Basketball

Big guns set to lead Japan at FIBA World Cup

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Japan’s “Big Three” — Rui Hachimura, Yuta Watanabe and Nick Fazekas — headline the provisional roster of the Japan men’s national team for the upcoming FIBA Basketball World Cup, the Japan Basketball Association officially announced on Tuesday.

The 16-man squad was introduced at Fuji Television headquarters in Odaiba.

The majority of the team competed during the Asian qualifiers, such as B. League stars Ryusei Shinoyama, Joji Takeuchi, Daiki Tanaka, Yudai Baba and Makoto Hiejima. The team overcame a 0-4 start, winning the next eight games in a row in the regional preliminaries to clinch a berth to the World Cup.

Japan coach Julio Lamas has selected some new faces like point guard Seiya Ando, shooting guard Shuto Ando and University of Portland power forward Hugh Watanabe, who is known as Hugh Hogland in the United States. The three played in the William Jones Cup in Taiwan, which wrapped up earlier this month.

Popular point guard Yuki Togashi of the Chiba Jets Funabashi was called up for a training camp but was left off the squad due to a broken right hand.

Shinoyama, the team’s emotional leader, said that the men’s national team had endured tough times by not being able to participate in global tournaments in the past. He added, however, that he is thrilled to have a chance to compete on arguably the best squad in the history of Japan men’s basketball.

“Players like the Takeuchi brothers, Daiki Tanaka, Hiejima, who have played on the national team for a long time, have all been the core of the team,” Shinoyama said at the news conference. “And now we have fresh faces like Yuta Watanabe, Rui Hachimura and Baba. I think we have a team that has a very good balance.”

Shinoyama added with a smile that he was looking forward to taking the court along with “NBA players ” in Watanabe and Hachimura.

Watanabe made his NBA debut last year as a two-way signing for the Memphis Grizzlies, while Hachimura, a Gonzaga University standout, was drafted in the first round by the Washington Wizards in June.

Due to NBA regulations, which limits NBA players to be part of national team activities ahead of the World Cup to 28 days, Watanabe and Hachimura did not participate in the aforementioned training camp. The team will hold a seven-day training camp in Nagoya starting on Wednesday and the two will begin practicing with the team there.

During the Asian qualifiers, Fazekas, Watanabe and Hachimura were clearly difference-makers helping the team post eight straight victories. But all three never played at the same time.

“I played in a few games last year during the Asian qualifiers, but there was always someone missing,” Hachimura said, referring to the Big Three. “Togashi’s out, but now we have the full squad for the World Cup. And hopefully, I’ll be leading the team with my leadership and my game.”

Fazekas played with Hachimura in two games during the Asian qualifiers, while he met Watanabe in person for the first time on Tuesday. The Colorado native said that Hachimura “looks better than he did last time” he took the court with the 21-year-old forward, while Watanabe will give Japan good size at the small forward position.

“I’m excited for the three of us to get out there,” said the 210-cm center, who played for the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers in the late 2000s. And it’s just exciting we get the full team now.”

Lamas has stressed that his squad will face tough challenges at the World Cup, where the Akatsuki Five will meet Turkey, the Czech Republic and the United States in the first round. Yet he said that the team he assembled is “the best version” the country is able to produce at the moment .

“This is the best team we can have. There’s no doubt about it,” the Argentine said.

But Lamas warned that just because the team is loaded with Fazekas, Watanabe and Hachimura it would not “guarantee positive results” for his team at the 32-team World Cup, which tips off on Aug. 31 in China.

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