Japan’s men’s national basketball team hasn’t been able to carry out any team activities since February due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus has also caused the cancellation of the second window of Asia Cup qualifying.

Despite that, the Japan Basketball Association and Julio Lamas have decided to proceed with a training camp in order to renew the bonds within the squad.

“Our training camp kicked off today and it’ll be a very important training camp for us,” Lamas, the Akatsuki Five head coach, said after the team’s first practice on Thursday. “We haven’t held any training camps or games since February, which wouldn’t have been the case under the normal circumstances. But we’ve finally been able to hold this training camp and we’re looking to get our connections with each other back and hopefully, we’ll develop our team from here.”

The training camp will continue through next Thursday at Tokyo’s National Training Center.

The Asia Cup qualifiers were originally supposed to be held in a home-and-away format. Last month, however, FIBA Asia announced the upcoming window would be held in bubbles in four different cities to ensure the safety of the teams during the pandemic. In the end, the games were postponed. Japan, which is in Group B with China, Malaysia and Taiwan, would’ve competed in Doha.

The first window of qualifiers got underway in February, with Japan scheduled to meet China at home and Taiwan away. The China contest in Chiba was called off due to COVID-19, while Japan defeated Taiwan 96-57 in Taipei.

Lamas invited 19 players to the camp, most of whom have played for him in the past. Some, including Daiki Tanaka of the Alvark Tokyo, Ryusei Shinoyama of the Kawasaki Brave Thunders, Makoto Hiejima of the Utsunomiya Brex, and twin brothers Joji and Kosuke Takeuchi, who play for the Alvark and Brex, respectively, played for Japan during last fall’s FIBA World Cup in China.

Among the newer faces is Tokai University shooting guard Yudai Nishida, the only amateur player to be called up.

Lamas has also brought in a pair of naturalized players in Utsunomiya’s Ryan Rossiter and Gavin Edwards of the Chiba Jets Funabashi. Kawasaki’s Nick Fazekas, who represented Japan at the World Cup, has been left out, with Lamas saying he already knows what the former NBA player brings to the table.

“Fazekas is the one that we understand what he can do the most (among the naturalized players),” Lamas said. “So we wanted to see the other guys like Ryan and Gavin up close and we thought it would be important for us to know what types of players they are and how well they can fit with their other teammates, and that’s why we did it this way.”

Rossiter and Edwards both completed the naturalization process during the 2019-20 B. League season. Rossiter made his national team debut in Japan’s win over Taiwan in February.

The trio of Rui Hachimura, Yuta Watanabe and Yudai Baba are not with the team as the first two are already in the United States preparing for the upcoming NBA season, which will begin in late December. Watanabe, who played for the Memphis Grizzlies on a two-way contract in the past two years, is seeking a new NBA contract.

Baba, who competed for the Texas Legends in the G League last year, is in Australia getting ready for his first season with the Melbourne United in the National Basketball League, which had the start of its 2020-21 season postponed due to the coronavirus. The league hopes to start in mid-January.

The 2020-21 NBA campaign will begin in late December and, including the playoffs, could last until July 22. Depending on the status of their respective teams, Hachimura and Watanabe could have their arrival to the national team for the Tokyo Olympics delayed. Basketball at the Tokyo Games is scheduled to begin July 24.

Lamas said that he could not articulate about his plans given the circumstances, but added that he believes Hachimura and Watanabe would be able to “get into the Olympics with ample preparation time.”

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