his years in San Francisco and Chicago to bring better days to a struggling team.

“Basketball is a great sport,” he said. “And we are hoping to teach the people of Japan that it’s a very exciting sport. Every kid has a chance to do it and do well. Hopefully with our style of play, people will want to come out and watch a very exciting team.”

A Tribute to Michael Jordan

On Monday, five new members were elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Michael Jordan, John Stockton, David Robinson, Jerry Sloan and C. Vivian Stringer were the ones that were elected to enter basketball’s elite club. While all of these candidates deserved their induction, the name that stands out to everyone is Michael Jordan. Although Stockton and Robinson has great careers and Stringer and Sloan are both very successful coaches, no one in the history of the NBA has had as great of an impact on the sport of basketball as Michael Jordan. In fact, no athlete has ever had such a big impact on any sport.

Michael Jordan not only transcended basketball, he transcended sports as a whole. He was the first athlete that became a world icon, not just because of his skills on the basketball court but also for his Air Jordan shoes and his famous Nike commercials. Jordan was more than just the greatest basketball player ever; he was an icon.

What Jordan did on the court made every kid who grew up in the 90s want to play basketball. I remember watching him play and then going outside and dunking on my little NERF basketball court as a 3 year old. He was the greatest scorer that I ever watched. Jordan was unstoppable in the post and he made the fade away jumper famous, just like Kareem did with the skyhook. Besides that, he was of course an amazing dunker and finisher. Jordan’s top 10 dunks of his career could only be matched Dr. J and maybe Dominique Wilkins. No one will forget his dunk from the free throw line in the 1988 All-Start Dunk Competition. Not only could he finish but also he could hit the three point shot with consistency. But most importantly, he was the best clutch player in the history of NBA. Jordan could not only score but he also made his teammates better.

Besides his career, in which he won 6 championships, 5 MVPs and finished 3rd on the all time points list with 32,292 behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone, he was an icon because of his shoes. Michael Jordan was the first athlete to have his own signature shoe, the Air Jordan. In 1985 he announced the release on his first shoe and he is still making his signature shoe now. His shoes have become a major collector item, selling for thousands of dollars. No athlete has ever had this big of an impact in the fashion world. Besides that Jordan had his signature of sticking his tongue out. Every time he drove to the basket he would stick out his tongue. He made sticking out your tongue the cool thing to do. The shoes and the tongue are what made Jordan the icon that he is.

Jordan had a huge impact on me growing up. I remember as a little boy, going outside and playing basketball pretending I was he. Jordan was the reason why I love basketball. I grew up idolizing him; I truly wanted to “be like Mike”. He was just so good at basketball and I looked up to him because of that. The way he played the game was mesmerizing and I couldn’t help but try to imitate it. I grew up playing basketball and tried to be like him, just like every person who plays basketball does. It’s surreal to know that I grew up watching and idolizing the best basketball player to ever play. I try to be like him in every way, playing basketball, wearing his shoes and sticking out my tongue. To this day I still idolize him for his skill on the court. No one will ever be him, some might come close but no one will ever be like Mike.

Because of this, the hall of fame should not just give him a plaque, they should build a new building just dedicated to him. And I honestly think that you could fill a whole building worth of memorable Jordan accomplishments. In honor of Jordan, I’m going to have to pop in my DVD of his career and watch some highlights.