25 August, 2023
10 September
12 Yuta Watanabe (JPN)
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Qualified Team Focus - Japan: Hovasse hopeful of future with depth around stars

MIES (Switzerland) - It is now time to meet the 32 teams that try to become World Champions in a few months. Next up is the number 38 team in the FIBA World Ranking Men, presented by Nike, two-time FIBA Asia Cup champions and co-hosts Japan.

How did they qualify

Japan came into the World Cup qualification already locked up a spot as they will be co-hosts. But before the first games, the country made the transition from Julio Lamas as head coach to Tom Hovasse, who guided Japan's women's team to the silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics. The men slumped to 11th place at the home Olympics - albeit after losses to Spain, Slovenia and Argentina in the group stage. Japan were also coming off a 31st-placed showing at the 2019 World Cup out of 32 teams.

Hovasse did not have the services of his two main NBA stars Rui Hachimura and Yuta Watanabe in the Asian Qualifiers. The coach siphoned through a number of players looking to see what he had for the home World Cup this summer.

Japan hosted their first window with two games against China. But Hovasse's team was not ready to compete, losing by 16 and 33 points as the coach was going through new faces to the national team. The Akatsuki Five welcomed the Group B for a bubble in February 2022 in Okinawa, and Japan finally grabbed their first win - Yudai Nishida pouring in 27 points and Luke Evans collecting 17 points and 12 rebounds in a 76-71 win over Chinese Taipei. However, Japan dropped to 1-3 in the group after a 16-point defeat against Australia.

One of the bright spots of the June/July 2022 window - hosted in bubble fashion by Australia - was U.S. college-based guard Keisei Tominga, who scored 18 points in a big loss to Australia but poured in 17 points in a 40-point blowout of Chinese Taipei. Hovasse got to see his team in progress in a different atmosphere at the FIBA Asia Cup 2022, and Japan knocked off Kazakhstan, Syria, and Philppines in the group stage. However, they lost to Australia in the Quarter-Finals 99-85 and finished seventh.

Yudai Baba

The player to shine in the August 2022 window was Yudai Baba, who tallied 27 points in an 11-point loss in Iran. He had a more all-around game in Japan's subsequent home win over Kazakhstan. Japan built on that victory and extended their winning streak to three games with a November 2022 sweep of Bahrain and Kazakhstan - both on the road - with Tenketsu Harimoto and Yuki Kawamura both scoring 20 or more points against Bahrain.

Best result at the World Cup

This is Japan's sixth time participating in the World Cup and the first time in back-to-back editions since 1963 and 1967. It will also be the second time Japan are hosts or co-hosts following 2006. The Asians finished 13th of 13 teams in 1963; 11th place of 13 nations four years later; and 14th of 16 teams in 1998. Japan's best result in terms of percentile of teams came at the home World Cup in 2006 when they placed 17th of 24 teams.

Joji Takeuchi in 2006

Last World Cup appearances

After playing in 1998, Japan failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup in the United States. They hosted the world in 2006 and collected just one victory - knocking off Panama 78-61 after losses to Germany and Angola. The final two games of the group were defeats against New Zealand and Spain, resulting in a 17th place finish. Japan did not get back to the World Cup until 2019 and the Akatsuki Five failed to win a single game in China. They lost to Turkey, Czech Republic and USA in the First Round and then were knocked off by New Zealand and Montenegro in the 17th-32nd Classification for a final placing of 31st among 32 teams.

Players to watch

On June 19th, a preliminary roster has been announced by the Japanese federation.

Akatsuki Japan stars Rui Hachimura, Yuta Watanabe and newly crowned B. League MVP Yuki Kawamura headline the 25-man list of candidates for Japan's squad at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023.

Hachimura (Los Angeles Lakers) and Watanabe (Brooklyn Nets) had solid seasons with their respective teams.

At the World Cup, the two are expected to lead the team in a tough Group E, in Okinawa, Japan, against Australia, Finland, and Germany.

Japan, coached by Tom Hovasse, could also have star power in Kawamura, Yudai Baba, Yuki Togashi and Keisei Tominaga.

Kawamura raised eyebrows with his playmaking skills at last year's FIBA Asia Cup in Indonesia and then took his performances to an elite level in Japan's B. League this season with Yokohama B Corsairs.

The point guard led the team into the play-off semi-finals with his passing, scoring and defense.