Basketball

Japan women's 3x3 squad vows to earn Olympic berth

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Shocking news came out of the blue early last month when the Japan Basketball Association revealed that the wild-card spot for either its men’s or women’s national 3×3 teams would be negated by the International Olympic Committee.

In late March, FIBA had granted automatic berths to all four of Jaan’s national teams — for the men’s and women’s traditional teams and for both 3×3 squads — as the host of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

But now, Japan’s women’s 3×3 squad gave up its automatic ticket and has to earn one for the Summer Games on its own because its world ranking was lower than the men’s.

“Obviously, it was shocking news for everybody, for the whole basketball family (in Japan),” said Torsten Loibl, who serves as director/coach for both the men’s and women’s 3×3 teams, after a training camp at Tokyo’s National Training Center on Thursday.

The German added: “There’s nothing we can do against it. But on the other hand, I believe that that the team has to go through the OQT (Olympic Qualifying Tournament) to qualify for the Olympics is a big advantage (against) the teams that are already in. Because that is basically the best preparation we can have for this important tournament.”

Based on world rankings, Serbia, Russia, China and Japan have secured spots at the Tokyo Olympics in the men’s competition. Russia, China, Mongolia and Romania have done so on the women’s side. Both competitions will be held with eight teams apiece at the Summer Games.

In March, a total of 20 men’s and women’s teams will compete at the Olympic Qualification Tournament in India. The top three teams in each will secure spots for Tokyo.

The final spot in both events will be decided at the FIBA Universality Olympic Qualification Tournament in Hungary in late April.

This news startled Japan’s female players. But they have already moved on from it, demonstrating that they are willing to work harder to make sure they qualify for the 2020 Olympics, when the 3×3 version of the sport will make its debut.

“For sure, I was disappointed,” said Stephanie Mawuli, who normally plays for the Toyota Motors Antelopes of the Women’s Japan Basketball League and has been a core player on the 3×3 national team. “But we think that if we can win at the OQT, we can win at the Olympics as well and it will give us momentum.”

Mai Yamamoto, Japan’s 3×3 point leader in the FIBA individual rankings, said that the unexpected news has given extra motivation to the team in the run-up to the Olympics.

“It’s rather made us feel that we want to do it even better now,” said the 20-year-old guard, who guided Japan to a gold medal at the FIBA 3×3 Under-23 World Cup in China along with Mawuli last month and was named the tournament MVP.

Loibl expressed confidence that the women’s squad will have a legitimate chance with its fast-tempo game to secure a spot to the Olympics through the OQTs. He said that many competitive countries in Europe and the Americas and Australia consider big, versatile Dirk “Nowitzki-type” players most suitable for the 3×3 game, which he doesn’t think is wrong if they have many of them.

But Loibl insists that he has stuck with a different approach for Japan, which almost always has a disadvantage in size. He said that Japan has a better chance to win when it plays two guards on the court, capitalizing on their speed.

“We’re so much faster than other teams,” he said with a smile.

Loibl hinted that the strategy can be effective defensively, too. In the 3×3 game, when one team grabs a defensive rebound, it has to bring the ball outside of the arc to start its offense. Loibl said that Japan’s faster players can put pressure on their opponents attempting to take the ball outside of the semicircle like “bulldogs” and limit their offensive opportunities (the shot clock is only 12 seconds in the game).

Loibl thinks that Japan will be the only nation that has two guards at the Olympics.

“Can they catch our pace?” said Loibl, who has previously worked as the Japan under-19 men’s national team coach and has held other coaching posts in Japan. “In the World Cup this time, nobody could. Nobody could keep up with our pace.”

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