4th appearance after a single tournament absence Team videoJapan wants to shine at home
Japan hosts the 2006 FIBA World Championship, wanting to be competitive at home. But the National Team will miss several key players such as Japanese superstar Yuta Tabuse, who was the first Nippon player to have ever played with an NBA team.
Japan will host the FIBA World Championship for the first time this summer. The National Team will count on the support of its fans to achieve a good performance at home. Japan has never really shined on the international level. In 1997, they finished second in the Asian Championship in Riyadh, qualifying for the 1998 World Championship in Greece - their last appearance in a major international competition. Japan suffered from their lack of experience and finished 14th. Veterans Takehiko Orimo, Takahiro Setsumasa, and Satoro Furuta - all over 34 years of age - took part of the competition and are still active in the National Team. And they will provide their experience to their younger team-mates.
Japan has already hosted a World Championship - the 2001 World Championship for Young Men. The Under-21 Japanese National Team, featuring Tomoo Amino, Takuya Sato, Daiji Yamada and Yuta Tabuse, finished 11th. Then a 21 year-old point guard, Yuta Tabuse took advantage of the competition to reveal himself as a very promising player, displaying his quickness and his great passing skills. The next season, he committed to BYU Hawaii University in the United States. In 2004, he became the first Japanese to play with an NBA team, with the Phoenix Suns. But he failed to impress and was released. Tabuse is a superstar in Japan but has yet to enter the NBA for good. He has attended NBA summer leagues since 2003 and has yet to make his senior National Team debut. This summer, playing the 2006 FIBA World Championship at home would have been a great opportunity for him to wear the National Team jersey for the first time. But he turned down the offer to try to gain a spot with an NBA franchise once again.
Tabuse's decision probably disappointed Japanese fans, but not Kei Igarashi. The talented 26-year-old point guard will be the leader of the Japanese National Team at the 2006 FIBA World Championship. Like Tabuse, he is a lightning quick point guard who can score or make his team-mates better with his assists. He led the National Team to fifth place at the 2005 FIBA Asia Championship in Doha, Qatar, averaging more than 10 points and around 3 rebounds and 3 assists per game. He may lack experience at the international level but will be assisted by Takahiro Setsumasa who was the point guard of the team that took part at the 1998 World Championship in Greece. The 36-year-old Takehiko Orimo, another member of the 1998 National Team, may provide his long-distance shooting abilities if he finally decides to join the team. At forward, National Team Croatian head coach Zeljko Pavlicevic will also count on Ryota Sakurai and Tomoo Amino.
Lack of height in the frontcourt has always been an issue for Japan. Zeljko Pavicevic called 2.10 meter-tall centre Fumihiko Aono in his preliminary selection, but he did not join the National Team. Aono is by far the best Japanese seven-footer Pavlicevic could have counted on. In Aono's absence, the tallest players of the team will be the 2.05 meter-tall Takeuchi twin brothers. They represent the future of Japanese basketball but are vastly inexperienced as both of them are juniors at the university. Joji and Kosuke Takeuchi playing for Tokai University and Keio University, respectively, and will not likely become professionals before the 2007-08 season. Competing at the 2006 FIBA World Championship will be the opportunity for them to gain a lot of experience. But it will be difficult for them to be competitive. They will learn a lot by teaming with Satoru Furuta, a 35-year old undersized center who was also on the 1998 World Championship team.
Qualifying for the Round of 16 would be a good performance for Japan. And the goal doesn't seem out of range as Group B is not the toughest one. Germany and Spain likely have too much firepower for Japan. But Pavlicevic's team could knock off Angola, New Zealand or Panama to clinch one of the first four places. Fan support should be a huge help for the Japanese, looking for their best ever performance at a major international competition.