20 November, 2017
26 February, 2019
22 Nicholas Ryan Fazekas (JPN)
to read

We give back to the fans by representing Japan the best way - Nick Fazekas

TOYAMA (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers) - Nick Fazekas knows that Japanese basketball fans have really boosted the national team's performance, and they are determined to return the favor by making it to the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019.

Our fans love us, and we want to give back by representing the country the best way and making it to the World Cup." - Nick Fazekas

So far, the Akatsuki Five are on a hot streak, winning their last six games to barge into the top 3 of Group F in the second round of the Asian Qualifiers, with big wins over Qatar and Kazakhstan happening in the most recent window last month.

"It was very important for us to win those two games and we reached that goal," said the 33-year-old center. "Getting those two wins helps us a lot as we really have in mind to qualify for next year’s world tournament. We defended well and shared the ball very well to beat Qatar with a big margin. In the second game, we knew the Kazakhs were full of confidence after winning in Manila, but we had another great game and kept our winning streak going. Now we are focused on the last window, and it’s going to be a great challenge for us."

Fazekas was at his finest in that victory over Kazakhstan, 86-70. The 6ft 11in (2.10m) big man had a whale of a performance, tallying 41 points, 15 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks while shooting 17-of-30 from the field. He was, in a word, unstoppable.

"I felt great and got my shots getting in, so I really couldn’t complain about it," he said with a laugh. "I just tried to do everything I could to help the team win. On that day, I felt very good on the offensive end, scoring 41 points, but it’s only good if those points help you win the game. Right now, though, how many points I score is not the most important - the most important is that our hope to qualify for the next FIBA World Cup is still alive."

Apart from his stellar individual effort, however, Fazekas credits the overwhelming support of the Japanese fans that really raised their morale and energy to very high levels. Fazekas knows that their fans' tremendous presence and cheers enabled them to perform at their best.

"I felt the love from the fans and we felt that way before the game, and that gave us so much extra energy to win," he shared. "I really love what I have seen in our home games, the fans, everyone all together pushing for us to win and to give our best on the court no matter who the opponent is."

To give back to the fans, Fazekas and the rest of the Akatsuki Five are hell-bent on carrying the country to their first FIBA Basketball World Cup since hosting it in 2006.

"We feel that they have our backs, and that boost, that energy, that support they show us all the time is very positive," he explained. I am really happy to see that the basketball fans in Japan make this a great atmosphere to play a game of basketball. Our fans love us, and we want to give back by representing the country the best way and making it to the World Cup."

As they approach the final fixtures of the Asian Qualifiers, the games' grave natures are not lost on Fazekas. He is aware that it's pretty much win-or-bust for the Japanese, who need two wins against Iran and Qatar to formally seal their World Cup berths beyond a shadow of doubt.

"We have two last games to reach that dream of qualifying to China 2019," he said. "It’s not going to be easy, as we are playing away from home and against two tough opponents, but we are close to reaching our goal and are going to play at our best level to qualify. Iran is tough at home and Qatar can play good basketball, so we will have to bring our A-game to win those matches."

Looking at Japan's journey is like staring at two completely different teams. The Japanese dropped their first four outings, showcasing a lot of inconsistency, but when they added Fazekas along with rising stars Rui Hachimura and Yuta Watanabe starting in the third window, their fortunes began to turn.

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"Being on that winning streak is a very good thing, and our confidence level is so high," he said. "I think that the guys wanted to show that we have a strong national team and that Japan can play basketball. But now we must stay calm and focused, wince winning those six games in a row would be useless if we don’t qualify. We have two more games, the most important ones of the campaign so far, to play."

Aside from Fazekas, another reason for Japan's success has been head coach Julio Lamas. The veteran international basketball tactician has been able to squeeze out the very best from his wards, and he has proven that he knows how to put his players in prime positions to succeed.

"He has been doing a great job for all of us and for Japanese basketball," said Fazekas. "Coach Lamas has a lot of experience, and he knows how to talk to all of us and make us play at our best level. He has been really good also on introducing some younger players to the team, and he helps us at every practice on showing us how to share the ball and to play in a smart way. He is very professional, wants the national team to be very competitive and I think that he is already thinking about the game plan for the next window. We are all going to be ready for those two battles coming in a couple of weeks."

In the event that Japan will succeed in qualifying for the World Cup, Fazekas knows that it would be an utterly amazing achievement, especially most of the players have never played at the senior world level before.

"We have a lot of talented players, and it would be very good to see the national team being under the spotlight and playing on the world stage," he said. "For the guys and for Japanese basketball, it would be so good to compete in a tournament like the FIBA World Cup. If you want to improve and show your potential to the rest of the world, you have to compete in this kind of competition. We want to qualify for China 2019, and we are going to do everything to do so."