The Akatsuki Five will try to show how much they’ve grown over the last few years when they make their first appearance in the Olympics in 45 years at the Tokyo Games this summer.
The Japan Basketball Association revealed the 12-man roster for the men’s national team for the games on Monday.
NBA forwards Rui Hachimura and Yuta Watanabe headline the team, which last competed in the Olympics at the Montreal Games in 1976. Guard Yudai Baba, who helped the Melbourne United to the NBL championship in Australia this past season, also made the list.
From the domestic B. League, head coach Julio Lamas selected stars like guards Daiki Tanaka, Kosuke Kanamaru, Yuki Togashi and Makoto Hiejima, who have all won league MVPs.
Forward Gavin Edwards got the nod over Ryan Rossiter for the sole roster spot for a naturalized player.
Hugh Watanabe, a former volleyball player, is the youngest member of the squad at 22.
Kosuke and Joji Takeuchi, the 36-year-old twins who have been national team stalwarts, did not make the roster
Six of the 12 players competed at the 2019 World Cup.
Tanaka and Yuta Watanabe will serve as co-captains.
Japan will be grouped with Spain and Argentina, the top two finishers at the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China, and Slovenia in Group C during the first round. Slovenia, led by Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic, earned its place by defeating Lithuania 96-85 in the final of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Kaunas, Lithuania, on Sunday.
The Czech Republic and Italy also booked spots in the competition through other qualifying tournament finals on Sunday.
Despite fielding arguably its best-ever team at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, Japan came home from that tournament with a disappointing 0-5 record. The country’s goal for the Olympics is to get at least one win.
Japan is ranked No. 42 in the world rankings while Spain, Argentina and Slovenia are ranked No. 2, No. 4 and No. 16, respectively. The hosts are the lowest-ranked country among the 12 participating teams.
Lamas insists the most important thing for his players is to showcase their maximum potential without fear against the powerhouse nations in the group.
“They have many players that are recognized worldwide and some have even won NBA championships,” Lamas, who led Argentina to fourth place at the 2012 London Olympics, said in an online news conference. “But we should focus on what we can do at the moment, not dwell on such things. So when we play Spain, for example, we want to focus on what Spain is going to do against us. And I hope our players enjoy the days during the games.”
JBA technical director Tomoya Higashino emphasized how tough it will be to pull off an upset. Lamas has also said repeatedly that Japan has never beaten an European nation.
“That’s our goal, to get one win,” Higashino said. “A team that’s ranked (42nd) will face countries that are second, fourth and 16th — if a team like (Japan) posts a win over one of them, you can say that’s a miracle.
“That said, we would like to show how much we’ve grown since the World Cup, in which we lost five games in a row, and how we can play against those teams. If we can do that, I’d say we will surprise people.”
The men’s competition will start July 25 and the gold medal contest will be held Aug. 7. All games will be played at Saitama Super Arena.
Japan will face Hungary, Belgium and Finland in warm-up contests at Okinawa Arena this week and take on France and an unknown opponent in two exhibitions in Saitama next week.
Yuta Watanabe joined the team on Monday. Hachimura and Baba are expected to join in mid-July, according to Lamas.
The top two finishers in each of the three groups will automatically advance to the eight-team knockout stage. The two best third-place teams will also make the quarterfinals.
Japan men’s national team roster for the Tokyo Olympics
Centers – Avi Koki Schafer, SeaHorses Mikawa.
Forwards – Rui Hachimura, Washington Wizards; Yuta Watanabe, Toronto Raptors; Gavin Edwards, Chiba Jets Funabashi; Hugh Watanabe, Ryukyu Golden Kings; Tenketsu Harimoto, Nagoya Diamond Dolphins.
Guards – Daiki Tanaka, Alvark Tokyo; Kosuke Kanamaru, Shimane Susanoo Magic; Yuki Togashi, Jets; Makoto Hiejima, Utsunomiya Brex; Leo Vendrame, Sunrockers Shibuya; Yudai Baba, Melbourne United.
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