Underdog Japan beat Hungary 79-58
Yuta Watanabe rises for a dunk (©JBA)
Co-captains Tanaka, Watanabe lead the way
Team Japan men's basketball team started their second series of preparation matches for Tokyo Olympics on July 7th in Okinawa. The team nicknamed "Akatsuki-Five", which is ranked at 42nd in FIBA World Rankings and yet to welcome back Rui Hachimura and Yudai Baba from their respective foreign team, shone brightly and beat Hungarian visitors (38th in FIBA Rankings) 79-58.
Japan's entrenador Julio Lamas formed a starting unit that featured NBA star Yuta Watanabe and versatile play-maker Daiki Tanaka - co-captains of the team - alongside veteran scorer Makoto Hiejima, former University of Connecticut star and naturalized Japanese Gavin Edwards and Osaka native American Japanese Avi Schafer who attended ACC power Georgia Tech.
Average height of the Japanese starters measured around 6-7 (200.2cm). fulfilling the "+200cm starter unit" vision of Japan's Team Leader Tomoya Higashino and almost equally countered the Hungarian starters who measured a tiny bit higher than 6-7 (201.8cm). Longer, stronger Japan, led by the spirited performances by co-captains Watanabe and Tanaka, surged right from the opening tip.
Watanabe opened the scoring column for Japan with a three-pointer. He reached the double digit and grabbed three rebounds within the first five and a half minutes in the game. Tanaka followed Watanabe's game opening three with an easy layup off his own steal. Also, Watanabe's 10th point came on an assist by Tanaka. Japan went on a 14-2 run during that span. Tanaka countered the Hungary’s second bucket with a middle jumper from the key to make it 16-4. Japan kept attacking and extended the lead to 21-7 by the end of the first quarter.
Hungary kept themselves in the game during the second quarter and made their own 8-0 run early in the third to make it 44-34. But after Watanabe snapped that run with a fall-away jumper from the left elbow, they never made a serious come back and Japan stood victorious with the final score of 79-58.
Watanabe was the leading scorer of this game with 25 points along with seven boards and four assists. Tanaka, Hiejima, sharp shooter Kosuke Kanamaru and energetic swingman Tenketsu Harimoto followed Watanabe with nine points apiece. Edwards crashed the boards all night long for 10 rebounds and also dished out four assists. Tenacious perimeter defender Leo Vendrame led all players with three steals.
Edwards working hard underneath the basket (©JBA)
Midway through the fourth quarter, George Washington University alumni Watanabe produced a highlight with a decisive rim-rattling both-hand dunk off a no-look dish by his long time friend Yuki Togashi, who graduated from Washington D.C.-Maryland powerhouse Montrose Christian High.
Japan stays in Okinawa over the weekend and faces Belgium men on Friday 9th and Finland on Sunday 11th (both JST) before traveling to Saitama for further preparations.
Text by Takeshi Shibata