Basketball

Japan coach Julio Lamas outlines goals for team before upcoming Asia Cup qualifiers

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Japan men’s national team head coach Julio Lamas said that it wasn’t a surprise that his team didn’t play as well as it had hoped to at last year’s FIBA World Cup.

Instead, he insisted that development takes place on a day-by-day pace.

That said, the Argentine commented on Tuesday that he would focus on the upcoming 2021 FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers before he starts building his squad for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The Akatsuki Five face China at Chiba Port Arena on Feb. 21 and then meet Taiwan in Taipei three days later to begin their Asia Cup campaign. The games in the first window will be the first for Japan since it played at the World Cup in China, where it finished 31st out of 32 participating nations with a 0-5 record.

Lamas stressed the importance of Japanese players needing to continue improving while overcoming issues, including shortcomings that plagued the squad at the World Cup in China last summer.

The 55-year-old added that the development of the Japan national team can be traced to the team’s qualification for the World Cup and its climb in the world rankings to 38th from No. 48 entering the global tourney.

“There’s no guarantee that other teams that competed at the World Cup do not make as much growth as we do” leading up to the 2020 Games, Lamas said, issuing a public reminder to his players through the media.

He continued: “We have to keep working hard so that we’ll get closer to the level that we saw at the World Cup. It was not a surprise for us to hit the wall at the World Cup.

“We just have to gradually improve and keep it, and then improve again from there. . . . We are going to repeat that.”

Japan will begin a training camp with 20 players on Feb. 10 to prepare for the Asia Cup qualifiers, and only 12 players will make the cut for the China and Taiwan games.

One of the biggest questions for reporters is whether Lamas will call up a pair of recently naturalized players, Ryan Rossiter of the Utsunomiya Brex and Chiba Jets power forward Gavin Edwards, and have them compete for the sole spot on the roster at international events that can be designated for a naturalized player.

But Lamas declined to reveal any names that will be listed on the training camp roster, politely asking the media to wait for the list to be released.

Rossiter and Edwards, who attended Siena College and the University of Connecticut, respectively, have both expressed their desire to join the Japan national team and compete at the Olympics.

“If that’s an option, I would definitely like to, because that’s like everybody’s dream to play on the stage that big (the Olympics). That would be really cool to represent the country,” Edwards said of the possibility of suiting up for the Japan national team after the Jets beat the San-en NeoPhoenix 75-56 in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, on Saturday. “That would definitely be something I’d be interested in, for sure.”

Kawasaki Brave Thunders big man Nick Fazekas, who received a Japanese passport in the spring of 2018, has been one of the centerpieces for Japan, including at the World Cup.

Meanwhile, Kai Toews is considered another potential training camp invitee.

The 21-year-old signed with the Brex earlier this month after he left the University of North Carolina Wilmington in December.

Lamas said that Toews, a 188-cm point guard, “is talented and is blessed physically.”

The coach emphasized the importance of spirited competitions for his team, referring to both Japanese-born and naturalized Japanese, stating that “it only brings positiveness” to help develop the national team.

He said he wants whoever is called up to the national team to think every training camp and game is “a trial.”

“On the national team, if you prove you can play, you can earn your spot,” Lamas said. “So it’s up to them.”

Lamas also expressed his thoughts on NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash in California on Sunday. Lamas was a coach for his native Argentina and competed against Kobe and the U.S. national team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics.

The Argentine described Bryant as “a global basketball ambassador” who influenced people in sports around the world, not just in the United States.

“Looking at him as a player, I’ve never seen someone like him that loves the sport of basketball as much as he did,” Lamas said.

He added that it was “the worst news that I’ve heard in recent days.”

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