#FIBAAsia2015 Contender Preview: Japan

Amidst all the controversy surrounding Gilas Pilipinas’s neutered roster and compressed preparations, the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship in Changsha, Hunan, China will commence in about a month’s time. 

While our boys struggle to find their form and improve their chemistry, many of our regional rivals are already neck-deep in their training. China and Japan recently wrapped up their European camps, while Iran and Lebanon are on the same continent playing tune-up games. Korea just concluded a series of games opposite Taiwan, and the two are set to butt heads again in the 2015 Jones Cup, which starts in about a week. 

Without a doubt, FIBA Asia is top-of-mind for many people now, and the intensity is only bound to increase as we inch closer to the opening of the competition. With just one outright slot to the 2016 Rio Olympics up for grabs, all sixteen nations participating are sure to pull out all the stops. 

Well, except maybe for our team, which, despite the fact they will play with as much #Puso as they possibly can, will probably reel from having a thin pool of talent and the shortest training time among all teams involved.

Still, in spite of these bumps on the road, the games will go on, and so must we. 

In this series of posts, I will look at each of the ten countries identified as contenders for the 2015 FIBA Asia title. 

In my previous post, I looked at a perpetual thorn in out necks, Taiwan. In this post, I will focus on a team that is hell-bent on reclaiming its place among the continent’s top teams, Japan.


Current national pool:
Joji Takeuchi - 6’10, 30 years old
Atsuya Ota - 6’9, 31 years old
Yuki Mitsuhara - 6’6, 25 years old
Gaku Arao - 6’6, 28 years old
Rui Hachimura - 6’6, 17 years old
Ryumo Ono - 6’6, 27 years old
Kosuke Kanamaru - 6’4, 26 years old
Kenta Hirose - 6’4, 30 years old
Daiki Tanaka - 6’4, 23 years old
Takatoshi Furukawa - 6’3, 27 years old
Makoto Hiejima - 6’3, 25 years old
Keijuro Matsui - 6’2, 29 years old
Takumi Ishizaki - 6’2, 31 years old
Naoto Tsuji - 6’1, 25 years old
Ryoma Hashimoto - 5’11, 27 years old
Yuta Tabuse - 5’9, 34 years old

Last major tournament: 
- Like most Asian teams, Japan’s last major tournament was the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. Like this year, Japan didn’t have any naturalized player in the Asiad, choosing instead to go with an all-local crew that, against all odds and most pre-tournament projections, finished on the podium for the first time since 1994 when the quadrennial games were held in Hiroshima. Japan actually struggled early on, going 1-1 in their preliminary group, losing by one point to Qatar after soundly beating Kuwait. They qualified to the semifinals after going 2-1 in their quarterfinal group, rallying against China and then trouncing Mongolia after getting outclassed by Iran. They lost in the semis to nemesis South Korea before holding off Kazakhstan in the battle for the bronze medal, 76-72. A trio of snipers led Team Hayabusa in scoring, with Kosuke Kanamaru’s 15.1ppg leading the way (he hit more than 47% of his threes). Makoto Hiejima and Naoto Tsuji also did well, averaging a combined 4.3 triples per outing, while the Takeuchi twins put up a combined 24 points, 16 rebounds, and 2 blocks per contest. As a team, Japan hit nearly 8 treys per game, making 43% of their attempts from rainbow country. 

Joji Takeuchi returns to FIBA Asia action for Japan!
(image from Sports.163.com)

Current preparations:
- Japan has been preparing almost since its National Basketball League (NBL) finished in late May. Coach Kenji Hasegawa is pulling out all the stops for their training and conditioning, taking the team to Europe and then having them play a Czech Republic selection a few times at home. American forward Tommy Brenton was projected to be the team’s naturalized player for #FIBAAsia2015, but there wasn’t enough time to finish the process, so Hasegawa has decided to, once again, go all-local in Changsha. There will be a bit of a handicap, though, as arguably his best big man, Kosuke Takeuchi, won’t be around after an injury he incurred in the 2014-2015 NBL season with the Hiroshima Dragonflies. Japan will be one of the teams competing in the 2015 Jones Cup.

Super sniper Naoto Tsuji is set to break out in a big way in Changsha.
(image from FIBA Asia)

Players to watch:
- With Kosuke Takeuchi out, the onus is on veterans Joji Takeuchi and Atsuya Ota to patrol the paint. Without a doubt, this Japanese team will give up a lot of size against most Asian squads, but that doesn’t mean they are wanting for talent. A platoon of 6’6 guys are tasked to backstop Joji and Ota, led by mobile frontliners Ryumo Ono and Yuki Mitsuhara. Watch out, too, for 17-year-old Rui Hachimura, who has been tagged the future of Japanese basketball (along with Yuta Watanabe, of course). Whereas the frontline will be relatively weak, though, Japan will excel tremendously at the perimeter with a plethora of speedy wings and sharpshooters. Kanamaru leads the way here, with fellow dead shots KJ Matsui and Naoto Tsuji raring to launch from the parking lot. Yuta Tabuse, that smallish guy who played a few games for the Phoenix Suns back in the day, will also play in the FIBA Asia Championship for, get this, the first time ever. He’s the oldest one here at 34, but he still packs a punch.

Yuta Tabuse will finally grace the FIBA Asia Championship this year!
(image from Taiwan Hoops)

- Given that Japan is in the “lighter” half of the brackets, Team Hayabusa is heavily favored to reach the quarterfinals alongside defending champion Iran and perennial contender Philippines. Beyond that, however, this all-local cast will be hard-pressed to impress. No matter who they face from the other side of the groupings, it certainly looks like the Japanese will be at a disadvantage, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they finish outside the top four. That would still be an improvement, though, as they finished in ninth place in 2013.

Kosuke Kanamaru is set to burn the hoops again from long range for Team Hayabusa.
(image from FIBA Asia)




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