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Loibl chooses top talent over star-less team chemistry for Japan

TOKYO (FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2017) - Torsten Loibl decided to go against the slogan "never change a winning team" and made a couple of major changes for Japan's final roster for the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2017 with the additions of Rui Hachimura and Shinsaku Enomoto.

The coach guided Japan to the FIBA U18 Asia Championship 2016 final despite a team lacking major stars to reach the country's first appearance at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup since 1999. Loibl ended up keeping nine of the players from the Asia continental championship but the team bound for Cairo from 1-9 July will have a very different look.

The German coach called the decision process "a very difficult choice", adding: "On the one hand, the players who qualified for the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup deserve to be taken. On the other hand there are some other high quality players like Hachimura and Enomoto who have huge potential and could bring the team to the next level."

Japan's roster for the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2017
Shinsaku Enomoto Rui Hachimura Keisuke Masuda Taiga Kagitomi
Yuki Mikami Kanta Mizuno Syuki Nakata Yudai Nishida
Avi Schafer Shuki Shigetomi Tensho Sugimoto Kazuma Tsuya

Loibl brought the players into training camp with the main idea of seeing how his higher level players fit into the team. In the end, Hachimura, Enomoto and Shuki Shigetomi were chosen for Cairo to replace the U18 players Rei Ito, Yo Nishino and Keisuke Mimori.

"Our strongest weapon at FIBA U18 Asia Championship 2016 was our team chemistry. We won all those big games without a superstar. There must be good reasons not to follow the slogan 'never change a winning team'," Loibl said late in the training camp.

Back in the mix are five of Japan's top six scorers from Teheran including leading scorer Tensho Sugimoto, who had 18.4 points a game. Both Yudai Nishida (17 ppg) and Keisuke Masuda (15.9 ppg) also averaged more than 15 points a game.

Hachimura is no stranger to international basketball fans as he starred for Japan at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2014 and became the first Japanese player to play in the NCAA Final Four in the United States for Gonzaga. Hachimura is also considered the biggest hope for Japan's basketball future.

But just as important an addition will be Enomoto, whose father is American and mother Japanese. Enomoto plays at Pima Community College in the United States and also is known as Isaiah Murphy. The 6ft 4in (1.94m) guard plays good defense with his long arms and is also very athletic.

The third change is Shigetomi, who stands just 5ft 8in (1.72m) but controls the game very well. He has good court vision and does a good job finding openings. Shigetomi also has a twin brothers and they teamed up to lead their high school to the national championship last December.

Japan, whose best U19 global showing was 14th place in 1999, are drawn into Group C along with Canada, Mali and Spain. Loibl and the team will be staying in Japan until June 24 when they head to Germany for the final preparations and test games.