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Japan need to keep grinding says Joji Takeuchi
The 2.07m center started playing for the Akatsuki Five way back in 2005 as an upstart 20-year-old, and this year he will be seeing action in his seventh major continental basketball competition. Takeuchi has been a constant presence for Japan ever since debuting for them in Doha, Qatar a dozen years ago, missing just the FIBA Asia Championship 2013 in Manila because of injury. He bounced back strong in the 2015 edition, though, recording his best averages ever - 15.6 points and 11.9 rebounds per game while shooting 55.6% from the field.
The 32-year-old missed the FIBA Asia Challenge last year, but he returned to action in the EABA Championship 2017, where Japan fell short of the top spot to finish in 3rd place. Takeuchi attributes their performance to the fact that they plunged into the EABA Championship almost immediately after the inaugural season of the B.League ended.
"It was a tough situation in EABA because we just finished our B.League season at the end of May," he said. "But it was a good opportunity to improve, especially for the young players."
Takeuchi knows there will be bigger battles ahead for Japan, but he feels that they don't really need to change much. All they need to do is intensify their training and play hard in every match.
"I think we don't really need to change anything," he explained. "We just need to keep grinding everyday. We just have to play strong and solid. If we can do that, then we will have good results."
That may be easier said than done, of course, given how Japan are in a very talented group at the Asia Cup, where only the top teams from the group phase will automatically be seeded in the Quarter-Finals. The 2nd and 3rd place teams of each group will have to battle it out in a Play-Off round to secure the remaining Quarter-Finals berths.
As one of new national team head coach Julio Lamas's go-to-guys, a lot will be expected from Takeuchi, especially when it comes to matching up with opposing teams' top centers like Hong Kong's Duncan Reid, Taipei's Quincy Davis and perhaps even Australia's David Andersen. Over the years, Takeuchi has shown great skill and versatility as one of Japan's top slotmen, but he will need to pull out something special if he is to be dominant in Beirut this coming August. Aside from his skill-set, however, it is Takeuchi's vast experience that will be a boon for the Japanese.
"I would like to help this team as a veteran," he shared. "Based on my years of experience, I will tell our younger players how we have to play in certain situations."
Speaking of younger guys, Takeuchi is aware he alone cannot carry Japan to glory at the FIBA Asia Cup, and one of the young guns he is expecting to do the heavy lifting is hotshot wingman Makoto Hiejima. Hiejima already impressed at the FIBA Asia Championship 2015 in Changsha-Hunan, but it seems he has become even more potent this time around.
"I expect Makoto Hiejima to have another great performance," Takeuchi declared. "He is the best player in Japan right now, and he will show everyone who he really is in the FIBA Asia Cup."
Takeuchi and Hiejima are two names we will surely see among Japan's final roster at the Asia Cup, and both will need to play splendidly if the Akatsuki Five are to thrive.