Basketball

Argentine Lamas hired as new Japan men's national team basketball coach

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Julio Lamas has assumed the head coaching position for the Japan men’s national squad, the Japan Basketball Association officially announced on Thursday.

Lamas guided the Argentina men’s national team to a bronze- medal finish at the 2014 FIBA World Cup. He is currently the head coach for Argentina club San Lorenzo de Almagro and is scheduled to arrive in Japan between the end of June and early July, depending on how far his club advances in the league’s playoffs.

The terms of Lamas’ contract were not disclosed, but JBA technical director Tomoya Higashino said that the national governing body for the sport hopes he will coach through the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

For the East Asia Championship in Nagano in early June, which will serve as the qualifier for August’s FIBA Asia Cup, Luka Pavicevic, adviser for the JBA technical committee and interim head coach, will lead the “Akatsuki Five.”

The news actually broke on Wednesday night in a Twitter post, when JBA executive adviser and ex-chairman Saburo Kawabuchi hinted that the current chairperson Yuko Mitsuya had notified him that the JBA had signed the 52-year-old coach.

“We need to play our men’s national team at the Tokyo Olympics by any means,” Mitsuya said at a news conference at the JBA office on Thursday afternoon. “We have not been guaranteed a spot in it, (even) though we are the hosts. We’ve got to make it to the World Cup in 2019 (in China), otherwise we are not going to be able to challenge for the Olympics.

“So the hurdles we’ve got to go over are high. Plus, we are going to have to play in tough qualifiers (for the World Cup). So we needed a head coach that would give us the best chance to win.

“He’s someone that Higashino had pined for for a long time and finally persuaded him (to take the job).”

Lamas has accomplished a lot in his three-decade coaching career, both for the Argentina national team and with professional clubs. As the head coach, the Buenos Aires native led the men’s national squad to a fourth-place finish at the 2012 London Olympics, and helped it capture the bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics as an assistant under Sergio Hernandez.

He has also led numerous teams in the professional leagues in Argentina and Spain and guided four different Argentine clubs to the championships, most recently last season for San Lorenzo. San Lorenzo is having one of the best campaigns so far during the current Argentina season.

Higashino was a little emotional about being able to sign such a high-profile coach, one who is widely recognized in global basketball coaching circles.

Higashino said that after he visited the Rio de Olympics and returned to Japan last August, he flew to Argentina to begin negotiations with Lamas.

“It wasn’t easy to sign him. He’s a globally renowned coach,” Higashino said.

Higashino said that though he is still in the league season, Lamas has already watched some film of the Japan men’s national team, including from last summer’s final Olympic qualifying in Serbia, and provided some feedback on it.

The Argentina national team finished fourth at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, but was absent from another Summer Games until the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. But thanks to the formation of the domestic professional league, the country’s basketball program has achieved successful development. It finished as the runner-up at the 2002 World Championship (now called World Cup) and captured the gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Higashino and the JBA expect the men’s squad, which hasn’t played in the Olympics since 1976 in Montreal, to emulate Argentina’s path, with Lamas at the helm, and aided by the growth of the B. League, which is currently in its inaugural season.

“The way he puts the talent his players have together, the way he runs his practices and training, the way he coaches lets his players know how to play is almost artistic,” an excited Higashino said of Lamas’ skills as a coach.

In a statement, Lamas offered this impression of the Japan national team: “Japan has young, promising players that have energy, help with each other, grow as a group, and play as part of the team.”

Going forward, the Japan men will aim for a berth in the 32-team 2019 World Cup in order to have a chance to compete in the Tokyo Olympics.

Mitsuya was asked what FIBA told JBA would be the threshold for Japan for the 2019 World Cup to get at least a spot for the Summer Games. She said that it would be the final 16.

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