A Closer Look at Japan's Men’s Basketball Team
A founding member of FIBA Asia back in 1936, the Japanese men’s basketball team, which is commonly referred to as the ‘Akatsuki Five’, has a rich hoop history.
Also known as ‘Team Nippon’, Japan has established itself as one of Asia’s strongest basketball programmes. The team has won the FIBA Asia Cup twice, qualified for the Olympics seven times and reached the FIBA Basketball World Cup six times. Want to uncover more about the Japan men’s basketball team? Here at Courtside 1891, we’ve created this in-depth guide that includes a number of key facts, including the team’s most famous performances, legendary players and future stars.
2024 Summer Olympics - Men's Basketball
The Japan men's basketball team are confirmed as one of the twelve nations that will compete at the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. Japan automatically qualified for Paris 2024 thanks to their performance at the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
The Olympic basketball events will take place between 27th July and 10th of August 2024. The nations currently confirmed to participate are France (host), South Sudan, Serbia, the United States, Japan, Germany, Australia and Canada.
The four remaining places will be confirmed through the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments 2024, which you can stream live with Courtside 1891. The tournaments are currently scheduled for July 2-7 2024.
From Asia and Oceania, the teams that advanced were Lebanon, the Philippines, New Zealand and Bahrain.
Puerto Rico, Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Mexico advanced from the Americas region, following positive results at the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup. They will be joined by the Bahamas, who shocked Argentina in the FIBA Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament in La Banda, Argentina.
From Europe, the competing Olympic qualifying tournament nations are Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Italy, Spain, Montenegro, Greece, Georgia, Finland, Poland and Croatia.
Egypt, Angola, Côte d'Ivoire and Cameroon are the competing African nations.
How Did Japan Do At The FIBA World Cup 2023?
Here are the key stats from Japan's FIBA Basketball World Cup campaign:
- → Final Standing: 19th
- → Results: Played 5 Won 3 Lost 2
- → Top Points Scorer: Joshua Hawkinson 105 PTS (21.0 PPG)
- → Top Assist Provider: Yuki Kawamura 38 AST (7.6 APG)
- → Most Efficient Player: Joshua Hawkinson 28.6 EPG
Japan were the comeback kings in their 3 victories in front of their fans that flooded to Okinawa to watch them play. Finishing third in Group E to eventual champions Germany and Australia, this tournament will live long in memory for the incredible scenes that came with their campaign wins. Akatsuki Japan rode the energy of the crowd to claw back an 18-point deficit against Finland, a 15-point hole versus Venezuela and being 8 points behind Cape Verde to claim their place at the 2024 Olympic Games.
Enjoy all the best buckets from Japan's big comeback win over Finland, below.
Team Presentation Video
Boost your knowledge of the Akatsuki Five with the help of our handy Team Discovery Video. It was released ahead of the FIBA Basketball World Cup that Japan is co-hosted alongside the Philippines and Indonesia.
- → Pre-World Cup FIBA Men’s World Ranking - 36th
- → 2 gold medals at the FIBA Asia Cup
- → 7 appearances at the Olympic Games
- → Qualified for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 6 times
- → FIBA Basketball World Cup debut in 1963
World Cup Qualification
As a co-host nation (alongside the Philippines and Indonesia), the Japan basketball team automatically qualified for the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup. This was the 19th edition of the tournament and it is the first time in history that three nations co-hosted the event.
Despite knowing their spot was secure, the core of the Akatsuki Five did still get quality reps in by taking part in the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers. In the first round of qualifying, Japan were drawn in Group B, alongside Australia, China and Chinese Taipei. They ultimately finished the group in third place on 8 points, defeating Chinese Taipei twice and losing all four of their games against Australia and China.
In this second qualification phase, Japan competed in Group F, alongside Australia, China, Iran, Kazakhstan and Bahrain. This time, Team Nippon won five of their six games, losing only a tricky away game against Iran.
When the results from the first phase of qualifying were factored in (carried over to the second phase), Japan finished the group in third, behind Australia and China. This meant they would have qualified for the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup on merit, had qualification not already been guaranteed.
