Top basketball players from the conventional 5-on-5, 3×3 and wheelchair versions of the game came together over the weekend to provide some entertainment for fans watching from home in the Basketball Action 2020 Showcase event on Sunday at Tokyo’s Yoyogi National Gymnasium.
The one-day event tipped off with a demonstration by four members of Japan’s national wheelchair basketball squad and then a shooting exhibition featuring players from the women’s 3×3 national team. That was followed by an intrasquad game between members of the men’s 3×3 team.
The showcase wrapped up with an unusual mixed 5×5 exhibition, where members of Japan’s women’s team played in the first half and players from the men’s team competed in the final two quarters.
“Team Action,” which featured star players such as Yuki Togashi and Ryusei Shinoyama from the men’s side and Maki Takada and Rui Machida from the women’s squad, defeated “Team Power” 96-86 in that contest.
Aren Hachimura, a younger brother of Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura, played for Team Power. The Tokai University junior scored four points and grabbed five rebounds.
The event was held in an empty arena, but the Japan Basketball Association hailed it as a success due to high viewership on streaming platforms Basket Live and Sponavi Live. Over 520,000 fans were estimated to have watched on Sponavi.
Team Action trailed 56-49 at the half in the 5-on-5 showdown, but bounced back from behind a 12-point effort by Togashi.
“We hadn’t practiced much going in, so we were going to play to have fun and not get hurt or anything,” said Togashi, a star guard for the Chiba Jets Funabashi. “But as the game wore on, we got into it more and we began to want to win.”
Shinoyama said players came in with varying levels of fitness because their training environments haven’t been the same over the past several months due to the coronavirus pandemic. But he added that it was still meaningful for the players to assemble in one location and put on a good show for the fans.
“I’m relieved we were able to deliver some real action,” Shinoyama said. “We overcame our differences in some areas and came together as one. This is our first step and I feel like we still have room to be able to do a lot of different things (to promote basketball).”
The Japan Basketball Association took precautions and implemented protocols to lower the risk of COVID-19 infection.
According to the JBA, around 250 people — including players and others involved in the event — were given PCR tests. In addition, most of the players spent the entire weekend at the National Training Center.
The scorer’s table was separated from the court by a plastic sheet and players’ chairs were spaced apart on the sidelines.
Around 50 reporters were allowed into the arena to cover the event.
Even with the precautions, the coronavirus still caused headaches for organizers.
On Saturday, the Toyota Motors Antelopes of the Women’s Japan Basketball League announced that six players and assistant coach Yuko Oga would withdraw from the event after one of the Nagoya-based club’s staffers tested positive for the virus on Friday.
As a result, the women’s 3×3 game was called off and the remaining three players participated in a shooting drill.
The event was a rare chance for the JBA to host an event combining the wheelchair, 3×3 and 5-on-5 games. For the players and coaches in the wheelchair and 3×3 games, the event provided an opportunity to appeal to a larger audience.
“Being in this event with people from the 3×3 and five-man game gave us a chance to be seen by more people,” men’s wheelchair basketball head coach Kazuyuki Kyoya said. “And now as part of the basketball family (in Japan), we would like to develop ourselves even further and appeal to more people.”
Yusei Sugiura, a forward for the B. League’s Shimane Susanoo Magic, has been a candidate for the provisional men’s 3×3 roster and played in the three-man contest Sunday. The 25-year-old seemed thrilled to hit the court for the first game in months.
“I was pleased to be given the opportunity to play before the fans,” he said. “While so many tournaments have been canceled, we would like to give encouragement to the fans as much as possible.”
The players may have to continue living with COVID-19’s impact during the upcoming 2020-21 season. They are, however, determined to cope with whatever comes.
“I’m not going to say that I have zero worries,” star women’s player Ramu Tokashiki said. “So while we have anxieties, it’s important for us to make sure we follow all the measures such as washing our hands and gargling.
“And if we follow all the measures and still get infected, then there’s nothing we can do about it. So hopefully, we do everything we can, like ventilating and sanitizing, and play as best as we can for the fans.”
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