George Washington standout Yuta Watanabe, veteran star guard Yuta Tabuse and the Takeuchi twins (Joji and Kosuke) will lead the “Akatsuki Five” as Japan men’s national team head coach Kenji Hasegawa on Thursday revealed his final roster for the final Olympic qualifier, which takes place early next month in Belgrade.
Hasegawa trimmed the 16-man squad down to 12 after Japan finished last with a 1-4 record in the eight-team Atlas Challenge invitational tournament, which wrapped up on Sunday in China.
“We are heading to the final Olympic qualifier with these 12 men,” Hasegawa said at a news conference at the National Training Center, where the team began its fourth training camp on the same day. “Japan has not opened the door to the world in a long time. We would like to make this final Olympic qualifier the first step of our challenge against the world and toward the Tokyo Olympics.”
The last global tournament the Japanese team competed in was the FIBA World Cup (formerly known as the World Championship), which it hosted in 2006. Japan has not appeared in the Olympics since the 1976 Games in Montreal.
The final Olympic qualifying round will be held at three different sites, and the winners of each will advance to the Rio Games. Japan has been placed in the tournament in Belgrade and is in the same group as Latvia and the Czech Republic. The Belgrade tourney will be held July 4-9.
The team will take off for Europe this weekend.
Japan will have a warmup game in France, against the French national team, which is also looking to earn a ticket to Brazil through the final qualifiers, and another in Serbia, against a local pro team, before the qualifying tournament begins.
“We know we are going to have to overcome a tough challenge,” said 35-year-old Tabuse, who has been named the team’s captain. “But it’s worth a taking a shot.”
Said 21-year-old Watanabe: “I’m the youngest on this team, but it doesn’t matter once you make the national team. I’m just focusing on contributing to the team the best way I can.”
Hasegawa said he was content with how his team has been playing defensively, but noted the offense needed improving.
“We didn’t meet our offensive goal to reach the 78-point mark,” Hasegawa said of his team’s performance in the Atlas Challenge. “We didn’t have enough 3-point attempts. We are going to have to score a little more.”
The Japan roster for the final qualifier is:
Guards: Yuta Tabuse, Naoto Tsuji, Makoto Hiejima, Ryoma Hashimoto, Keijuro Matsui, Takatoshi Furukawa
Forwards: Yuta Watanabe, Joji Takeuchi, Ryumo Ono, Kenta Hirose
Centers: Atsuya Ota, Kosuke Takeuchi