At long last, the Japan men’s national team can legitimately begin its developmental project as its skipper has finally stepped onto the boat.
Julio Lamas, who was announced in April as the new coach for the Akatsuki Five, arrived in Japan to get to work on his latest mission after he wrapped up his duty with an Argentine club last week.
“We’ve finally made it here,” said Lamas, who led San Lorenzo de Almagro to the Argentine League championship for the second straight year as the team ended the series in five games over Regatas Corrientes last Saturday, through an interpreter at a Tokyo news conference on Friday.
“I would like to devote everything to this job. Hopefully, we will get to work with the entire basketball circle in Japan.”
Lamas landed in Japan on Thursday with his compatriot 32-year-old Herman Mandole, who will serve as his assistant for the national squad.
According to Japan Basketball Association officials, Lamas and Mandole directly headed to the National Training Center from the Haneda airport to greet the national team players, who are currently holding a training camp.
“Being able to start his practice right upon his arrival . . . That’s what’s important,” said JBA technical director Tomoya Higashino, who recruited Lamas to fill the team’s coaching position.
Lamas insisted that he has plans to develop the national team, saying 2017 and 2018 will be “significantly important” for the team in order to earn spots for the 2019 FIBA World Cup in Beijing and 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The first major job for the 53-year-old coach, a former Argentina national team bench boss, will be the FIBA Asia Cup, which will be held in Lebanon from Aug. 9-20.
To prepare for the Asia Cup, the Japan national team will play a pair of exhibitions against Uruguay at Aoyama Gakuin University on July 29 and 30 and then travel to Spain for training and some tuneup contests before the Asia Cup.
Although he will have a lot to learn about his new team, Lamas said that Japan would play fast, capitalizing on its speed while making up for its lack of overall size.
Lamas also emphasized that his national squad would have to find its own brand of ball going forward, instead of just emulating someone else’s game.
“From my own coaching experiences, you have little possibility to have success by just copying styles from winning national teams or clubs,” said the Buenos Aires native, who had led Argentine clubs to multiple titles and is one of the all-time best coaches in the nation’s history.
“That said, you have to come up with your own style of basketball that fits your players’ skills and all that.”
Lamas was reluctant to discuss the national team’s weaknesses. But he said that whatever the team needs to improve on, it would have to do so with the entire team instead of relying on star players.
Lamas added that Japan will have to take on better, more competitive teams to develop.
“For the present Japanese team, it has got to play upper-ranked teams and it will lead to its growth,” said Lamas, who led the Argentine national team to a fourth-place finish at the 2012 London Olympics and helped it finish third at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games as an assistant coach.
Russia defeated Argentina 81-77 in the bronze medal game in London, where the U.S. took the gold and Spain the silver.
“Uruguay is currently ranked 26th in the world and is very competitive. Unless we keep playing games like this, we are not going to raise our level.”
Japan is No. 48 in the FIBA rankings.
The top 14 finishers in the 16-team Asia Cup will qualify for the first round of the Asian qualifying for the 2019 World Cup.