Basketball

Akatsuki Five look for answers after opening defeat at World Cup

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

One day after a devastating loss in its opening game, the Japan men’s basketball team resumed its training, trying to hold its head high up ahead for the remainder of its pool games at the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

The Akatsuki Five, who fell to Turkey 86-67 on Sunday, will take on the Czech Republic at Shanghai Oriental Sports Center at 5:30 p.m. JST on Tuesday.

The top two teams in each of the eight groups will advance to the second round. The bottom two will be allocated to the classification round.

“You don’t want to lose in any game, but tomorrow’s game will be even more important for us in order to give us a possibility to go to the second round,” said Japan star forward Rui Hachimura, who overcame an illness to compete against Turkey, after the team’s evening practice on Monday. “There were a lot of different things that we have to reflect on regarding yesterday’s game. We only have two more games, but we have to make sure to refresh our mindset going into it.”

Co-captain Yuta Watanabe, another integral part of the Japan squad, insisted that while the team needs to learn from Sunday’s loss, it can’t dwell too much on it with only one day between contests.

Both Japan and the Czech Republic have their backs against the wall and their Tuesday game will be a must-win battle to remain in contention for the second round. That’s especially true for Japan, which will face the United States in their final pool game on Thursday.

“Obviously, we are going to be focused winning,” Watanabe said. “But right now, we are not going to think about the next round. Each game will be important for us. Whether we’d advance to the next round or not could be up to the other teams’ winning percentage and all that. (But) we won’t think about things like that and our priority will be on winning tomorrow’s game.”

Small forward Yudai Baba said that Japan panicked against the canny, more experienced Turks, but said his side would play with a different, stronger mentality against the Czech Republic.

“I think many of us felt down (with the way we lost against Turkey),” Baba said. “But we are trying to bounce back from there. It’s not over yet. I think Japanese basketball will be different depending on how we play in the remaining two games. So we want to treat them importantly and play positively.”

Combo guard Tomas Satoransky is one of the key players for the Czech Republic. Watanabe said that Japan would have to stop the Chicago Bulls player in order to give the Akatsuki Five a better chance to win.

“Their offense will begin with Satoransky, so we are going to need to defend him with all five guys on the floor,” said Watanabe, who plays for the Memphis Grizzlies as a two-way signing. “They have good shooters and a good, tall center, too. Whoever guards Satoransky has to stop his drive-ins and stop their 3-pointers when he kicks out his passes to the other four guys. It’ll be key for us to grab rebounds when they miss their (3-point) shots as well.”

Japan’s shorter point guards had been a concern ahead of the tournament and head coach Julio Lamas had designated shooting guard Daiki Tanaka as a situational point guard. During the team’s warmup games at Saitama Super Arena, Tanaka said that the idea of using himself at the position “started with Satoransky in mind.”

Tanaka, who turns 28 on Tuesday, hinted that he would be in the starting lineup as a point guard against the Czechs. The Alvark Tokyo player came off the bench against Turkey.

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