SANTA CRUZ de TENERIFE, Spain – After looking so impressive in its overtime win over group winner Belgium during preliminary play, Japan lost control of an early eight-point lead and fell to China, 87-81, to eliminate its run during the FIBA World Cup on Wednesday.
The team ends at 2-2, also defeating Puerto Rico and staying tough with host Spain. It’s quite the turnaround for a program that lost all three group games four year ago in Turkey by at least 14 points to Spain, the Czech Republic and Brazil. Now, one thing is clear. The team is focusing on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, of which as the host team, it was the first to qualify.
“I hate for them to lose because I know how hard they’ve worked,” Japan coach Tom Hovasse told High Post Hoops.
The average age of the Japanese team is 24 years. Only 29-year-old power forward Maki Takada, 25-year-old small forward Yuki Miyazawa, 25-year-old point guard Rui Machida, and 24-year-old forward Moeko Nagaoka returned from the team that reached the quarterfinals of the Rio Olympics, losing to the United States.
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“The characteristic of Japan basketball is our defense and transition offense,” Takada said through an interpreter. “Shooting from the outside puts the game into our place to be confident to compete with the top international teams and we can win some games. Any player on Japan can shoot three-point shots and create shots. Any player can score from anywhere.”
Nako Motohashi was little known before the World Cup, playing for one of the weaker Japanese club teams, the Tokyo Haneda Vickies. The 5’5 Motohashi scored 25 points against China, which were nine more than any other player on the court, while dishing seven assists.
“Our point guard just came out of nowhere,” Hovasse said. “She had no national team experience. She came to try out, and we saw some things that we needed, and the reality was she was even better than we thought.”
The big question now is what will the added presence of Ramu Tokashiki bring to the lineup. The 27-year-old Tokashiki, who stands 6’3, had been a double-double machine in recent FIBA competitions with Japan and sat out the WNBA season with the Seattle Storm in order to train for this event. Coach Hovasse, who is a former player of Penn State and the Atlanta Hawks, said she went down with an injury in June.
“She’s had a nagging injury for years, and I’m hoping she’ll be back,” he added. “She’s probably going to play club this year, we’ll see, when she’s fresh and ready to play. As good as Takada is, she would be my four man. When we have Tokashiki back, we will be able to double these low posts. We have really good pieces.”
With Takada only being 6′, which is the tallest height on the roster, size creates a great disadvantage for Japan. Also, Hovasse mentioned earlier in the tournament that the style of play in Japan is much less physical and players don’t touch one another. Having to adjust to all of these factors while playing internationally adds to why the success of this team is something to celebrate.