Basketball

Japan coach Julio Lamas outlines team's goals for FIBA Basketball World Cup

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Japan men’s national team head coach Julio Lamas insisted that there will be uphill battles for the Akatsuki Five at the upcoming FIBA Basketball World Cup in China, but said that he certainly hopes the team comes up with its best-ever results.

One day after he returned from his native Argentina, the 55-year-old pointed out that his team does not have vast experience on the global stage yet, which he thinks is significant to compete at a tournament like the World Cup or Olympics.

Japan earned a spot at the World Cup (previously known as the FIBA World Basketball Championship through 2010) on its own for the first time since 1998 through Asian qualifiers. It will also make its first Olympic appearance since the 1976 Montreal Games at next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

Lamas said that Japan has defeated only five countries — Peru, Panama, Puerto Rico, Paraguay and Senegal — in global tourneys. Which means that the Asian country has never posted a win over a European nation.

Japan will compete against Turkey, Czech Republic and the United States in the first-group stage at the tourney, which begins on Aug. 31 and runs through Sept. 15.

“The level of the battles we’ll face will be high,” Lamas said at the Japan Basketball Association office on Thursday.

Lamas added that his team would give its best possible effort in order to achieve “the first feat” of earning a victory over a European nation. But, he added, to make it happen, the squad would “have to sacrifice” more than ever.

And the team arguably has its best chance ever to accomplish Lamas’ goal with star players like Rui Hachimura and Yuta Watanabe. In June, Hachimura became the first Japanese first-round draft pick when he was selected No. 9 overall by the Washington Wizards. Watanabe played for the Memphis Grizzlies on a two-way contract during the 2018-19 season.

Besides Hachimura and Watanabe, Yudai Baba of the Alvark Tokyo and Makoto Hiejima of the Utsunomiya Brex also played in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. There are other notable players, such as former NBA center Nick Fazekas and star point guard Yuki Togashi in the mix, who are expected to make Japan’s final roster for the World Cup as well.

Lamas said that he was surprised by the fact that a total of four Japanese players hit the Summer League court. He stated that those four would face better players at the World Cup than at the Summer League. But he continued by saying that they would “be able to take advantage of the experiences” they accumulated this summer in Las Vegas at the World Cup.

Lamas also noted that the gap between Japan and powerhouse basketball nations is experience in premier international events.

“Going forward, we’ll have to get used to the global level. We have to set a goal at it,” said Lamas, who was the Argentina bench boss at the 2012 London Olympics. “And hopefully, all our players will get used to the level.”

The Buenos Aires native articulated that his squad would play as a team, not a group of star individuals, including Hachimura.

“I’m not looking for individual results,” Lamas said, when asked what he would expect out of Hachimura at the World Cup. “I’m expecting good performances from him for his team. Of course, Rui’s an indispensable player for our team. He’s already a good player and will keep growing further. I’m hoping him to genuinely be a great player for Japan in the future.”

The Lamas-led team will begin a training camp on Saturday. It will compete in five warm-up games before the World Cup.

Lamas said that he would call up 18 players for the training camp. He added that five of them are on the Akatsuki Five roster for the ongoing William Jones Cup in Taiwan.