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[ODDS and EVENS] Basketball World Cup: Japan Eager to Craft a New Narrative

Only three players return from Japan's 2019 Basketball World Cup roster, plus impressions of Golden Boot winner Hinata Miyazawa and hurdler Shunsuke Izumiya.

The late, great Bill Gallo deftly bounced from topic to topic in his iconic New York Daily News sports columns. And today's missive aims to follow suit, leading off with thoughts on the upcoming FIBA Basketball World Cup.

For starters, what's different about Japan's 2019 World Cup roster and the current 12-man squad?

Practically everything. 

Only three players ― guards Yudai Baba and Makoto Hiejima and forward Yuta Watanabe ― appeared in Japan's five World Cup games in China in 2019 and are now among the dozen Japan players set to compete in Okinawa.

Change ― a roster overhaul ― is not necessarily a bad thing, though. Japan was winless in five games at the 2019 World Cup, and it lost all five by double-digit margins, including 98-45 to the United States.

This is a new era for Team Japan, which will not include 2019 World Cup participants Rui Hachimura, Seiya Ando, Shuto Ando, Ryusei Shinoyama, twin brothers Joji and Kosuke Takeuchi, Nick Fazekas, Daiki Tanaka and Avi Koki Schafer at Okinawa Arena.

Basketball World Cup
Yuki Togashi is the captain of Japan's Basketball World Cup squad. (KYODO)

Point guard Yuki Togashi, the current team captain, missed the 2019 World Cup after breaking a bone in his right hand in practice that July. But he was back on the squad for former bench boss Julio Lamas' final tournament in charge, the Tokyo Olympics, in the summer of 2021. At Saitama Super Arena, Spain (88-77), Slovenia (116-81) and Argentina (97-77) cruised past Japan for a trio of Olympic wins.

Watanabe's Sense of Duty at the Basketball World Cup  

With memories of disappointment at the 2019 Basketball World Cup and the Tokyo Olympics, Watanabe said he feels a sense of duty to play a pivotal role in leading the national team to success in Okinawa.

"As a leader, I find myself in a position to lead the team to victory," Watanabe was quoted as saying by the website Basket Count in a July 2023 interview. "But in major international competitions, we have suffered five consecutive defeats in the previous World Cup and three consecutive defeats in the Tokyo Olympics. 

"As a key player, I believe I must fulfill my responsibilities there."

Japan, ranked 36th in the world, meets world No 11 Germany (Friday, August 25, 9:10 PM JST), No 24 Finland (Sunday, August 27, 9:10 PM) and third-ranked Australia (Tuesday, August 29, 8:10 PM) in Group E. The top two teams will advance to the second round. (Check out the full schedule on the tournament website.)

After five seasons as a pro in the NBA and NBA G League, Watanabe believes that as a veteran he must make a winning impact in this tournament. Without victories, he said, it may be time for a change.

"It's no use having players who can't win staying at the top indefinitely," the Phoenix Suns player told Basket Count. "If that's the case, it's better to quickly go through the generational change since there are many talented young players."

Japan head coach Tom Hovasse (FIBA.BASKETBALL)

Hovasse's General Ambitions

To some extent, the generational shift has already started. Head coach Tom Hovasse has given Keisei Tominaga and Yuki Kawamura, both of whom are 22, steady playing time in national team games this summer. 

In a recent interview with Japanese-language website Sportiva, Hovasse clearly spelled out how he hopes his team performs in the World Cup.

"I want to play basketball that is persistent, that doesn't stop, and that has a high level of skill," Hovase commented.

He added, "I want to play basketball with 3-point shots and attack the paint on the fast break and in transition."

Japan's Hinata Miyazawa scores against Norway in a round of 16 match at the FIFA Women's World Cup in Wellington on August 5. (Amanda Perobelli/REUTERS)

It's just a shoe!

Miyazawa Wins Golden Boot 

Nadeshiko Japan's Hinata Miyazawa finished the FIFA Women's World Cup as the top scorer (five goals) among all players in the 32-nation tournament, which wrapped up on Sunday, August 20. To win the Golden Boot is always a big deal at the World Cup ― for Miyazawa, it represents the realization of her potential.

Expect Miyazawa to be one of the cornerstones of the Japan national team for years to come.

The dynamic 23-year-old midfielder's overall contributions in Japan's five matches in New Zealand were eye-opening to a global audience.

"I am happy to have been awarded the Golden Boot," said Miyazawa, who also plays for the WE League's Mynavi Sendai Ladies, in a statement. 

She continued, "I would like to thank not only my teammates, but also all the coaches who have guided me and everyone who has supported me."

Shunsuke Izumiya (center) competes in a men's 110-meter hurdles semifinal heat at the World Athletics Championships on August 21 in Budapest. Britain's Tade Ojora (left) and Daniel Roberts of the United States race alongside Izumiya. (Bernadett Szabo/REUTERS)

Izumiya Sets New Benchmark for Japanese Hurdlers 

Shunsuke Izumiya won his semifinal heat in the men's 110-meter hurdles at the World Athletics Championships on Monday night, August 21 in Budapest. He finished the race in 13.16 seconds.

About an hour and a half later, Izumiya was back on the track with a world title on the line.

What's more, he became the first Japanese man to qualify for a 110 hurdles final at the world championships.

In the eight-man final, American Grant Holloway captured his third consecutive world title (12.96 seconds), outdueling Jamaican Hansle Parchment, the reigning Olympic champion, who reached the finish line in 13.07. Both men ran season-best times.

Daniel Roberts, also of the United States, secured the bronze in 13.09. Another American, Freddie Crittenden, placed fourth (13.16), while Izumiya was 0.10 seconds behind Roberts' third-place pace.

The qualifying heats were held on Sunday, August 20, and Izumiya was the runner-up in his race (13.33 seconds) to reach the semifinal round.

With an ambitious goal of becoming a medalist at the 2024 Paris Olympics, Izumiya insisted after the 110 hurdles final that he needs to increase his stamina in the months ahead.

"I have to build up the physical strength and muscle strength to run three races well," Izumiya said, according to Kyodo News.

Izumiya appears to be on an upward trajectory in his specialty race. 

After finishing 14th at the 2022 World Championships, he raised his profile with first- and second-place performances at the Diamond League's Lausanne meet (June 30) and London meet (July 30), respectively.

A fifth-place finish in Budapest represents a solid foundation to build on.

Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and find him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @ed_odeven.

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