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Thursday, Sep. 8, 2011

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Japan hopes to qualify for the Olympics for the first time since 1976. KAZ NAGATSUKA

Japan hoping to earn respect on hardwood


Staff writer

Head coach Thomas Wisman said that the Japan men's national team has attempted to "regain respectability" since he took the helm last year.

And now it's time for the team to time to show what it has achieved and earn some respect.

As the 26th FIBA Asia Championship prepares to get underway on Sept. 15, Wisman and his 12 players, who were revealed last Saturday, held a news conference at National Training Center in Kita Ward on Wednesday.

"We've had a very grueling program to get to the final 12," Wisman said of his roster, which was narrowed down from 42 provisional players in May. "Each one of the 12 players here earned their spot on the team and has worked very hard to get here."

The tournament, which will be held in Wuhan, China, consists of two round-robin rounds from which the top four teams will advance to the semifinals.

Japan is in Group C along with Indonesia, Syria and Jordan for the first group stage.

There is only one spot allocated for next summer's London Olympics from the tournament, which means the winner will take it. The second and third finishers will advance to the world final Olympic qualifier of next year.

Asked what Team Japan's goal for the 11-day tournament would be, Wisman replied that it is to make it to the semifinal round so Japan will at least have a chance to advance to the final Olympic qualifier.

"As far as our goal is concerned, my goal as a coach is always for the team to show improvement," the American coach said. "Last year we (tried) very hard to regain respectability for the program. We feel we did that last year. This year we have to go another step. So our goal, as I said, is to get to the final four and once we get in the final four, we don't want to finish fourth. Those are our aspirations and I feel our players are capable of doing that."

If not best of the best, Japan used to always be a top contender in the Asia Championship, which is played once every two years. But with the rise of Western and Middle-Eastern Asian nations in recent years, Japan has been stuck in a dark era in the last decade and has never finished higher than fifth-place in the Asia Championship.

Iran has won the last two championships.

Japan, which has not made an Olympics since the 1976 Games in Montreal, had its worst-ever result in the 2009 tourney, finishing 10th.

Kosuke Takeuchi, elder of the famous twin brothers, said that he felt great humiliation four years ago at the Asian Championship in Tokushima, when Japan sought a berth for the Beijing Games but ended up eighth.

"I'd like to play remembering the shame and get revenge in this tournament," said the 206-cm power forward who plays for Toyota Alvark of the JBL. "Japan doesn't have height. So we'd like to play tough defensively to embarrass opponents, and personally I'd like to contribute in rebounding."

Team Japan made two trips to Central-South America and Europe last month to play several exhibition games with local club teams to find ideas on how to match up evenly with bigger opponents.

"I feel we benefitted from those experiences and we look forward to the challenges ahead of us," Wisman said.

Meanwhile, one of the most peculiar things that caught the media's attention was that Yuta Tabuse's name was not on the roster.

Wisman said that he had to go without the former NBA player because his leg injury wouldn't be healed in time.

"We've fought the whole campaign to get Yuta ready. That didn't happen," Wisman said. "Obviously, he's a great player and we'd like to have him. But we can't control the injury situation."



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