TOYAMA – Toyama City Gymnasium belonged to local star Yudai Baba on Friday night.
But there was no bragging from either himself or his father, Toshiharu.
Baba was one of the difference-makers on the floor in a jubilant 85-47 victory for Japan against Qatar in FIBA World Cup Asian qualifying.
The 23-year-old turned in an all-round performance with 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and two steals before a jam-packed crowd of 4,161, which included players from the local mini basketball (for elementary-age children) club, Okuda Junior High School and Toyama Daiichi High School, where he had played as a boy.
His father Toshiharu was in the stands, too.
“He was putting on a red T-shirt (of the national team),” Baba said with a shy smile, when asked if he noticed where his father was sitting. “I was like, ‘Give me a break.’ “
Toshiharu used to don the same jersey himself. The 63-year-old was a tall, 200-cm guard/forward who played on the national team while he was an industrial league player for Mitsui Life Insurance in the 1970s and ’80s.
Toshiharu and Yudai are likely the first father-and-son combo to have played for Japan.
So, was Toshiharu proud of his son’s big performance?
He said his son needs to play as well he did on Friday all the time to survive the competition for roster spots and play alongside Japanese superstars such as Rui Hachimura and Yuta Watanabe, who are playing in the United States, at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“There’s only a year and a half (from now),” Toshiharu said on Saturday morning. “(My son) scored just one point against Iran (in September’s qualifier), and I was like, ‘If you continue to perform like that, you’re not going to make the team.’ So the kind of performance he had yesterday will have to be his minimum standard.
“I can’t be pleased only with yesterday’s game.”
Yudai, who led the University of Tsukuba to the intercollegiate national championship in 2015, has expressed a desire to eventually play in the States. His father is suspicious of such a lofty goal.
“Do you think he has a path to America being a sixth man?” Toshiharu asked. “Maybe, if he becomes a ‘super’ sixth man.”
So far this season, Yudai has started in four out of 18 contests for the Alvark Tokyo in the B. League. He’s averaging 10 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.
Toshiharu, meanwhile, is a head coach for the Toyama Daiichi boys’ basketball team. When Yudai was in high school, the two had a coach-player relationship.
While Toshiharu’s comments might give the impression of a stern bench coach, he says in actuality he prefers not to micromanage his young charges.
That said, when Yudai was coming out of junior high, the senior Baba was concerned over the possibility that his son would end up going to high school at a basketball powerhouse outside of the prefecture.
“I was a little scared,” said Toshiharu, referring to his lack of confidence at being able to help Yudai develop into the best player he could be.
In the end, Yudai ended up at Toyama Daiichi and played under his father. During that period, they competed at the Winter Cup national championships in 2013.
The younger Baba went on to success both in college and with the Alvark Tokyo, and now competes as a key member for the Akatsuki Five. He expressed appreciation to his father for having guided him to this point.
“It was my father who gave me the reason to start playing basketball and I’m where I am because of him as well,” the 198-cm small forward said. “Going back to my beginnings as a basketball player, he was there. He won’t be able to see me play in person as much going forward. So every time he does, I would like to show my growth as a player in front of him.”
Yudai also agreed with his father’s opinion that he’s not yet assured of a spot on the 2020 national team, a goal he considers a stepping stone toward his dream of playing abroad.
“I’m always thinking of what my goals are,” he said. “In terms of making the national team, I’ve already accomplished that. But I’ve always set my goal to play abroad and I’m always thinking of what I should do to achieve that. I think my father’s right and I’m never satisfied with the status quo.”
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