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When a series of training camps kicked off for the Japan men’s national basketball team weeks ago, Gavin Edwards was believed to be on the outside looking in when it came to the only spot permitted for a naturalized Japanese citizen.

But head coach Julio Lamas surprised many and wound up selecting Edwards over Ryan Rossiter for his final 12-man roster for the Tokyo Olympics.

“I’m just very excited. It’s definitely a huge honor because to be part of the final 12-man roster is a huge accomplishment, because there are some great players that were in the camp,” Edwards told reporters in a recent online interview. “And I think everybody played really hard and I think that we can put it together. We have put together a really good team and we’re working towards just making everybody proud and just really happy.”

In 2018, Nick Fazekas naturalized to become Japanese and helped the country’s men’s national team book a spot in the 2019 FIBA World Cup. At the time, many thought that he would be the pick for the Olympics.

But that plan changed once Rossiter and Edwards got their Japanese passports.

Rossiter got his Japanese passport in December 2019 and a few weeks later Edwards, a Chiba Jets Funabashi player, also became a citizen.

Lamas, who led his native Argentine to a fourth-place finish as the bench boss at the 2012 London Olympics, said Edwards’ versatile game, which makes him a threat outside the paint as well, was a major reason why he chose him.

“Gavin can contribute to us with his 3-point shooting, fadeaway shots as well as in rebounding,” Lamas said. “We selected him hoping he’d build good chemistry with Yuta (Watanabe of the Toronto Raptors) and Rui (Hachimura of the Washington Wizards).”

Japan forward Gavin Edwards dunks against Hungary in an exhibition game at Okinawa Arena on July 7. JAPAN BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION | JAPAN BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION
Japan forward Gavin Edwards dunks against Hungary in an exhibition game at Okinawa Arena on July 7. JAPAN BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION | JAPAN BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION

Edwards has averaged 14.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game and has shot 38.3% from beyond the arc in his eight-year career in Japan.

Edwards said the close battle between the two American-born players had been “awkward” and that Rossiter congratulated him after the squad announcement

“But, I think it went really well. We got along really well,” said the 206-cm power forward, whose father is former NFL defensive lineman Earl Edwards. “And we just competed and we both kind of left it out there and I happened to get chosen. But yeah, it just happened to go my way but he played really well and he definitely was deserving to be there.”

Edwards, a Gilbert, Arizona, native, is no stranger to playing on a big stage. The 33-year-old, who helped the Jets to the 2020-21 B. League title, played for the prestigious University of Connecticut team for four years. Edwards and future star NBA guard Kemba Walker helped the Huskies to the NCAA Final Four in 2009.

Walker, who was recently traded from the Boston Celtics to the Oklahoma City Thunder, represented the U.S. at the 2019 World Cup but did not make the squad for Tokyo, ending any chance for the two former college teammates to reunite. Edwards and Walker played together for two years under legendary coach Jim Calhoun.

“I love him,” Edwards said of Walker. “He’s probably the best teammate that I ever had because he was just an all-around, great guy. He was a hard worker on the court, off the court. So I definitely enjoyed it.

“Actually, we lived in the same apartment for two years. So I was definitely looking forward to seeing him at the games, but unfortunately, he didn’t make it. So I’m definitely sad that he wasn’t able to make it. I was cheering for him and everything but I just have to wait until later to see him I guess.”

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