DONGGUAN, CHINA – The Japan men’s national team is wounded both physically and mentally.
Which makes posting its first win at the FIBA World Cup appear to be a daunting task, especially considering the absence of star player Rui Hachimura.
Japan will face Montenegro in its final World Cup contest at 4:30 p.m. (JST) at Dongguan Basketball Center on Monday. Both teams are winless so far in the 32-nation tournament.
After finishing the first round in Shanghai 0-3, and being placed in the classification stage, Japan announced Hachimura, the first-round pick of the Washington Wizards in this year’s NBA Draft, would sit for the remainder of the tournament because of a knee injury and general fatigue. Point guard Ryusei Shinoyama has also not been available due to a fractured toe.
Japan skipped its full-team practice on Sunday, with only twin brothers Joji and Kosuke Takeuchi and Makoto Hiejima coming to the arena for individual workouts.
Joji Takeuchi stressed that Japan did not carry out its game plan in a 111-81 loss against New Zealand on Saturday and relied too much on one-on-one plays.
The 34-year-old said that while youngsters like Yuta Watanabe and Yudai Baba have been core players, Japan couldn’t fill the void left by Hachimura, especially on offense.
“Did we move the ball well and attack from open spaces? I don’t think so,” Takeuchi said. “The way we played (against New Zealand) might have not been what we wanted to do.”
The 210-cm Alvark Tokyo forward added that it’s not the first time the team has played without Hachimura. Japan earned its berth for the World Cup with a squad comprised solely of domestic players from the B. League for much of the Asian qualifiers.
“Our situation has changed since the last game. We’d played with Rui in the middle since our warmup games,” he said. “But, although we have Yuta, it’s a good chance for us to show what we did during the (Asian qualifiers) with the B. League players.”
Japan assistant coach and former star point guard Kenichi Sako stressed the importance of ending the tournament, which Japan entered with high expectations, with a “W.”
“The most important thing is (to regain) confidence,” Sako said. “In 1998 (at the FIBA World Championship), we came back to the country with a win over Senegal (in the consolation round). The win was worth three wins, five wins or even 10 wins for the younger players. We have to make each win at international tournaments mean more than one win going forward.
“Of course, all the players and staff are playing to win. So we want to come up with the best possible game plan and prepare ourselves as best as we can.”
Sako, who was nicknamed “Mr. Basketball” as a player, reminded everyone that winning at this stage isn’t easy.
“Every team qualified through their preliminaries to get here, have their own history and are all high-level teams,” he said. “With that being said, what we have to do first and foremost is to have the attitude to fight. And we would like to give our players the biggest support in the area.”