With a month to go until Olympic qualifying in Belgrade, the provisional Japan men’s national basketball team entered its third training camp at Tokyo’s National Training Center on Wednesday.
Head coach Kenji Hasegawa selected 16 players for the squad on Tuesday, but Ryusei Shinoyama and Naoto Tsuji of the Toshiba Brave Thunders and Kosuke Kanamaru, Ryoma Hashimoto and Makoto Hiejima of the Aisin SeaHorses, all of whom played in the NBL Finals which ended Sunday, didn’t participate in the afternoon practice on the first day of the camp.
Hasegawa said that all five players were hurt and hinted that the injuries to Kanamaru and Tsuji were a little more serious.
“It’s tough,” Hasegawa said with a sigh. “They are expected to return on Saturday, but to be honest, I’m not sure how much Kanamaru and Tsuji will have gotten better by then.”
Despite the situation, “Akatsuki Five” is dead serious about earning a spot at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics through the qualifying tournament.
Japan earned a spot at the 18-team qualifying competition, which will be played in Belgrade, Manila and Turin, Italy, by finishing fourth at last year’s FIBA Asia Championship.
“When we played at the Asia Championship last year, I had never thought that I wanted to win and play in the Olympics as much as then,” Japanese star point guard Yuta Tabuse said. “We still have hope. We are going to stick to winning every game playing as hard as we possibly can.”
Meanwhile, one standout player on the roster is George Washington standout Yuta Watanabe, who wrapped up his second season with the Colonials, an NCAA Division I team, with the championship in March’s NIT Tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Watanabe is available to play for Team Japan after opting to skip the first of the school’s two summer semesters.
Watanabe, who reunited with the national team for the first time in a year, said that he felt a little rusty as his season ended a while ago but excited about the opportunity to represent his country.
The 21-year-old is the youngest player on the team, which has an average age of 28.2. But he said he has no intentions of backing off as he tries to make the final cut for Olympic qualifying.
“Once you get on the court, it doesn’t matter how old you are,” Watanabe said. “Somebody will not make the team in the end, but I consider my teammates are rivals, so I would like to show what I can do as much as I can.”
The training camp will continue until Sunday. The team heads to China to compete in the Atlas Challenge invitational tournament from June 14-19.
The 12-man roster for Olympic qualifying will be announced after the Atlas Challenge.
The final Olympic qualifying tournament will be played July 4-9. The winners of each venue will advance to the Rio Games.
Japan, which is ranked 48th in the world, is in Group B of the Belgrade tourney along with Czech Republic and Latvia.
Provisional Japan men’s national team:
Guards: Yuta Tabuse, Naoto Tsuji, Makoto Hiejima, Ryusei Shinoyama, Ryoma Hashimoto, Keijuro Matsui, Daiki Tanaka, Takatoshi Furukawa, Kosuke Kanamaru
Forwards: Yuta Watanabe, Joji Takeuchi, Ryumo Ono, Kenta Hirose
Centers: Atsuya Ota, Kosuke Takeuchi, Pape Mour Faye