Oga recognizes value of physical play

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Star guard Yuko Oga insists the Japan’s women’s national team will show off a new style in Turkey at the FIBA World Championship for Women, which tips off late next month.

How, physically speaking, is that possible?

It may sound positive to hear something new will be seen. But in this case, Oga is saying it out of a sense of urgency.

“We need to attack the basket more,” Oga, 31, said at a recent national team workout at Tokyo’s National Training Center before it took off for Europe for exhibition games. “When you always move around to find a spot that you can be wide open, you’re not going to make contact (with opposing players).

“We can find open space and take shots, but when we try to attack the basket, making contact, I think that would harass our opponents a lot more. That’s a very important thing for us to do.”

Oga added that a lack of physical play would make Japan a predictable team for opponents to scout.

She suggested that cutting inside, not just taking shots away from the cylinder, would give Japan more options — thus, more chances to score — and that’s something that Japan would have to master during its European exhibition trip, when the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship for Women title winner is scheduled to play some of the powerhouse nations, including Spain and France and the Czech Republic.

“We’ve got to prove our physicality, not just in rebounding,” Oga said. “Otherwise, it will give an easier time to our opponents that will match up with our players on the floor.”

Japan would directly benefit from playing with more body contact, not just by repelling opponents, Oga claimed.

“(Trying to penetrate inside) will make a difference in the number of free throws,” said Oga, who was the tournament’s scoring leader (19.1 points per game) at the 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women.

“That will change the way we play games by a lot. It’s been typical that we’ve had fewer free throws, as well as rebounds. It’s often said that you have to be physical to grab rebounds, but it’s the same in getting free throws.”

In the last World Championship in the Czech Republic four years ago, Japan ranked eighth in points per game (67.3) and averaged the second-fewest free throws (10.5). Australia was the best among the 16 countries at 28.8.

While she acknowledged things won’t change so quickly, Oga, a former WJBL MVP, hopes all Japan’s players will be on the same page in terms of their physical style. She said that the players have done more to make their bodies bigger by taking proteins and other nutrients with the support of their strength coach.

Historically, it’s been said that Japanese basketball teams need to out-sprint their opponents to compensate for their size disadvantage.

Oga, a former WNBA player with the Phoenix Mercury who helped spark the Shanxi Xing Rui Flam to the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association championship last year, admitted that speed remains the foundation of Japan’s game, but thinks her team needs to add something extra, to play more physical, in order to excel at the global level.

“That’s absolutely necessary,” Oga said of Japan’s running game. “Now we need to add a physical phase to it.”

Japan is in Group A along with the Czech Republic, Spain and Brazil, Nos. 5, 6 and 7 in the world, respectively, for the first round at worlds, which runs from Sept 27 to Oct. 5. Japan is No. 17 in FIBA’s world rankings and finished 10th with a 2-6 record in the 2010 tourney.