When the Japan Basketball Association announced its 12-player women’s national team squad for the upcoming FIBA Asia Cup in Bangalore, India, a couple of weeks ago, it came as a bit of a surprise, because it did not list the name of star player Ramu Tokashiki, who is arguably the nation’s No. 1 player.
Tokashiki, 26, is currently playing in her third season for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, and has not participated in national team activities since April.
But Japan head coach Tom Hovasse warned that bringing in a player just before a tournament could disrupt what has already been established.
Japan enters the Asia Cup, which had previously been called the Asia Championships, as the two-time reigning gold medalist, with Tokashiki having garnered MVP honors both times. Hovasse recalled that in the 2015 Asia Cup, in which the American served as an assistant, the team lost its balance a little bit when Tokashiki joined about a week before, having returned to Asia from Seattle.
Hovasse added that it is not a good thing to be dependent on one particular player, even when the player is the best talent on the team like Tokashiki.
“You see the Golden State Warriors,” Hovasse told reporters in Japanese, citing last season’s NBA champions, after his team’s practice at Tokyo’s National Training Center last week. “Do they keep playing around the two superstars (in Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant)? No, they pass the ball around (to give other players chances as well).”
The absence of Tokashiki, a 192-cm player who would be the tallest on the Akatsuki Five, is certainly a concern for the team in terms of height near the basket. But Hovasse has attempted to play small ball offensively, applying a “stretch four” strategy (playing the power forward on the perimeter), in order to spread the floor out and minimize the lack of the size.
“We have a lot of good shooters,” said Hovasse, a former NBA player. “For example, (Yuki) Miyazawa is tall (182 cm) but can shoot from outside as well.”
Forwards Moeko Nagaoka and Evelyn Mawuli and guard Kaede Kondo are others who can contribute to the national squad with their long-range skills.
Team captain and point guard Asami Yoshida said Hovasse has repeatedly put an emphasis on defensive rebounding throughout the training camps, because it would be key in order for the team to compete on par against the rest of the world.
“Since Tom took over, we have worked on our rebounding so hard, fully utilizing our bodies,” Yoshida said. “And we’ve absolutely got to have fastbreaks (following the defensive rebounding) to win.”
Yoshida added that Japan, which looks to win a medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, is a different team now, even compared to the squad for last summer’s Rio de Janeiro Games, where it did not have many shooters.
“We have so many good shooters now,” the 29-year-old said. “We have Two, Three, Four (shooting guard, small forward and power forward) players who have some height yet can shoot (from outside) at higher percentages. That’s our strength.”
Yoshida said Hovasse stressed to the team that he chose 12 players who could help win the Asia Cup championship.
But in order to accomplish that, Yoshida insists that Japan has “got to play in a way it wants to play for the entire 40 minutes, not 20 minutes or 30 minutes.”
“There’s no shortcut for us,” said the Jx-Eneos Sunflowers player, who has earned the Women’s Japan Basketball League playoff MVP award three times. “We have to play fully for the entire 40 minutes.”
Hovasse said with a smile that he feels ready and wants to get in the Asia Cup as soon as possible.
“We’re in good shape,” he said. “We’ve spent a long time in our training camps and made travels (to the United States and Europe) since April. Now we want to start playing in the Asia Cup soon.”
The Asia Cup will be played between July 23 and 29.