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Fazekas and Hiejima at the forefront for Japan in final Asian Qualifiers window
TOKYO (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers) - Nick Fazekas and Makoto Hiejima are the biggest names for Julio Lamas in the pool for Japan's final two Asian Qualifiers games later this month.
With Rui Hachimura still tied up in the US NCAA with the Gonzaga Bulldogs, both Fazekas and Hiejima will be expected to carry much of the offensive load for the Akatsuki Five, who have their sights set at formally qualifying for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in China.
|Japan 24-man pool for final Asian Qualifiers Window|
|Shuto Ando||Yudai Baba||Ira Brown||Yusuke Endo|
|Nick Fazekas||Takatoshi Furukawa||Aren Hachimura||Tenketsu Harimoto|
|Kosuke Hashimoto||Makoto Hiejima||Gen Hiraiwa||Kosuke Kanamaru|
|Taichi Nakamura||Yudai Nishida||Atsuya Ota||Avi Koki Schafer|
|Ryusei Shinoyama||Joji Takeuchi||Kosuke Takeuchi||Daiki Tanaka|
|Yuki Togashi||Naoto Tsuji||Leo Vendrame||Yuta Watanabe|
Fazekas will enter the final window as Japan's most efficient player, averaging 29.3 points and 12.0 rebounds across four games while also shooting 56.5% from the field. Hiejima isn't far behind, carrying a stat-line of 13.0 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.1 three-pointers per contest. Hiejima is among four players to have seen action in every Asian Qualifiers fixture of Japan, with Daiki Tanaka, Joji Takeuchi and Ryusei Shinoyama the others.
All of them should figure prominently again in the final window for coach Julio Lamas, who is busy preparing his wards for all-important matches against West Asia powerhouse Iran and Gulf champions Qatar. Japan are certainly targeting winning both games, extending their win streak to 8 matches and, most importantly, officially clinching their berths in the World Cup.
It may be easier said than done, though, especially with Rui Hachimura's absence. The Memphis Grizzlies' Yuta Watanabe has also been named to the pool, though it's unlikely he will see action after blossoming into an impact player in the NBA.
Hoping to fill the void will be national team veterans like Yuki Togashi, Atsuya Ota and Takatoshi Furukawa along with rising star Yudai Baba and returning wingman Kosuke Kanamaru.
FIBAバスケットボールワールドカップ2019 アジア地区2次予選 Window6 パブリックビューイング開催決定🔥— 日本バスケットボール協会(JBA) (@JAPANBASKETBALL) February 7, 2019
2/21・24両日、ユナイテッドシネマ豊洲にて開催🏀#日本一丸 のキャッチフレーズのもと #AkatsukiFive へのご声援宜しくお願いいたします📣
Curiously added to the pool are former youth standouts Yudai Nishida and Avi Koki Schafer along with Rui's younger brother, Aren Hachimura, who has improved his play in Japan's university basketball circuit.
Japan first collide with Iran at the Azady Gym in Tehran on 21 February, and then they will take on Qatar at the Al-Gharafa Sports Club Hall in Doha on 24 February to cap off their Asian Qualifiers campaign.