Japan unveils roster for World Championship

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Speed, agility, experience and poise — versatility, unpredictability and desire, too. These are trademarks of the 12 basketball players named to the Japan National Team on Thursday night.

News photoKEI IGARASHI, shown during Japan national team practice Tuesday, was one of 12 players selected for the final roster Thursday night for the FIBA World Championship, which will begin Aug. 19.

Head coach Zeljko Pavlicevic announced the 12 players who will represent Japan in the FIBA World Championship during a news conference at Kishi Memorial Hall in Shibuya.

“I made this squad with a combination of defense and offense,” Pavlicevic said.

“We want to have firm defense and fast offense,” he added. “We are going to play against the world’s top teams, so it won’t be easy. I think it won’t be a fun tournament but a war. But we’ve prepared. We want to play clever and tough.”

The roster is comprised of point guards Shinsuke Kashiwagi (24 years old), Kei Igarashi (26), Takahiro Setsumasa (34); shooting guards Takuya Kawamura (20), Ryota Sakurai (23) and Takehiko Orimo (36); power forwards Kosuke Takeuchi (21) and Daiji Yamada (23); centers Shunsuke Ito (27) and Satoru Furuta (35), as well as two swingmen — small forward/power forward Joji Takeuchi (21) and shooting guard/small forward Tomoo Amino (25).

Veteran leadership will come primarily from three players. Setsumasa and Orimo played in the 1998 world championship. Furuta, meanwhile, first appeared on the international stage in 1990, when he played in an Asian junior tournament.

For Pavlicevic, it was a no-brainer to give Orimo a spot on the roster.

“Orimo is the best shooter in this country,” the coach said with a hint of pride in his voice. “I mean, he is the best shooter (of) all time. His attitude in practice is simply great.”

Furuta, the team captain, is an undersized center at 199 cm. But his gritty play never goes out of style.

“The national team wouldn’t have been able to play without him yet,” Pavlicevic said of Furuta. “He always attacks the strongest guys of opponents. He does what I call ‘dirty work,’ such as competing for a position.

“Furuta is still the most uncanny player on the team.”

Pavlicevic, a 55-year-old Croatian who became Japan’s national coach in 2003, also called Igarashi a key player in the upcoming tournament.

“Igarashi has shown ability, especially speed and leadership up until today,” the coach said.

The Takeuchi twins are the team’s tallest players at 205 cm apiece. Yamada, who weighs 105 kg is the heaviest player on the active roster. Three national team players — power forward Takuya Sato, shooting guard Shogo Asayama and small forward Takanori Onishi — didn’t make the final cut for the world championship. But Pavlicevic said he’ll leave Sato and Asayama on his roster as alternates until the tourney begins in case of injury or illness to other players.

Depth at small forward is a concern, Pavlicevic acknowledged, but Amino has shown he can be a game-changing player for Japan. He led all players with 27 points in Japan’s 72-62 win over Iran in the Kirin Cup finale.

“He is very serious about this game and has a fighting spirit,” Pavlicevic said of Amino.

And he can take over games, too.

Or as Pavlicevic put it: “When he is on a roll, he can always score more than 20 points.”

In short, the 12 players chosen have all demonstrated their ability to play strong defense.

“I choose the players considering their physical strength,” Pavlicevic said. “It’s not all about height. Our core philosophy is in defense, and since we don’t have tall guys, if we don’t get rebounds, we won’t be able to achieve what we want.”

Kosuke Takeuchi is considered the team’s best rebounder.

As far as defensive matchups at the world tourney, Japan’s shooting guards and power forwards will face the most difficult matchups, the coach predicted.