[ODDS and EVENS] Yuta Watanabe’s return gives Japan a boost at the FIBA ​​Asia Cup

Japanese Racing Association

Yuta Watanabe brings energy, versatility and a desire to win with him whenever he steps onto the basketball court.

So it’s not surprising that Japan men’s basketball team coach Tom Hovasse is dying for the NBA’s free agent to compete in the upcoming FIBA ​​Asia Cup in Jakarta, Indonesia. The July 12-24 tournament is a key team-building opportunity for Japan, ranked 38th in the world.

Watanabe was not in the squad for his 2023 FIBA ​​World Cup Asian qualifier against Taiwan (an 89-49 win) on Sunday July 3 or against Australia (a 98-52 loss) two days earlier. (Japan reached the second qualifying round.)

But Watanabe’s commitment to play for the Indonesia national team is a big deal, according to Hovasse.

The revised 12-man Akatsuki Five roster for the Asia Cup is a youthful roster with an average age of 25.7 years. Six players are 24 or younger and only three are in their 30s. (The full roster includes: centers Luke Evans, small forwards Takuma Sato and Hirotaka Yoshii, power forwards Soichiro Inoue and Tenketsu Harimoto, point guards Yuki Togashi, Kai Toews and Yuki Kawamura, and shooting guards Yutaro Suda, Yudai Nishida and Keisei Tominaga.)

Invite a veteran

Watanabe, 27, is one of the veterans of the national program. This makes him an important role model and leading leader.

He has not played for the national team since the Tokyo Olympics in the summer of 2021, after which he returned to the Toronto Raptors. Now entering the NBA’s offseason, the Kagawa Prefecture native is poised to contribute again for Team Japan, which includes two promising 21-year-old guards in Kawamura (B.League’s Yokohama B-Corsairs) and Tominaga (University of Nebraska). . among other youngsters on the summer list.

“He joins this team pretty much in the middle of our camp,” Hovasse said of the 6ft 9 (206cm) Watanabe, “so he has a lot of catching up to do.”

But it’s a scenario Hovasse readily embraces.

The manager admitted as much in his post-game chat with reporters in Melbourne on Sunday.

“Having a player of his caliber will help us tremendously,” said Hovasse, who took over as head coach after the Tokyo Olympics to replace the late Julio Lamas.

A view of the Akatsuki Five

After the July 3 game against Taiwan, Hovasse shifted his focus to preparing his players for the Asian Cup. Japan will face Group C opponents Kazakhstan (July 13), Syria (July 15) and Iran (July 17) in the first round.

Watanabe’s arrival comes at an opportune time.

“I think it will give these guys some confidence,” said Hovasse, who coached the Japan women’s team to a silver medal at the Tokyo Games.

“It’s going to give us a little extra boost, so we’ll have a little bit of time when we return to Japan to incorporate it into our game plan and our way of thinking about what we want to do as a team.

“But I don’t know if you’ve ever met Yuta, but he’s 100 percent in, he’s 100 percent focused and he wants to do everything for Japanese basketball.”

hardness and experience

During the Tokyo Olympics, Watanabe’s all-around skills were showcased in Japan’s trio of matches. He had 19 points, eight rebounds, three assists and five steals against Spain, followed by 17 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two blocks against Slovenia. In the Akatsuki Five’s final Olympic game, Watanabe finished with 17 points and nine boards.

He finished second in the team in the standings (17.7). NBA colleague Rui Hachimura of the Washington Wizards led Japan with 22.3 points per game at the Olympics.

As the top leader of the Akatsuki Five, Hovasse’s voice carries the punch when it comes to the current state of the national team.

“I’m excited, I really am,” Hovasse said of Watanabe’s return. “I look forward to welcoming him to us.”

After four seasons as a pro, Watanabe is used to the physical rigors of the NBA. He also played for Toronto’s NBA G League affiliate, the Raptors 905, along with the Memphis Grizzlies and their G League club, the Memphis Hustle.

So his participation in national team training sessions and games can only benefit Japan.

Maturation and development of the team

As Hovasse noted on Sunday, Japan’s young players gain valuable experience by learning to play together and overcoming obstacles along the way. He cited examples from the blowout loss to Australia and the catch-up win to Taiwan to illustrate his point.

“I think the physicality of the game in Australia and the way the referees called it – they were letting off a lot of physical play – shocked us a bit, especially the younger lads. They’re not used to FIBA ​​basketball,” Hovasse commented. “And we preached physicality and toughness, so on the physical side I think we were a little bit more prepared for that today (against Taiwan).

“In terms of mental toughness, that’s something [for] This team’s win today is huge for us because we have to work on that and get that mental strength and confidence that we can beat good teams. We can beat non-Asian teams or we can just play our basketball and win.”

Hovasse recognizes that Japan faces a major challenge, a long, steep climb, in its attempt to reach the next level.

During the July 3 press conference, he mentioned the team’s 38th place finish. Then he said: “We have a lot of young faces here, a lot of young players. Every team will be a challenge for us and we just have to keep improving, keep playing our basketball and we’ll see where that takes us.”

The presence of Yuta Watanabe can clearly improve Japan’s chances of success at the Asian Cup.


Author: Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward [Japan Sports Notebook] here Sundays, in [Odds and Evens] here during the week and Twitter @ed_odevenand find him on JAPAN Forward special sports website, Sports Look.


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