27 Jul
    10 Aug 2024

    One year and four key changes for Japan heading into the Olympics

    Long read

    It's been an exciting ten months for Japan basketball since their inspiring performance at the World Cup 2023. What are some key changes for them heading into Paris?

    On June 26, the Japan Basketball Association (JBA) announced the final 16 members for the men's national team squad for the Paris Olympics.

    It's been ten months since Japan earned their spot at the Men’s Olympic Basketball Tournament Paris 2024 through the FIBA Basketball World Cup. Under the leadership of head coach Tom Hovasse, many core players from last year remain on the roster.

    However, there are also some new developments. As the team prepares for Paris, what has changed for Japan’s national team compared to a year ago?

    ① Goals

    Head coach Tom Hovasse has set the goal for Paris to reach the Quarter-FInals.

    In the last World Cup, the goal was to be the highest-ranked team in Asia and qualify for the Olympic Games. This goal was achieved.

    This year’s goal is even more challenging. At the World Cup, the competitors towards the goal were other Asian teams such as Lebanon, the Philippines, and China. They aimed to surpass these teams based on win-loss records and point differentials. Japan finished 19th out of 32 teams and achieved their goal, while Lebanon (23rd), the Philippines (24th), and China (29th) finished in lower ranks.

    This time, the objective is to be among the top 8 teams out of 12 selected teams from around the world. The competition towards this goal will be against the world's best teams, not just Asian countries. Achieving this goal will require a significant step up in performance.  

    ② Rui 's Return

    While the goals have become more ambitious, Japan have also strengthened its lineup. Most notably, Rui Hachimura, who did not participate in the last World Cup, has returned to the national team squad. As a starter for the Los Angeles Lakers, Hachimura is undoubtedly Japan's top player at the moment.

    Hachimura's comeback significantly boosts the team. He was Japan's ace during the World Cup in China and the Tokyo Olympics and has improved his three-point shooting, making his style more compatible with Coach Hovasse’s style of basketball.

    At the media day on June 29, Hachimura expressed his excitement about his return to the team: "I am very happy and excited to be back with the national team."

    Regarding Coach Hovasse’s basketball style, he added, "I watched the World Cup games (online). The fastbreak and offensive styles are good for my all-round abilities, so I am looking forward to it."

    Hachimura’s presence will also alleviate the burden on players like Yuta Watanabe and Josh Hawkinson, who carried heavy loads during the World Cup. This will give point guards like Yuki Kawamura and Yuki Togashi more options, and shooters like Keisei Tominaga and Makoto Hiejima more shooting opportunities.

    For players like Kawamura, Tominaga, and Hawkinson, it will be their first time playing with Hachimura, potentially creating new team chemistry.

    ③ Confidence

    Before the World Cup, Coach Tom Hovasse asked each player if they believed they could become the top team in Asia. After confirming each player's affirmative response, the team entered the tournament with a strong belief in their abilities. This confidence stemmed largely from Hovasse's trust in the team, which transformed into collective strength and led to achieving their goal.

    For the upcoming Olympics, Hovasse again asked the players if they believed they could reach the top 8. In February, after hearing about the Olympic goal, Yuki Kawamura stated, "Of course, I am confident. The top 8 is not easy. With strong confidence, we will prepare by giving more than our 120 percent every day, both as a team and individually."

    This time, their confidence is bolstered not only by Hovasse but also by their experiences from last year.

    ④ Next Generation Young Players

    Four players will be cut from the final roster from here, but, notably, 20-year-old Akira Jacobs and 21-year-old Ren Kanechika are among the 16 candidates. Both were disappointed after being cut just before last year's World Cup.

    Since then, Jacobs has grown while playing for the University of Hawaii, and Kanechika has improved from playing with the Chiba Jets in the B.LEAGUE.

    During the media day, Jacobs expressed his excitement about playing with his idols Hachimura and Watanabe, saying, "It's thrilling to not only talk with them but also to practice on the same court and compete in a world tournament together."

    FIBA

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