Basketball

Japan women's basketball team steadily gathering speed on road to Tokyo Olympics

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Despite the disadvantages in height and size, those involved in Japanese women’s basketball believe Japan’s women can reach their lofty goals by just executing their brand of basketball.

The country’s women’s hoop team has achieved success over the last few years and last year was the best example.

In 2017, the senior “Akatsuki Five” team completed a three-peat at the FIBA Asian Cup, while Japan also captured its first silver medal at the University Games in half a century in Taiwan. Japan made it to the semifinal round (finishing fourth) at the FIBA Under-19 Women’s World Cup as well.

But the Japan Basketball Association and its respective national teams will not rest on their laurels, and aim to achieve bigger things going forward.

The biggest goal for the national team in the near future is to win it all at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. With only two years until the competition begins, Japan hopes to take a first step by playing competitively at the FIBA Women’s World Cup in late September.

The Tom Hovasse-led senior national team is looking for a medal finish at the tournament in Spain. Japan will also shoot for gold at the Asian Games in Jakarta this summer.

JBA Chairwoman Yuko Mitsuya said at a news conference at Tokyo’s National Training Center on Tuesday that the country has successfully and firmly built a “Japan’s way” style over the years.

The provisional Japan national team wrapped up its first training camp of the year on Wednesday. It is scheduled to host nine more training camps in Tokyo. It also plans to travel overseas to hold further training camps in Spain in July and in the United States and Spain in September.

The national team will also play exhibition games against Taiwan in Tokyo in June and Canada twice in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, and Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, in August.

Hovasse and the JBA have called up 52 players for the first training camps, although five were absent due to injuries. The squad includes three collegiate and a pair of high school players.

It is certainly a large group. But one of the reasons for that was to have more players experience the national team training camp and “Japan’s way.”

Another reason is that the country has deepened its talent pool and there are more players qualified to don the national team practice outfits.

“We have younger players that are on the rise and experienced veterans here,” Hovasse said in Japanese. “I think Japanese basketball (for the women) is genuinely capable.”

Hovasse added his team would continue to play its own brand of ball, instead of altering it depending on the players on the roster.

The 51-year-old has always been strict on his players during practices. But he stated the level of Japanese women’s basketball “has risen.”

“The future for Japanese basketball is bright,” smiled Hovasse, a former NBA player who took over as head coach last year.

Yet the competition among the younger players is cutthroat. Hovasse made it clear the first two training camps would serve as a selection process, with the squad set to be cut down to about 30 at the end of the second camp.

The squad will also be divided into two groups; an “A” squad consisting of elite players, which will be dispatched to the World Cup, and a “B” team mostly made of younger players for the Asian Games.

Practicing with those hungry younger players has appeared to inspire some of the veterans, including former WNBA forward Ramu Tokashiki.

The 26-year-old said she would try to help the new members get used to the national team’s way quickly.

Tokashiki, a five-time Women’s Japan Basketball League MVP for the Jx-Eneos Sunflowers, added that Hovasse has intentionally gave the new call-ups the task of memorizing plays in a short amount of time, to see how quickly they can adjust using their basketball IQ.

“What we are asked to do (by Hovasse) is pretty tough, so this training camp is really a selection,” said Tokashiki, who has decided to not play for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm this year in order to concentrate on the national team with the Tokyo Games in sight.

“So right now, Tom doesn’t spend a long time having us memorize our formations and stuff. But we are required to master them in a limited time.”

Manami Fujioka, 24, candidate to be Japan’s starting point guard at the Tokyo Olympics, emphasized how tough it is to respond to what Hovasse demands of his players.

“But,” Fujioka said, “in order for us to win the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics and a medal at the World Cup, we have to do as much as we are doing. Otherwise, we won’t accomplish our goals. We know he can lead us there and that is why we are following him.”

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