SHANGHAI – Japan’s men’s basketball team was completely tamed by Turkey in Sunday’s FIBA World Cup contest. The Europeans bewildered the Akatsuki Five on both ends of the court and wound up earning the important “W” with a 86-67 score at Shanghai Oriental Sports Center.
But ahead of the game, some Turkish reporters were reluctant to believe their national squad would cruise to victory over the rapidly developing Japanese team.
Fatih Sabovic, a reporter from major Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, spoke of Turkish sports fans’ affinity for Japan, which he said started when the two countries squared off in the Round of 16 at the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Japan and South Korea.
“Since the (soccer World Cup) in 2002, the Turkish people have really started paying so much attention to Japan, and China (which Turkey faced in that tournament’s group stage) also,” Sabovic said with a smile on Saturday in Shanghai. “Our people really like Japan so much, especially in basketball. The sympathy of the Turkish people toward Japanese football and basketball are really at the biggest level.”
Like most others ahead of Sunday’s game, Sabovic expected Turkey would be favored to win over Japan, giving his nation a “maybe 70 percent” chance of winning. But he added that there would be no guarantee, especially at a tournament like the World Cup.
“Maybe Japan has (more) motivation for the game,” Sabovic said.
In the end, Turkey took control of the game both inside and outside, seemingly executing their game almost perfectly. Yet Sabovic had been concerned that Japan would have an edge closer to the basket, while he thought Turkey would be superior outside through NBA players like Cedi Osman and Furkan Korkmaz.
Sabovic hinted that Turkey had not been able to “guard long guys” near the rim well.
“Turkey is strong enough at the 3-point line,” he said. “But it could have a problem in the paint, in my opinion.”
His anxiety turned out to be unnecessary as Turkey outscored Japan 54-18 in the colored rectangle.
Sabovic said that basketball has regained the popularity it used to have decades ago in Turkey, and it is now the country’s second-most popular professional team sport behind soccer. Turkey has dispatched a club to the Euroleague Final Four in the last five seasons. This year two clubs, Fenerbahce Beko and Anadoku Efes, made the event. Fenerbahce became the first Turkish team to capture the title in the 2017 edition.
Sabovic said that Osman, who was selected in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, is easily the biggest hoop star in Turkey right now.
“He’s played with LeBron (James), and he’s like a superstar now,” said Sabovic, noting that Osman’s already existing popularity was boosted even further after his NBA leap. “Perhaps nobody expected something like (him going to the NBA). Everybody had a high expectation for him, but not at that level.”