The format for the men’s FIBA World Cup qualifiers has been changed from a tournament format to a system that will see teams play each other in home-and-away contests.
Which also means the participating players will have to compete for their respective national teams during their respective league campaigns, which could present challenges in terms of conditioning.
Japan men’s national squad head coach Julio Lamas, however, plans to simply focus on doing the best he and his team can given the circumstances.
“We have no other options,” Lamas said, when asked how difficult it would be to have practices during the season, on Wednesday. “We only think of what we can do here, we don’t need to think of anything else. We will think of how we are going to effectively use the time we are given.”
Tuning up for the first round of the Asian qualifier for the 2019 World Cup in Beijing, which also serves as a partial qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the Akatsuki Five wrapped up a three-day training camp at Tokyo’s National Training Center on Wednesday.
The team is scheduled to have four more mini training camps — all at the National Training Center — before their first qualifying game against the Philippines at Komazawa Gymnasium on Nov. 24 in the nation’s capital. Because the players compete mostly on weekends, the camps will start on Mondays.
For the preliminary camp squad, Lamas called up a total of 24 players, including stars such as guards Yuki Togashi, Makoto Hiejima and Daiki Tanaka, with twin brothers Kosuke and Joji Takeuchi, and former Gonzaga University forward Ira Brown who can patrol the paint.
Takuya Kawamura and Yusuke Endo are on the squad, but did not participate in the latest training camp, and Joji Takeuchi sat out as well.
Lamas, the former head coach of Argentina’s men’s national team, said he would run the training camps while keeping an eye on his players’ fatigue. But some players actually commented the intensity level of their practices at the training camp was higher than they anticipated.
“I was surprised that we were asked to work harder than I thought,” said Togashi, a popular Chiba Jets player. “But we can’t prepare ourselves for our games in November unless we look for volume and quality as much as we did (during the training camp).”
While the majority of the players had competed in two-game series for their clubs on Saturday and Sunday, point guard Ryusei Shinoyama had a pair of contests for the Kawasaki Brave Thunders, against the Levanga Hokkaido up in Sapporo, on Sunday and Monday. Because of the irregular schedule, the left-handed player flew to Tokyo to join the training camp on Tuesday, one day after everybody else.
Because it’s the first time national teams will play during the basketball season, everyone is still getting a feel for how to manage their club and national team duties in tandem.
Shinoyama indicated physical conditioning was going to be key to giving the national team a chance to have better performances in the qualifiers.
“I couldn’t get rid of my fatigue as easily as I thought I could, Shinoyama said. “Going forward, I will have to think of my conditioning more and in a better way.”
Shinoyama added the players would also have to be mentally tough to be on the national squad and deal with the rigorous schedule.
“You are going to have to be tough mentally. Otherwise, you are going to give yourself hard times,” he said. “But this (playing in the qualifiers during the season) will be the standard for all of us and you have to compete given this circumstance. So you can’t make excuses, just do it.”
Japan is in Group B in the 16-team first round of the Asian qualifying along with the Philippines, Australia and Taiwan. It will take on the Aussies in Adelaide three days after the Philippines game. After that, qualifying will resume in February.
The top three teams from the four groups will advance to the second qualifier.
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