25 August, 2023
10 September
33 Yuki Kawamura (JPN)
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Japan on Draw: ''We will focus on fast, team basketball and we will never give up''

TOKYO (Japan) - The good news for Japan after Saturday's FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 Draw presented by Wanda in Manila is that coach Tom Hovasse and his staff can step up their preparations for the games in Okinawa.

They know their opponents are Australia, Finland and Germany.

The difficult news is that Japan will play in maybe the toughest pool of all, a group of death if ever there was one.

In the FIBA World Ranking, Australia are No. 3, Germany No. 11, Finland No. 24 and Japan No. 36.

Australia were fourth at the 2019 World Cup and bronze medal winners at the Tokyo Olympics. Finland, boasting one of the greatest talents ever from Europe, NBA All-Star and recently named Most Improved Player of the Year Lauri Markkanen, made it to the Quarter-Finals of FIBA EuroBasket 2022 where eventual champions Spain eliminated them.

Germany followed up their impressive summer of winning the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Croatia and making it to the Quarter-Finals in Tokyo by playing very well as hosts of EuroBasket 2022 and claiming third place.

"It's certainly not an easy group, to say the least," Japan guard Yuki Togashi said. "We have no choice but to prepare for it now that it has been decided. It will be held in Okinawa, and I am really looking forward to playing at home. I want to do my best."

There are reasons for optimism in the Japan camp.

Akatsuki Japan had a positive FIBA Asia Cup 2022 in Indonesia, where they advanced to the Quarter-Finals before falling to eventual champions Australia, 99-85.

Yuta Watanabe was at the tournament but missed the Australia game.


Rui Hachimura wasn't at the Asia Cup, though Australia didn't have Pat Mills, Joe Ingles, Josh Giddey, and a host of other stars. Most of them are expected to be in Okinawa.

"If we can get two wins and one loss in this group, I think we can advance to the next round," Hovasse said. "To that end, we will focus on fast, team basketball and we will never give up. We believe in our style of basketball, we believe in each other, and we will continue to be better every day."

When Japan are clicking, they put on a show for the fans.

At the Asia Cup, Keisei Tominaga, a college player with the Nebraska Cornhuskers, had a couple of eye-popping shooting performances.

Against Syria, he drilled seven three-balls and finished with 23 points, and then against the Boomers, the sharpshooting guard buried eight shots from the arc and finished with 33 points. Tominaga is going to follow in his father's footsteps. Hiroyuki Tominaga, a center, played for Japan at the 1989 World Cup.

The fast game that Hovasse talks about?

Tominaga plays fast, as does Yuki Kawamura, the point guard who impressed with his defense and passing at the Asia Cup, if not his scoring. He only attempted 12 shots for the entire tournament while averaging 11.7 minutes per game off the bench, yet he has changed his mentality this season in the Japanese B. League.

Kawamura has had an MVP-caliber campaign for Yokohama, averaging 19.5 points and 8.4 assists per contest, helping turn the B Corsairs from a losing team into a playoff team.

He is a completely different player, launching attempts from deep and making them at a 34.5 percent clip.

Watanabe is excited about playing in Okinawa and optimistic about Japan's upcoming campaign

With Watanabe of the Brooklyn Nets back in the fold, along with Hachimura, there are plenty of positives.

There will also be the expected return of Yudai Baba, who has played in Australia's NBL and the G-League in America. Baba is a very good player, as the Japanese basketball fans know well.

The biggest issue for Japan will be its interior defense and rebounding. Will Japan's fast pace and perimeter game allow them to compete if they can't get stops?

In their Asia Cup Quarter-Final defeat to Australia, the Boomers out-rebounded Japan 51-29.

Japan were out-rebounded in their defeat to Iran at the Asia Cup, 44-31. When they beat Iran in February in the Asian Qualifiers, they grabbed 48 boards to Iran's 33, with big man Joshua Hawkinson corralling 11 for Akatsuki Japan.

Hachimura's return to the national team will be vital for Japan in games against Australia, Finland and Germany

Japan must compete on the glass if they are going to have a chance of meeting their main aim.

"I think we need two to three wins in order to be number one in Asia in terms of winning percentage and to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics, which is our goal," said Hovasse, who coached Japan's women at the Tokyo Games and led them to the Final.

"I want to win two in the First Round. It will be difficult to advance to the second round with one win."

The players need to be switched on from the time they arrive at training camp in June.

"We will have a new team with NBA players and new players, but I already know the core players, so I am confident about that," Hovasse said.

Watanabe sounded an encouraging note after the draw.

"I feel that if everyone is really focused 100 percent and peaks at that time, we can win," he said.