CHIBA – On Friday, the Japan men’s national team played its first official international contest since FIBA’s suspension of the Japan Basketball Association was officially lifted last Sunday.
The result? Japan fell 68-66 to the Czech Republic in an exhibition match at Chiba Port Arena.
Japan played well, especially on the defensive end, in the first half. But the home side blew a 12-point lead in the end.
Guard Tomas Vyoral hit a 3-pointer with 2 :04 left in the final quarter to give the Czechs a lead. Japan battled back to pull ahead, but came up short.
Center Martin Peterka led the Czech Republic with 19 points and fellow frontcourt player Ladislav Pecka contributed 14 rebounds.
For Japan, shooting guard Keijuro Matsui was the leading scorer with 12 points, but all of them came in the first half. The former Columbia University player hit four 3s. Takumi Ishizaki, Joji Takeuchi and Ryumo Ono followed with 11 points apiece.
The Czech Republic dominated on the boards, outrebounding Japan 40-27. Japan forced its opponent into making 21 turnovers (Japan had 10), but didn’t take advantage of them.
“Both in a positive and negative meaning, I think basketball’s getting attention now (in Japan),” Matsui said after the game. “We wanted to post a win, so it’s frustrating that we came up short.”
Ishizaki said: “We’re pleased to be able to play an international game against such a strong team. It would have been better to take the first step with a win, but we want to channel this into energy and play the next games with a fresh mind-set.”
Hayabusa Japan will play two more games against the same opponent on Saturday and Sunday at Yoyogi National Gymnasium Annex.
Star guard Yuta Tabuse said that Japan head coach Kenji Hasegawa told his players before the game that they had no time to waste and had to make up lost time from the FIBA ban, needing to establish a squad that would lure more fans.
“He told us that we’d need to prove that this is a team that puts up a fight,” said Tabuse, who had six points and four assists. “We’ve got to play aggressively with the entire team.”
Meanwhile, Japan’s diminutive guard Yuki Togashi, who signed a training camp contract this week with the Dinamo Sassari of the Italian Serie A, played for only 4:05 minutes and scored two points.
The 22-year-old Togashi was absent from Japan’s recent overseas trips to China and Europe and said that he lacked the rhythm from playing in recent games.
“I’ve been practicing, but didn’t have a chance to play 5-on-5 ball,” Togashi said. “And I made a few mistakes today and have to reflect on that.”
Togashi said that he was happy to have earned the opportunity with Sassari, because he thought that the European style of basketball would be more suited for Japanese players than the American style.
“The play styles are completely different, and I thought that Europe would be a better fit,” Togashi said, who suited up for the NBA Development League’s Texas Legends during the 2014-15 season. “I still set my goal (to reach) the NBA, so hopefully, I can get closer to it gradually.”
Togashi said that he hasn’t heard a detailed preseason schedule from Sassari yet and wasn’t sure if he had to leave the national team, which will compete in the FIBA Asian Championship late next month.