22 - 31
July 2016
7 Tensho Sugimoto (JPN)
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Sugimoto credits aggressive team defense for Quarter-Final win

TEHRAN (2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship) - Tensho Sugimoto may be a late addition to the Japanese U18 national team, but he has certainly made his presence felt. He has been one of the team’s best players in this tournament, most recently leading Japan to a huge Quarter-Final win over East Asian rivals Chinese Taipei yesterday, 77-71. The result propelled the Akatsuki Five to the Semi-Finals of the 2016 FIBA Asia U18 Championship, where they are set to go up against top Group B finisher Lebanon.

Sugimoto believes his team’s aggressiveness on defense and in rebounding was the key difference in their triumph over Chinese Taipei despite falling behind at halftime.

“We lost rhythm, but we were able to control the rebounding,” Sugimoto said after their win. “That kept us in the game, and led us to win.”

He also thinks this will be the crucial factor as Japan faces Lebanon for the second time in the competition. The Lebanese five dominated their Japanese counterparts, 73-51, on Day 4, and coach Thorsten Loibl’s wards are definitely aching for some payback. Sugimoto hopes his team’s attitude on defense and in rebounding remain strong.

“Our defense and rebounding will be the key for us to get on the podium,” he said.

Against Chinese Taipei, Japan actually enjoyed a good start, leading after one quarter, 20-17, but they dropped their focus a bit in the second period, allowing their opponents to snatch the advantage entering the break. That loss in focus is something Sugimoto hopes he and his teammates won’t do again.

“In past games, we had problems to keep our concentration,” he said. “But we have adjusted as a team to be able to focus at all times.”

Those are mature sentiments, especially when one considers that Sugimoto’s time with the national team has not been extensive. He was only called up a couple of months ago, but, as his numbers suggest, he has quickly become one of coach Loibl’s most reliable performers.

“I came to this team as a last addition and was called in late May,” said Sugimoto. “Since then, I have worked to give the team my best.”

That is an understatement, of course, as Sugimoto leads Japan in efficiency, scoring and three-pointers made per game.

On the cusp of formalizing their tickets to the 2017 FIBA U19 World Championship, Sugimoto and the rest of Japan are well aware of what is at stake.

“Our goal as a team is to qualify to the world championship,” he emphasized. “That is what bonds us.”

“We feel our aggressive defense is key to our success, and we should keep doing that to accomplish our final goal.”

Japan face Lebanon later today, and the victor plays either Korea or Iran in tomorrow’s Final. The top three teams in the competition will qualify for the 2017 FIBA U19 World Championship in Cairo, Egypt.