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''We are ready to compete with the world'' - Japan's Yudai Baba
TOKYO (Japan) - The cream of the crop of Japanese basketball have finally assembled to begin their preparations for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in earnest.
"The players who are ready to compete with the world have gathered," said high-flying wingman Yudai Baba, who is fresh from playing in the NBA Summer League 2019 for the Dallas Mavericks.
The Akatsuki Five's training camp officially tipped off a week ago, with the main goal of getting the team ready to pose a serious challenge to their fellow World Cup Group E sides Turkey, Czech Republic and Team USA.
"We have a good mindset right now because we participated in the NBA Summer League, and we are able to enter the camp in good condition," added star guard Makoto Hiejima, who also played at the Summer League for the New Orleans Pelicans.
The 28-year-old scoring machine is expected to be one of Japan's main weapons at the World Cup along with Rui Hachimura of the Washington Wizards and naturalized center Nick Fazekas of the Kawasaki Brave Thunders.
"I want to be confident and give high production to my team," declared Hiejima.
Baba, for his part, is still nursing an injured right shoulder he sustained in the Mavericks' final Summer League assignment, but he's confident he will be ready when his number is called at the biggest stage of international basketball.
"It still hurts, but I just remember the feeling of playing in the Summer League and want to give that same high intensity when I join practice," Baba said. "I hope that the players in the team can compete with each other and inspire each other, and have valuable experiences with the national team."
Baba may actually play a bigger role than expected for the Akatsuki Five, especially after top tier floor general Yuki Togashi recently fractured part of his right hand. This, according to head coach Julio Lamas, is a predicament that the squad need to rectify as soon as possible, but he also feels for Yuki, who would have made his World Cup debut this year.
@YukiTogashi of the @CHIBAJETS has been ruled out of the 2019 FIBA World Cup as he suffered from a metacarpal fracture on his right hand. He will need 2 months to recover. Let's wish him a speedy recovery! @B_LEAGUE#TerrificTogether #TheTerrific12 #ChibaJets #富樫勇樹 pic.twitter.com/qn74xO4UcH— East Asia Super League (@EASLofficial) July 24, 2019
"Yuki is an irreplaceable presence and this is painful for the team," Lamas shared. "Above all, I'm sad for him considering that he's feeling disappointed in himself, but I want him to focus on healing now. I just hope that he will recover and come back strong for the Olympics one year from now."
Meanwhile, Japan's two bona fide NBA talents, Hachimura and Yuta Watanabe, will fly in to join the team on 30 July.
As part of their World Cup build-up, Japan will face New Zealand at Chiba Port Arena on 12 August, followed by a series of tune-up matches at the Saitama Super Arena from 22-25 August against Argentina, Germany and Tunisia respectively.
#AkatsukiFive 男子日本代表：メディアデー開催— 日本バスケットボール協会(JBA) (@JAPANBASKETBALL) July 24, 2019
🏀バスケットボール日本代表国際試合 International Basketball Games 2019