Japanese women face Griner during preparation for upcoming tourney

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

A 23-point loss to the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury in a Sunday exhibition game in Phoenix was the first big test for the Japan women’s national basketball team as it prepares for the 25th FIBA Asia Championship for Women.

The continental competition is scheduled to be held in Bangkok, starting on Oct. 27, and new advisor coach Herb Brown believes Japan benefited from facing the Mercury as its first foe after commencing team workouts at the Ajinomoto National Training Center in Tokyo on May 1.

“Our stay in Arizona has been worthwhile and enjoyable,” Brown told The Japan Times via email late Tuesday evening. “Coach (Tomohide) Utsumi and the team have trained hard and done well. The game against the Mercury was very competitive and much closer than the final score would indicate.”

Brown started working as an advisor coach for the national team in April as it began preparations for the FIBA Asia Championship for Women. His contract runs through the tournament in early November. His career has included extensive work in the international game, coaching in Puerto Rico and Israel, among other places. But this is the first time he has coached female basketball players.

The 77-year-old Brown, the older brother of legendary Hall of Fame bench boss Larry Brown, has spent his entire adult life as a basketball coach, serving several stints as an NBA assistant coach and was the Detroit Pistons mentor from 1976-78.

His work with the Japan national team puts him in the spotlight as a key strategist as Utsumi works to develop a youthful squad with several talented young players and aim for a spot in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The Mercury defeated Team Japan 87-64 at U.S. Airways Center. Phoenix was held to eight second-quarter points as Japan pulled to within 35-22 at halftime after giving up 27 points in the opening quarter.

It was former Baylor University sensation Brittney Griner’s Phoenix debut, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2013 putting 18 points the board in a 21-minute outing. As reported in the azcentralsports.com game story, Griner’s second basket of the night was a hook shot. This occurred just days after she got pointers from sky hook maestro Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a well-publicized event, during a Mercury workout.

Griner led all players in scoring. For Japan, former Mercury guard Yuko Oga, the JX Sunflowers superstar and team’s oldest player at age 30, scored seven points on 3-for-11 shooting. Guard/forward Michiko Miyamoto had a team-high 15 points and Kumiko Oba added 11 points. Asami Yoshida handed out 10 assists with zero turnovers. Post player Ramu Tokashiki, who turns 22 on June 11, grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds and contributed six points, two assists and a steal in 27 minutes.

Phoenix held a 44-25 edge in rebounds, and that competition against a pro team can only be a measuring stick for Tokashiki, who caught Brown’s attention during the recent training camp in Tokyo.

“Tokashiki is talented and wants to be great,” Brown said in recent interview posted on fibaasia.net.

The WNBA season begins on Friday. The Japan national team, meanwhile, has game video that can be a valuable learning tool for Oga and her compatriots. The team will return to Japan for a one-night stay, then head to Europe for further training and a pair of exhibition games against the Slovenia and Lithuania national teams before returning to Japan on June 13.

Before boarding a plane for Japan on Wednesday, Brown told The Japan Times, “We are getting better and look forward to our trip.”

He added: “We have gotten better each and every practice. The women’s national team is working very hard and improving. . . . They deserve some recognition for their hard work and diligence.”

Editor’s note: Look for an in-depth look at Brown’s career in an upcoming story in The Japan Times.