While the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics has caused setbacks for many athletes and athletic staffers, Japan’s national basketball team head coaches are staying positive as they refocus their efforts for the Summer Games, which will now be held in 2021.
Julio Lamas, sideline supervisor for the men’s Akatsuki Five, is already focused on getting his players ready for next summer. Speaking during an online news conference on Friday, the 56-year-old unveiled a revised schedule for the squad.
Japan’s men will compete in the qualifiers for the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup in November and February. The men’s team went 0-5 at last year’s FIBA World Cup in China.
In addition, Lamas hopes to play as many as eight exhibitions against competitive nations from the Americas and Europe to get his team ready for the Tokyo Games.
Even during the long layoff caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the Argentine said he told his players it’s vital they keep working in order to better their chances of making the roster and performing well.
“I told them that there are things that they can do at home even if they had to stay inside,” said Lamas, who coached for his native country at the last two Olympics. “I repeatedly told them to pay attention to what they eat. Because they’re only human, they could easily be negligent. You could end up watching TV all day. Your value as a player could go down unless you keep working – I’ve been staying in touch with them to prevent that.”
The women’s team is feeling the impact of the postponement even more than the men, as a few veterans have opted to retire rather than wait another year for the games.
Head coach Tom Hovasse, however, thinks the extra year may give some of his younger players a chance to develop and provide the team with more depth.
“I will get to see young players when the (Women’s Japan Basketball League) begins, but our core squad has almost been set,” the American said. “But over the last year, we’ve been looking forward to seeing someone at the small forward position and an inside player step up and provide depth as bench players, but none has. So, for example, players like Evelyn (Mawuli), Monica (Okoye), (Rika) Tanimura and (Kiho) Miyashita have a very good chance to fill those spots.”
Hovasse, who was an assistant on the Japan team that finished eighth at the Rio Games, says the country has an advantage because its provisional squad has been able to practice more than other nations during the pandemic.
“They’ve practiced better compared to other countries. I don’t think other countries have done as well as they’ve done in Japan,” said Hovasse, who has insisted his team is aiming to win gold in Tokyo. “The WNBA is playing in a bubble, but I don’t think other national teams and leagues have been able to play.”
Hovasse said before the coronavirus broke out, his team had been planning to travel to the U.S. for a training camp and possible exhibitions against Team USA and a WNBA squad in April. He hopes to make it happen next spring.
Japan’s men’s and women’s teams, and also the men’s 3×3 squad, have already clinched berths for the Tokyo Olympics. The women’s 3×3 squad will have a chance to punch its ticket in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in late May in Austria.
On Sunday, Lamas and Hovasse will coach in an event called “Basketball Action 2020 Showcase” at Tokyo’s Yoyogi National Gymnasium. The event will be held without spectators.
The game will feature an unusual setup — with the men’s and women’s select squad competing in the same game. The female players will play in the first half, with the men taking the floor for the second half.
While the men’s squad will have some national team regulars, such as point guard Yuki Togashi and power forward Kosuke Takeuchi, it will also feature young prospects like Tokai University’s Aren Hachimura, the younger brother of the Washington Wizards’ Rui Hachimura.
The men’s and women’s 3×3 teams will also play games during the event and four wheelchair basketball players will have a demonstration.
“I think all the teams, all the clubs, all the national teams are facing difficulties (with) the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Torsten Loibl, the director/coach for both the men’s and women’s national 3×3 teams who was speaking from his native Germany.
“However, sports is a good way to overcome problems and to unite this kind of situation. We all need to stick together for the success in the Olympic Games and hopefully, we have four teams in the Olympics.”