#FIBAOQT: Japan will lean on speed and shooting for Belgrade OQT

(image from FIBA)
*This first appeared on my weekly column on FIBA.com.

Japan, who finished fourth at the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship, on Monday released their 29-man national pool for the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade.

In a bid to continue the overhaul of the senior men's national team program, head coach Kenji Hasegawa has chosen many of the best players from the country's top professional circuits and best schools to try out for the squad that will play in the Serbian capital. Japan have been drawn in Group B with European teams Czech Republic and Latvia, while hosts Serbia are in Group A with Angola and Puerto Rico.

As of this writing, the NBL-Japan players who have been confirmed as part of the pool are the following:

Link Tochigi Brex: Yuta Tabuse, Takatoshi Furukawa, Hironori Watanabe, Naoya Kumagae, Kosuke Hashimoto
Chiba Jets: Yuki Togashi, Fumio Nishimura, Gaku Arao, Ryumo Ono
Hitachi Sunrockers: Yuki Mitsuhara, Joji Takeuchi, Kenta Hirose
Toyota Alvark: Keijuro Matsui, Daiki Tanaka, Tenketsu Harimoto
Toshiba Brave Thunders: Naoto Tsuji, Ryusei Shinoyama, Yuya Nagayoshi
Aisin Seahorses: Makoto Hiejima, Kosuke Kanamaru, Ryoma Hashimoto
Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins: Takumi Ishizaki
Hiroshima Dragonflies: Kosuke Takeuchi

A photo posted by Enzo Flojo/Hoop Nut (@thehoopnut) on

The BJ-League players in the pool are:
Hamamatsu Phoenix: Atsuya Ota
Niigata Albirex: Pape Mour Faye
Akita Northern Happinets: Shigehiro Taguchi

The amateur players in the pool are:
Tsukuba University: Yudai Baba
Mesei HS: Rui Hachimura
George Washington University: Yuta Watanabe

There is no doubt that Japan is riding high after finishing among the top four teams in Asia's flagship event last year. It was the first time Team Hayabusa finished just a breath away of the podium since 1997 when they were runners-up to Korea.

Will Hasegawa be able to trim these 29 names into a 12-strong unit that can scale even greater heights in 2016?

All 12 players named to the 2015 national team are back, led by breakout player Makoto Hiejima. His club teammate Kosuke Kanamaru, a consensus pick among the top five shooters in the continent, was also named to last year's squad, but an injury prevented him from playing. He's now back in the fold and should serve to add more firepower to Japan’s already deadly perimeter game. Another returnee is star big man Kosuke Takeuchi, who will reunite with twin brother Joji up front for the Nippon quintet. Like Kanamaru, Takeuchi missed last year’s joust because of a nagging injury, but his presence this time around should add much needed size to the team, which is expected to be the smallest in Belgrade.

A trio of marquee names to watch are Pape Mour Faye, Yuta Watanabe, who plays in the US NCAA, and high school superstar Rui Hachimura. Pape Faye, the only naturalized player in the pool, should be an interesting addition as he should easily be among the most athletic players. If chosen for the final dozen, his size will be an asset, too. Watanabe and Hachimura, meanwhile, are two of Japan’s brightest young talents. They may yet prove to be too raw and inexperienced to contribute significantly at the senior level, but even if they don’t make the final cut, they will gain a lot just by training with the best Japanese cagers and coach Hasegawa.

With a slew of veterans in this pool, experience will certainly be one of the team’s strengths. That goes hand in hand with team chemistry, since many of the individuals have played alongside each other these past few years in the different continental competitions. As with most Asian teams, speed and shooting will be paramount for Japan. Yuta Tabuse, Naoto Tsuji, Daiki Tanaka, Ryoma Hashimoto, and Yuki Togashi all bring a lot of quickness to the table, while Keijuro Matsui, Makoto Hiejima, Kosuke Kanamaru, and Takatoshi Furukawa will take care of those outside bombs.

One notable omission is super scorer Takuya Kawamura, who last played for Team Hayabusa way back in the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship in Wuhan. Once held to be an NBA-level prospect, Kawamura could bring a lot of wing depth on both ends of the floor. Kawamura could have been a bona fide go-to-guy as well, but, without him around, guys like Hiejima and Kanamaru will have to carry much of the load.

Inheriting JR Sakuragi's spot as the team's naturalized reinforcement is Senegal-born Pape Mour Faye. The 2.0m (6ft 7in) big man should be able to add muscle to Japan's relatively thin frontcourt and beef up their rebounding and rim protection while the Takeuchi twins take care of the scoring.

In all, coach Hasegawa has assembled a solid pool with a good balance of youth and experience. Size will always be a problem for the Japanese, but, as we saw in 2015, they will try their hardest to compensate with their quickness and accuracy.




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