In preparation for its first game in 2020, the provisional Japan men’s national team has been practicing in a series of training camps at Tokyo’s National Training Center since the beginning of the month.
Japan will face Taiwan in a qualifier for next year’s Asia Cup at Taipei Heping Basketball Gymnasium on Monday night. The Akatsuki Five had originally been scheduled to face China at Chiba Port Arena on Friday night, which would’ve been their first game in the first window of qualifying, but the contest has been postponed due to the ongoing coronavirus fears.
Japan has already secured a spot at the 2020 Olympics as the host nation, but some of the players are treating the training camps and game against Taiwan as part of their audition for the Tokyo Games.
Star point guard Yuki Togashi, who missed last year’s FIBA World Cup due to a broken finger, certainly has his eyes on the Summer Olympics.
“This is an Asian Cup qualifying game, but this will potentially lead to the Olympic selection process,” Togashi said on Wednesday. “So I want to make sure I show what I can do.”
The final 12-man roster for the Taiwan contest will be announced on Sunday.
One of the players who has drawn a lot of attention during the training camps is Ryan Rossiter, who has been called up for the first time since attaining Japanese citizenship in December.
There is only one spot for a naturalized player and Rossiter is likely to be in the mix for it alongside veteran big man Nick Fazekas and Gavin Edwards, the Chiba Jets Funabashi player who also attained citizenship last month.
At a Wednesday practice, part of which was open to the media, the 30-year-old’s high intensity and leadership was on display.
Rossiter said energy and a tough mindset are two things he can bring to the table. He felt the Akatsuki Five were lacking in those areas last year during the World Cup in China, where Japan went 0-5.
“I obviously wasn’t part of (the team), but I watched all the games of the World Cup,” the 206-cm power forward/center said.
Rossiter added that Japan should have won its game against the Czech Republic, an opponent the Japanese mostly kept up with during their group-stage game.
“And I think the belief needs to be there before the game,” Rossiter said of that 89-76 loss, which ended Japan’s hopes of advancing. “I wasn’t in the locker room, but I just wondered if they truly thought they could win. We are trying to get the mindset; You can beat anyone you play regardless of what name is on the front of the team’s jersey.”
Fazekas has occupied the naturalized player slot since the summer of 2018 and helped the team reach the World Cup. There is near consensus that Japan wouldn’t have reached the tournament without the former NBA player on board.
Now with Rossiter providing another option, Japan could take on a different look with what he brings to the table.
Compared with Fazekas, who is known as a phenomenal scorer for the Kawasaki Brave Thunders with the ability to shoot 3s and floaters, Rossiter is a more mobile, versatile player. He can contribute in many aspects of the game, both offensively and defensively.
Rossiter, the 2015-16 MVP in the NBL, one of the predecessors of the B. League, has put up good numbers across the board this year. His 18.1 points per game is 10th in the league and he’s also averaging 10.5 rebounds (fourth) 4.3 assists (17th) and 1.6 steals (eighth) per game.
When asked what makes Rossiter special, Japan head coach Julio Lamas and Togashi both said there might not be one particular area where he stands out. But they each added that he has a high basketball IQ and can contribute in various areas.
Rossiter said he has to “kind of agree with” Lamas and Togashi.
“I’m not the strongest guy. I’m not the fastest. I’m not the tallest,” said Rossiter, who was the 2010-11 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Year for Siena College. “So I try to make up for being a solid, all-around player, and build success with the ball, without the ball.”
He added that when the coach “needs something done, I’ll do it, I’ll get it done.”
In the Asia Cup qualifiers, the top two teams in each of the six groups will punch their ticket for the Asia Cup.
The six third-place teams will advance to a final qualifying tournament in February next year and the top four there will compete in the Cup as well.
Malaysia is the other team Japan will face in the group phase, which will be held in a home-and-away format.