SENDAI (Japan) – This was a tough task for Japan and Tom Hovasse in his men’s national team coaching debut.

It never is easy to go up against a team with high-level talent like China, even when playing at home. The fans in Sendai provided the energy as their heroes battled possession after possession against their rivals.

The Akatsuki Five fought tooth and nail – that was clear for the fans to see – but it was just not enough to withstand China’s firepower. As the dust settled at the end of the weekend, Japan find themselves 0-2 in Group B of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 Qualifiers.

“I think some of the younger players have stepped up and I like their hunger ” – Tom Hovasse

 Japan are already qualified for the FIBA Basketball World Cup as co-hosts of the event in 2023, but that doesn’t that they’ll take these losses laying down.

“I take losses hard so I need to look at the video and work with the staff to figure out what we need to do to improve,” said Hovasse in the postgame press conference after their second loss.

The calm-mannered coach did not display much emotion over the past two games, but you could sense a slight air of frustration of how the recent games went.

He emphasized how they came out with slow starts in both games, down 19-2 to start the first game and 8-0 to start the second. He made note of details on both ends of the floor that the team weren’t doing well, from lack of penetration of staying in front of their defensive assignments.

“The [slow] starts was surprising to me. We talked a lot about it today. We had an hour long shoot-around, we addressed the issues from the first game, but we couldn’t keep their guards in front of us.”

“When it collapsed so did the defense, so we just couldn’t keep containment on a lot of their guards, and we paid for it.”

When you lose by an average of 24.5 points per game in which the team trailed by at least 30 points at one point in both contests, the frustration is understandable.

When asked about the positives he saw over these two games, Hovasse couldn’t help but relieve some of that frustration.

“After getting beat like we did?” the 54-year-old coach answered in a rhetorical but playful tone.

Though Hovasse refers to the losses as “getting beat”, he also acknowledges that there are still a lot of positives to take away from this first window.

“I felt like we started seeing little bits and pieces of what we can do and I really like how we finished the [first] game.”

“The players really worked hard all the way until the end, which for me is a positive.”

More than the effort, it was the promising performances of the younger players and new recruits like Yudai Nishida (10.5 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 2 assists per game) and Ryo Terashima (16 points, 3 assists) that signaled that Japan were still moving forward in the right direction.

(Yudai Nishida)

“I think some of the younger players have stepped up and I like their hunger,” Hovasse said.

“Nishida has been playing great and he’s just got that ‘You tell me what to do, I’m going to do it’ type of attitude which is fantastic.”

“Terashima had a great game as well. I like his energy. He’s a positive player.”

(Ryo Terashima)

“There are some interesting players that we can build on.”

That there is the important line for Japan. Despite the rough beating, there certainly are things that they “can build on”.

“There are some good things I’m going to take away from this, but we really need to regroup during this time up to the second window.”

One thing to expect, might be a shorter list of potential players to suit up for the team in these windows.

“I’m not going to invite as many players to the training camps,” Hovasse revealed. “We need to concentrate on playing our basketball in in a short time with the players who I feel are going to be the  main players and I’m going to try to look at some of the positive.”

However, Hovasse and Japan figure out what they need to do, it is not advised to count them out just yet even if they aren’t under pressure to qualify from this stage

 In case anyone has forgotten, Japan also had a slow start to their World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers campaign with four straight losses. One historic win against Australia and 7 straight victories later and Japan became one of the hottest teams in Asia.

It’s still early here in the World Cup 2023 Asian Qualifiers and who is to say Japan can’t turn the ship around once again?


Via Fiba