Japan’s men’s and women’s 3×3 basketball squads left the Tokyo Olympics wanting more.

The men’s team fell on Tuesday in the quarterfinals to the eventual champion Latvia by a score of 21-18, while the women’s squad lost to France 16-14, also in the quarters, bringing an end to their respective four-day battles in the first 3×3 Olympic tournament.

After their final games were over, each team was devastated over their failure to reach the podium and Stephanie Mawuli of the women’s team had a tough time getting back on her feet after their final contest at Aomi Urban Sports Park.

The women’s squad, which punched their ticket for the Games through May’s qualifying tournament, finished fifth in the final standings but had hopes of more after an impressive showing in the group stage. The women’s team — made up of Mawuli, Mai Yamamoto, Risa Nishioka and Mio Shinozaki — defeated world No. 1 France and the eventual gold medalist United States in the preliminary round, snapping America’s 60-game winning streak.

Despite the disappointment in the quarters after a 5-2 record in the preliminary round, the players left with no regrets after having competed in the sport as it made its Olympic debut.

“I really feel like it’s paid off for me to have decided to play the 3×3 game, which still has a long way to go to gain traction, even after many people got to see it (through the Olympics),” said Mawuli, who plays 5-on-5 basketball for the Toyota Antelopes of the Japan Women’s Basketball League, in a statement after the competition. “I learned a lot by playing against the world’s most competitive teams and came up with confidence through them. But, at the same time, I feel disappointed and wanted to win.”

Stephanie Mawuli of Japan drives past a French defender during a quarterfinal match on Tuesday. | REUTERS
Stephanie Mawuli of Japan drives past a French defender during a quarterfinal match on Tuesday. | REUTERS

The men’s team, which earned a place at the Games as the host nation, did not fare as well as the women’s team, finishing with a 2-6 record, but played tight games throughout the tournament, using its speed, long-range shooting and stamina to give opponents all they could handle. The men’s team finished sixth in the final standings.

Fans weren’t allowed at the venue throughout the tournament due to COVID-19, but players did feel the excitement of fans watching from home via social media. Many appear to have discovered the game through the Tokyo Games.

That excitement had a lot to do with the Japanese squads competing on par with their opponents.

The men’s squad had never played together in any tournaments, making the performance from the four players — including late-arriving 20-year-old University of Nebraska phenom Keisei Tominaga — all the more eye-opening.

“I have no doubt that we captured the heart of the public with the way we played,” Tomoya Higashino, the technical director for the Japan Basketball Association, told The Japan Times after the tournament. “Many officials were so surprised by our performances. Some of the FIBA officials were like, ‘Japan’s great, they don’t look like the team that’s here as the hosts at all. They are a very dangerous team.’”

Higashino also noted that the JBA had cooperated with the country’s High Performance Sport Center in order to give the 3×3 teams a better chance of competing in the heat and humidity of Tokyo.

“Of course, our teams had some moments where their brain went blank due to fatigue at times, but I think they had the stamina to be able to keep playing as much as anyone else,” Higashino said. “And I would say our scientific approach paid off.”

Tomoya Ochiai, Keisei Tominaga and Ryuto Yasuoka celebrate after beating China in a preliminary match on Tuesday. | AFP-JIJI
Tomoya Ochiai, Keisei Tominaga and Ryuto Yasuoka celebrate after beating China in a preliminary match on Tuesday. | AFP-JIJI

Torsten Loibl, the director/coach for the men’s and women’s 3×3 teams, said that the competitions helped change perceptions of the game, giving it a chance to be showcased on the biggest stage in sports.

“We were able to change the image of the 3×3 basketball from the fancy, non-disciplined basketball to a serious sport with ambitions and a bright future,” Loibl said.

The German continued: “3×3 will have a huge impact on Japanese basketball in the future and there is a good chance Japan becomes a 3×3 powerhouse.”

The 3×3 competitions will also take place at the next two Summer Games in Paris and Los Angeles. Higashino believes that the sport will stick beyond that.

“I mean, we’ve just learned that the 2032 Games will be held in Brisbane, Australia, and don’t officially know which sports they are going to include,” he said. “But from the reactions we’ve seen, I’m sure it’s going to be included.”

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.