Japan women’s basketball has come up with positive results internationally in recent years, and now it is looking to legitimately put itself on the global hoop map as an elite power.
But this goal requires development of the entire country’s basketball, not just the top national team. And in a country that’s often at a height disadvantage in team sports, all the categories have to be on the same page in terms of what brand of ball they play as a whole.
For two days starting Monday, the players of the women’s senior national, Under-24 and Under-19 teams all assembled at Tokyo’s National Training Center for a training camp together for the first time.
Japan women’s teams marked a successful year in international tourneys in 2017. The top team completed a three-peat at the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup in Bangalore, India, in July, while the U-24 team racked up the silver medal at the University Games in Taiwan and the U-19 squad advanced to the semifinal round in the World Cup in Italy.
Though it was held for only a pair of days, Hovasse, U-24 head coach Toshinobu Sato, U-19 bench boss Mikiko Hagiwara and the players all said after it wrapped up on Tuesday that the first-ever attempt was a big hit.
Hovasse, who took over the helm last spring, said that he emphasized Japan needs to battle tenaciously on the court while he also asked U-24 and U-19 players to play with the same fundamental skill sets, so it would be easier for them when they eventually get called up for the A team.
During the training camp, the top-team players frequently served as “coaches” to instruct the under-category players on the details of plays and individual techniques.
U-24 center Mamiko Tanaka appreciated the opportunity to receive advice from the top players. The Waseda University student-athlete said that she noticed the top-team players were particular about details of every play and she was inspired by this hard-working aspect.
“After all, what we’ve done (on the U-24 team) like out-running and putting pressure (defensively) are not so different (from what the top-team does),” Tanaka, 21, said. “But it’s different that they are extremely thorough about everything and they are doing their things as perfectly as possible.”
Tanaka added that she was personally given tips from top-team veteran center Yuka Osaki. The two are Tokyo Seitoku University High School graduates.
“Osaki-san is a very consistent player. When she gets the ball, it gives her teammates a sense of security,” said Tanaka, who stands 180 cm. “I’m not as big as a center, yet I want to be a player like that. She gave me a variety of advice. She taught me low-post drills as well.”
The three-team training camp served as a valuable time for the top-team players, too.
“As we taught the Universiade and Under-19 players, it actually gave us a chance to double check how much we are understanding Tom’s basketball (tactics) ourselves,” longtime national team point guard Asami Yoshida said.
Yoshida, 30, also explained to the under-category team players about the mindset needed to compete for the top Akatsuki Five squad.
“In our meeting last night, I told them that we are representing the country and I don’t want them to be here unless they are fully committed,” revealed Yoshida, who’s been the heart and soul of the national team. “And I said to them that we need to be self-disciplined and have responsibility.”
Hovasse, who had a short stint with the Atlanta Hawks in the 1994-95 season, said that about 70 percent of the players on the U-24 and U-19 squads could be called up to the preliminary national team in the near future.
He also reminded the current players on the national team, which set set a goal of winning the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, that they have not been guaranteed their roster spots for the future.
“I like competitions (between players),” Hovasse said. “I tell our players (on the top team) that if they stay where they are, they will get substituted (by new players). Without competitions, you are not going to be better.”
Japan will compete in the FIBA Women’s World Cup in September 2018 in the Canary Islands.