Head coach Tomohide Utsumi revealed a group of 18 as his preliminary Japan women’s national basketball team, which has already earned a spot in this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics, at the Japan Basketball Association office on Wednesday.
Utsumi selected players mostly from the team that captured its second straight FIBA Asia Championship in China last year, headlined by WNBA player Ramu Tokashiki, veteran guard Asami Yoshida and scoring forward Sanae Motokawa.
Thirty-seven-year-old shooter Ai Mitani is the oldest player on the preliminary squad.
Utsumi also picked some youngsters with an eye on the team’s future beyond Brazil at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He called up Manami Fujioka, a 22-year-old Tsukuba University point guard who led Japan to fourth place at last summer’s University Games, and 19-year-old center Sakura Akaho, who helped Team Japan win the bronze medal at the 2014 Asian Games as a high school student.
Japan has been hindered by serious injuries in its most recent global tournaments. In 2012, the team was without Tokashiki for the final Olympic qualifying tournament, which contributed to the team missing a place in London, and Japan lost all three games at the 2014 World Championship having lost Yoshida to injury.
But Utsumi’s squad hasn’t lost any of its most important players to injury since. The coach thinks that having the core four of Tokashiki, Yoshida, Yuka Mamiya and Maki Takada competing against the world’s elite teams will make a huge difference.
“We’ve had these four since last year and that’s a good sign,” Utsumi said. “By having them, we can play a better transition game than in the World Championship.”
And with the momentum carried over since last year, Japan is a confident bunch right now and has set a high goal for the 12-team competition in Rio.
“Since the London Olympics, we’ve worked on developing our team, and the Rio Olympics will be an accumulation of the work we’ve done, and how we play will have an impact on the team moving toward the Tokyo Olympics,” Utsumi said. “So we’d definitely like to play in the best way we can, with our eyes on a medal.”
Japan’s women finished fifth in the 1976 Montreal Games and that’s their best result at the Olympics.
The preliminary Japan squad will enter a series of training camps — including in Europe — starting April 9. Utsumi said that the team would also play over 20 warmup games against other countries before the Olympics.
Utsumi said that he would announce his final 12-member roster after the team returns from a trip to Minsk in early June.
Utsumi also confirmed that the team would invite a guest coach to improve the team’s scoring in faster-tempo offense for its second training camp between April 25 and May 11 in Tokyo. He said that it would be an American that had coaching experience both in the NBA and WNBA.
Asked about how long Tokashiki, who recently re-signed with the WNBA’s Seattle Storm on a multiple-year contract, would have to be absent from the team, Utsumi said that the two-time Asia Championship MVP would leave Japan for the Storm’s training camp and be back with the team around July 23, when the team is holding a training camp in Buenos Aires.