Last week, the Japan Basketball Association and its interim men’s national team head coach Luka Pavicevic announced a 15-man squad for its upcoming exhibition series against Iran in Sapporo.
Leading up to the games on Friday and Saturday, the JBA held training camps for 60-plus players in December and January at Tokyo’s National Training Center. There, Pavicevic, who was hired as the national federation’s technical adviser last November, tried to instill team concepts and teach the proper ways of executing plays with more accuracy and intensity.
It is a daunting task for the JBA and Pavicevic to raise the national team, which is currently ranked No. 48 in the world, to a level where it can compete at the 2019 FIBA World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. FIBA, the sport’s global governing body, has not yet guaranteed an automatic spot for Japan as host of the Summer Games
Meanwhile, the JBA, which has initiated a structural overhaul over the last couple years after a suspension imposed by FIBA, has a grand plan for turning the Japanese men into a more legitimate competitor internationally going forward.
Pavicevic, a former guard who was part of the gold medal-winning Yugoslavian team, alongside eventual NBA players such as Toni Kukoc and Vlade Divac, at the 1987 world junior championship, is on the same page as the JBA.
One of the ongoing challenges the country will eventually have to address is the height of its players.
Height can’t be coached, however. Addressing the problem will require a long-term solution and commitment to developing young players who have height.
Also in Pavicevic’s estimation, converting the taller players currently on the national team from their original positions is not really an option, because it is not going to work.
George Washington University phenom Yuta Watanabe, for example, is a player everyone thinks has versatility for his 203-cm height and that Watanabe, a junior at GW, can play both inside and outside.
But Pavicevic’s view is different.
“You would want to have Watanabe be a number 3 (small forward),” Pavicevic said at a training camp for the provisional men’s national team in Tokyo last week. “But as a No. 3, he’s not a good shooter. He’s not efficient as a No. 3. If you are moving him to No. 4 (power forward), he becomes faster, a better shooter, because he has more space. So he will be better (at power forward) and the Japanese national team will be better if he’s a No. 4.
“But if you want to be bigger on the court, you’ll put him at the 3. So what do you want? To look good in warmups or to be efficient in the game? It’s about this.”
Pavicevic, a Serbian, added that Joji Takeuchi, twin brother of Kosuke Takeuchi, has rare size for a Japanese at 207 cm, and has been mostly used as a power forward, but he will be 35 when the Tokyo Olympics begins and Japan has to be aware of that as well.
“Who’s going to play power forward?” the former Montenegro national team head coach said, hinting someone else, like Watanabe, might play at the position instead of Takeuchi. “So I think Japan should not be obsessed with size. Japan should be obsessed with how we play.
“Are we moving the ball to develop our pick-and-roll game? Are we running fast? Are we fighting in defense? Are we protecting all defensive situations? Transitions, one-on-one, breakdown, pick-and-roll, screens. . . are we boxing out, (because) we are not big? So we cannot sit and cry because we are not big.
“We need to box out. I think at this point Japan should be obsessed with developing and bettering the game.”