The following columns on Dwane Casey, the 2017-18 NBA Coach of the Year, have appeared in The Japan Times in recent years during his successful run with the Toronto Raptors. Future commentary will be written about his time with the Detroit Pistons.

*DECEMBER 2014 – Casey has fueled rise by Raptors

The Toronto Raptors’ climb hasn’t been an overnight miracle. But it’s been a memorable climb under the steady leadership of head coach Dwane Casey.

The Raptors are on pace for an increase in wins for the fourth consecutive season since Casey was hired to lead the team on June 21, 2011. They went 13-4 in November, and Casey was named the NBA Eastern Conference Coach of the Month.

The Raptors (16-6 through Wednesday) have the best record in the Eastern Conference. And in their first three seasons under Casey, they won 23, 34 and 48 games, respectively, taking the Atlantic Division title last spring. Casey received a new three-year contract in May.

“Statistics come and go. You look at all the statistics and the key is continuous hard play each and every night you step onto the floor,” Casey said in an exclusive interview last week, “and I think that’s what our guys are giving.”

When Casey took the reins in Toronto, then-team president/GM Bryan Colangelo said, “. . . his proven ability as a defensive architect will serve as a great backdrop for the future of the team.”

Casey inherited a Raptors team that had gone 22-60 in 2010-11 under Jay Triano. That same season, Casey earned plaudits for supervising the title-winning Dallas Mavericks defense, working as Rick Carlisle’s assistant. Casey put his stamp on Dallas’ defense.

And that’s the same approach he took when he moved to Toronto.

“One thing we’ve done over the years is try to build a defensive philosophy, it’s something that we did when I first got here four years ago, and they were 30th in the NBA in defense at that time, and worked to build it up to where it is now,” Casey told Hoop Scoop by phone from Toronto. “It’s a gradual thing and it’s taken a while to get there, but we finally got our defensive philosophy established and now we’ve also got our offensive philosophy kind of in place — running and pushing the ball and playing aggressive offensively.”

*AUGUST 2016 – Kohama-Casey friendship endures

A few days before the Rio Olympics kicked off, Mototaka Kohama, the godfather of Japanese basketball, reunited with one of his closest friends.

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey made a long-awaited visit to Japan to see Kohama.

The two men hadn’t seen each other in nine years, though Casey frequently asks about Kohama via email and telephone conversations with his vast network of Japan basketball colleagues.

It was a special reunion.

In early August, Hoop Scoop was invited to attend a small dinner party where Kohama and Casey sat on opposite sides of a table in a private room in a traditional Japanese restaurant in the basement of a swanky Tokyo hotel.

There was genuine joy in the room as Kohama, Casey, longtime Hakuoh University women’s basketball coach Toshinobu Sato and basketball agent Toshinori Koga recalled both funny and intense moments shared with Kohama on and off basketball courts near and far.

*FEBRUARY 2017 – A remembrance of Mototaka Kohama after his death in January includes keen insights related to their friendship

Mototaka Kohama leaves behind a trail of memories with those who knew him well or casually crossed paths with him during his decades-long involvement in basketball.

After the Godfather of Japanese basketball’s death on Jan. 12 at age 84 after a battle with cancer, those memories sprang up again for many individuals.

There were decades of games — some wins and losses stand out more than others — hard discipline and the teacher-pupil relationships that helped set the stage for 21st century basketball in Japan, too.

For instance, take Toshi Sato, the current coach of the Hakuoh University women’s basketball squad. Sato’s friendship with Kohama, who oversaw the Japan men’s national team, including at the 1998 FIBA World Championship in Greece, and led the Isuzu Giga Cats to national prominence in both the JBL and annual Emperor’s Cup competitions, continued until the legendary mentor’s last days.

Sato also happens to share close ties with Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey, with the college bench boss and his players visiting his pal in Canada for a Raptors game last season.

Asked to reflect on Kohama’s impact on his coaching career, Sato admitted he has eternal gratitude for the role that the legend played in his own life.

He summed it up this way in an interview with Hoop Scoop: “(My) career as a coach . . . is thanks to him.”

The reason?

He introduced Coach Dwane Casey to me,” Sato said. “I could assist him for four years.”

*JANUARY 2017 – Related coverage: Mototaka Kohama’s obituary

A portion of Casey’s recollections:

Above all, Kohama’s Kentucky connections paved the way for a lifelong friendship with Dwane Casey, the future NBA head coach. They met in Lexington, the university town, in 1979.

“There is not enough time to express in an email my feelings for Coach. He was like a family member to me,” the Toronto Raptors bench boss told The Japan Times. “I had taken him to my small hometown in Kentucky to meet my grandparents and family back in 1979.

“When we first met I was a young player at the University of Kentucky.

“He didn’t speak great English at that time and I surely couldn’t speak Japanese. But from the start there was a chemistry/connection that we had. He loved Nat King Cole songs. He knew the words, I would always try to find genuine Japanese restaurants for him in Lexington.

“We would sit and diagram plays until wee hours in the a.m. He would work with me on my jump shot as a player before I got into coaching.

“After he brought the Japan national team to the University of Kentucky where he assisted Coach Joe Hall to prepare the team for the World Games. After that experience in the late ’70s he would invite me over to Japan to work with different teams along with Pete Newell and many other coaches who loved and respected Coach Kohama.

“When I got married I spent my honeymoon there in Japan and had dinner with him. So many special memories.”