The Akatsuki Five 'X-Factor'
SYDNEY (Australia) - With a queue of standout shooters longer than most, Japan still needs something different for FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2022 success and that's where Stephanie Mawuli comes in.
The forward offers the Akatsuki Five a dynamic and bonafide 'X-Factor' element that is certainly welcome and could have a big bearing in Sydney if her performance at the Qualifying Tournament in Osaka is anything to go by.
We take a look at the evolution of Mawuli, including the influence of 3x3 on her career and check out how she could be on the cusp of being one of Japan's go-to ballers.
First taste of international experience
Mawuli first stepped out in 2013 at the FIBA U16 Women's Asian Championship
It was the FIBA U16 Women's Asian Championship in 2013 in Sri Lanka when Mawuli first jumped out on the international scene. While her numbers were modest en-route to Japan taking a silver medal, she was the youngest member of the roster. However she did showcase her potential athletic ability with a nice 13 points in the Semi-Finals.
Having seen the youth basketball landscape in Asia, the maiden global footsteps came in the Czech Republic in 2014 at the FIBA U17 Women's Basketball World Cup. Her athletic ability in the paint in particular made people sit up and take notice. Even if it was in short bursts as once again she was the youngest member of the team, with Japan taking 7th place with a 4-3 record.
Turning up the dial in Udine!
It was arguably at the FIBA U19 Women's Basketball World Cup 2017 in Udine, Italy where Mawuli truly landed on the wider radar. Leading Japan in both scoring and rebounding, she was the heartbeat of the team that rode its way to the Semi-Finals. It was a sign of things to come, although success was to really become real after Mawuli started balling out in 3x3 tournaments.
Rocking the 3x3 World
At the FIBA 3x3 World Cup 2019, Japan came up short, but the U23 squad was making waves. Mawuli earned an impressive second-place finish at the U23 3x3 World Cup 2018 in China. The next year, she went on to win the competition, defeating the same Russian team in the Final. Mawuli truly was on top of the 3x3 world! The super form continued at the FIBA 3X3 Olympic Qualifier in 2021 when she was on absolute fire. The blocks, the passing, the strength and all-around game was a joy for her growing army of fans.
A bitter-Sweet Tokyo 2020?
It was such an interesting Olympic debut for Mawuli as she had the honor of representing her nation on home soil and playing in the historic maiden 3x3 event at the Games, but missed out on a medal with a 5th placed finish. Away from 3X3 she missed out on getting a historic silver medal as Japan made the Final for the first time, but did have the pleasure of cheering on sister Evelyn who was part of that roster. Despite not making the 3x3 podium, it was another hugely important chapter and learning curve.
Golden memories from Amman
She may have lost out on a medal at Tokyo 2020, but Mawuli got to land a gold medal at the FIBA Women's Asia Cup 2021 in Amman, Jordan. The Akatsuki Five took a fifth straight title with an epic Semi-Final win against Australia as the forward scored 11 points, prior to posting a priceless 13 points in a similarly tense and exciting Final success against arch rivals China.
Her aggressive approach saw her make three times more free-throws than any of her teammates and she was also the joint-best baller on Japan's roster for steals and that was also important. Defensively, she showed a lot of big plus points in Amman.
Lighting it up large in Osaka
Following on from her fine work in Jordan, Mawuli was exceptional at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2022 Qualifying Tournament in Osaka back in February. Her18 point performance against Canada in particular showed why she is a 'X-Factor' that Japan is likely to need in Sydney.
She finished in her team's top three in efficiency, scoring. rebounding, steals and blocks - the last two an indication of that rapidly growing influence on the defensive end! Now we wait to see if she will continue to evolve and maintain that momentum in Sydney!