Japan national hoop squad beefs up competition before important qualification tournaments

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The Japan Basketball Association and men’s national team head coach Thomas Wisman have selected a bigger group of players to spark more intense competition inside, while having them peak at the right time.

Wisman announced the 42 players on the provisional national team early last week and divided them into three groups for the first time.

Group One (17 players) is the so-called “A-team,” featuring signature names such as Yuta Tabuse, Takehiko Orimo, Takumi Ishizaki and twin brothers Joji and Kosuke Takeuchi.

The second group (14) consists of A-team-caliber players and the JBA wants to have them earn experience in national team jerseys. The majority of the third group players (11) are either from colleges or even high schools. Wisman explained that by using having that many players, it can give rest time for everybody, especially the veterans.

“In the program we have, we’re actually excited about all three groups,” Wisman said. “We’re excited about the prospects that we have, the young kids.

“We’re excited about the players we have in Group Two. We’ll push them to compete for spots (on the final 12-man roster for the Asian Championships). And we are happy in the Group One we have, their commitment from what we consider to be the main players, the best players in Japan.”

The biggest tasks of this year for Wisman’s squad lie in two Asian tournaments, which lead to next year’s London Summer Olympics.

Japan will compete in the East Asian Championship (June 10-15 in Nanjing, China) to earn a berth in the Asian Championship (Sept. 15-25 in Wuhan, China).

Top three finishers (except for host China) in the six-nation East Asia Championship earn spots in the Asian Championship. The winning team in the Asian Championship grabs a berth in the 2012 London Olympics and second- and third-finishers advance to the world final Olympic qualifier next year.

Japan’s men’s team has not made it to an Olympics since the 1976 Montreal Games.

Team Japan will also play some exhibitions during the course of training, along with some other international tournaments.

Tabuse, a former Phoenix Suns guard, said that it is more significant for the players to have a stronger will to make the Olympics.

“As much as we have to improve our techniques,” said Tabuse, who plays for the Link Tochigi Brex of the JBL, “we have to have responsibility with the Japanese flag behind our back.”

Tabuse, a 30-year-old point guard, added that as one of the experienced veterans he intends to take the leaderships to guide the team in the right direction.

“As a playmaker, I understand what type of basketball coach wants us to play,” he said. “So I want to convey that to the team as much as I can.”

Wisman said that he is happy how the A-team players committed themselves to the grave task.

“I think, this year being the qualifying year (for the London Olympics), we received strong commitment from all of our best players,” he said. “They want to be part of the program. They want to earn spots and represent Japan.”

Former UCLA standout Charles O’Bannon, a Toshiba Brave Thunders player, is likely to be added to the team once he gets Japanese citizenship he’s currently waiting for.

Japan saw dark time in the last several years as it finished eighth and 10th, respectively, in the last two Asian Championship tourneys in 2007 and 2009. But it took a positive step forward last year, advancing to the semifinals in the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, in December.

“Coach told us, ‘I want you guys to be Olympians when your careers are over,’ ” Tabuse said. “We want to live up to the expectation.”