Nako Motohashi, one of Japan’s top point guards, was practicing with the provisional national team in November when she suddenly felt pain in her knee on a drive to the basket.
After being attended to by team staff and doctors, Motohashi received the bad news shortly after the injury — she had suffered ligament damage in her right knee.
At the time, Motohashi thought — quite naturally — the injury had shut the door on her chances of competing at the Tokyo Olympics.
Once she found out that was not necessarily the case, Motohashi resolved to do everything she could to play at the Summer Games.
Motohashi, the reigning FIBA Women’s Asia Cup MVP, is still recovering from her injury. She’s far enough along, however, that she’s expected to be a full participant at the national team’s next training camp.
“The moment I was injured, I thought I wouldn’t be able to play at the Olympics, considering how much time was left,” she told reporters in an online interview Thursday. “I thought I had to give it up and I felt hopeless.”
She was given a ray of hope shortly after the incident, however, when her doctor and the team’s trainers told her there was a chance she could get back on the floor in time.
“I was told the possibility of recovering in time wasn’t zero,” the 27-year-old said. “If I had a better-than-zero chance, I didn’t want to give up. I wanted to give myself the best chance possible. That gave me optimism.”
There are no shortcuts in rehab, though, especially for injuries as severe as the one Motohashi suffered. Her recovery process has been meticulous and has required patience.
Motohashi injured her ACL in the same knee during her senior year at Waseda University. She says that experience has helped her deal with her current situation.
“It’s big that this is actually my second time,” said Motohashi, a member of the Tokyo Haneda Vickies in the Women’s Japan Basketball League. “If this had been the first time, I would’ve been consumed by wondering how I could recover in time. In rehab, it takes patience and only consistent training will lead to recovery. Since this was the second time, I already had an idea of how much I could push myself.”
Motohashi is now nearly back to where she was before the injury.
She has been one of Japan’s biggest surprises in recent years. She first rose out of obscurity when she was called up to the national team for the first time in 2018, which came as a surprise to her as well. She eventually became an integral piece of the team as its starting point guard.
“Motohashi isn’t our best 3-point shooter, she isn’t our fastest player,” Japan head coach Tom Hovasse said when asked what he will be looking for when he selects guards for the Olympic team. “But she makes better decisions and has the tough mind set to not give in to anyone too easily. And she’s fit in our offense and our team.”
Motohashi helped Japan complete a four-peat at the 2019 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup and was viewed as a legitimate playmaker for the Olympic team, which has its sights set on a gold medal.
Right now, she just wants to earn a spot on the team and regain the coaching staff’s trust.
“It’s a challenge for me to see how much I can do,” the Saitama Prefecture native said. “Hopefully I will be able to deliver courage to people at the Olympics, because it’s one of the greatest stages for you to be able to do so.”
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