Basketball

Japan faces big challenge against Australia in FIBA World Cup Asian qualifier

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The Japan men’s national team will face Australia in the first of two remaining FIBA World Cup Asian first-round qualifiers on Friday night at Chiba Port Arena.

Many observers think that it’s too tall of a task for the Akatsuki Five to post a win over their opponent and that their fate will be decided by the result of their first-round final game against Taiwan on Monday night in Taipei.

But Japan isn’t thinking that way. It feels it has accumulated its best preparation and is determined to exhibit its best game against the best nation in the Asian region.

After his team’s practice at the game venue on Thursday, Japan head coach Julio Lamas said that the squad would need to play “a nearly perfect game” to get a “W” against Australia. But he insisted that the team would enter the contest with high spirits.

Friday’s match is set to tip off at 7:40 p.m.

The Boomers routed Japan 83-58 in Melbourne last November in an earlier qualifier.

Since then, Japan has added reliable big men Nick Fazekas and Rui Hachimura to its roster and hopes to put up a much better performance.

“As (Fazekas and Hachimura) have joined us, we’ve improved on our mid-range shooting and rebounding,” Lamas said. “I think that they will help us come up with a positive result and continue to contribute for us going forward.”

Japan (0-4) is in last place in the four-team Group B. The top three teams will advance to the second round.

Taiwan (1-3) will host the Philippines (3-1) in another Friday night match. If Taiwan wins and Japan falls to Australia, Japan will be eliminated with one more game to play in the round.

After Thursday’s practice, Japan revealed its 12-man roster for the game against Australia (4-0). In addition to Fazekas and Hachimura, other stars like Yuki Togashi, Makoto Hiejima and Yudai Baba also made the cut.

Meanwhile, Lamas decided to go with just two true point guards in Togashi and Ryusei Shinoyama, excluding taller play-maker Naoki Uto, who had been with the team in all four previous contests.

Lamas registered Hiejima at point guard, though he usually plays at shooting guard, but he will likely be utilized more as a combo guard and see time at both backcourt positions. The Argentine bench boss announced that he would put Uto back on the roster for the Taiwan contest.

Hachimura will be one of the biggest attractions for the Friday game before an expected sell-out crowd. The Gonzaga University forward, who could head to the NBA as early as next year, said that he was looking forward to executing what the team has worked on.

Hachimura said that Japan’s defensive rebounding and fast-break offense would be keys for the Australian game.

“There have been some issues and have been good things,” Hachimura said. “Hopefully, we will eliminate our issues as much as we can.”

The numbers, including the wins and losses, that the teams had in the first round will be carried over to the second round. So even though Australia has already qualified for the next round, it still has a reason to play seriously.

Going into its final two first-round games, Australia added a pair of NBA players in point guard Matthew Dellavedova and center Thon Maker, both of whom play for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Dellavedova, a five-year NBA veteran who played for the Boomers at the 2012 London Olympics and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, said that he wants to bring his “leadership,” “playmaking and defensive pressure” to the table for his country.

“I’m really excited to play with these boys,” he said. “That’s a great group of guys. For me, nothing’s better than representing Australia, putting on the green and gold jersey.”

Dellavedova was aware that Japan has upgraded its roster with the addition of Fazekas and Hachimura, saying that he thinks it has improved its inside presence.

“They’ve definitely got some good inside (players),” the 27-year-old said. “Fazekas can really shoot the ball.”

Delladevoda added that he had seen Hachimura play a little bit because Gonzaga is in the same West Coast Conference as his alma mater, Saint Mary’s College.

“He’s good,” Dellavedova said of Hachimura. “He’s had a couple of big games. He’s athletic, he can really score the ball, he can handle it as well. We’ve got to be aware of it as well.”