Best World Cup Qualifying Plays
Japan’s head coach, Tom Hovasse, has said that his side is “trying to usher in a new era of basketball” in the country. Inspired by the women’s basketball side that captured Olympic silver in 2020, the men’s side now plays a tenacious style of hoops that’s defined by hunger, energy and an infectious team spirit.
Interested in seeing the top buckets, blocks and dimes from the Japan basketball team? Take a look at this video of their Top 10 plays from the FIBA Basketball World Cup Qualifiers 2023. Keep an eye out for the amazing dunk from Power Forward Josh Hawkinson; he almost took the rim off!
Current Star Players
Japan announced its provisional squad for FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 on June 19, 2023. This 25-man roster was spearheaded by Yuta Watanabe, who is coming off a 44% 3pt season and will be targeting an NBA ring with the Phoenix Suns in the upcoming domestic campaign. Known as a spark-off-the-bench player with excellent defensive skills, Watanabe has always been the main man for Japan.
This talented Small Forward made his debut for the national team at the 2013 East Asia Basketball Championship when he was just 18. In his country’s game against Macau, he delivered a standout 22-point, 14-rebound performance. At the end of the tournament, he also claimed a bronze medal.
He made his FIBA Basketball World Cup debut in 2019, when he played in all five of Japan’s games, averaging 15.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game.
Sadly for fans of Japanese basketball, Watanabe was not joined at the FIBA Basketball World Cup by Rui Hachimura of the Los Angeles Lakers. This sharpshooter was named in Japan’s provisional squad before he announced plans to prioritize his preparation for the 2023-24 NBA season. His decision came before NBA free agency before re-signing with the Lakers for a reported $51 million over three years.
Along with star performer Joshua Hawkinson (known as the White Samurai), the World Cup was a breakout tournament for US collegiate star Tominaga Keisei. Known affectionately by US college hoops fans as ‘The Japanese Steph Curry’, Keisei is a rising star of Japanese basketball and enjoyed two double-figure scoring games.
Beyond those mentioned, several solid performers during the qualifying phase made the final roster cut including Yudai Nishida and Yuki Togashi.
Legends of the Team
Ask Japanese hoops fans who their favorite player is and they’ll likely say Kenichi Sako without missing a beat. A dynamic player who could fill up the boxscore, Sako was one of the finest point guards of the nineties and early noughties.
A true legend of Japanese basketball, Sako won the Emperor’s Cup 12 times and the JBL nine times. He was also voted as the JBL’s MVP three times and was named to the JBL’s ‘Best 5’ every year between 1995 and 2003. He was rightly inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame in the class of 2020.
Sako made his only appearance at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in 1998. Here, he helped Basketball Japan reach the classification round for only the second time in the team’s history (they ultimately finished 14th). While representing Japan, he also claimed a FIBA Asia Cup bronze medal in 1995 and a silver medal in 1997.
Before Akatsuki Five there was ‘Team Hayabusa’, named after an animal that was synonymous with speed in Japanese culture. Sako played like a hayabusa (falcon) on the court and remains an icon of the sport in Japan.
Historical World Cup Performance
2023 marked Japan’s sixth appearance at the FIBA Basketball World Cup. Despite the team’s long history, they’re yet to experience much success at the tournament. In fact, they didn’t even qualify for the World Cup until 1963.
Overall, the side has now reached the classification round three times in its history. Their best finish came in 1967 when they ended the tournament in 11th place.
Previous Successes and Tournament Wins
It’s a similar story for Japan at the Summer Olympics. Team Nippon took part in the first-ever Olympic basketball tournament in 1936, but they have since failed to make their mark in the competition. To date, they’ve qualified for the Games seven times and their best performance was in the inaugural competition when they finished 9th.
That said, Japan remains one of Asia’s leading sides. In 29 appearances at the FIBA Asia Cup, they’ve claimed two gold medals, five silver medals and seven bronze medals.
They’ve also won two silvers and six bronze medals at the Asian Games, as well as two bronze medals at the East Asian Games.
How to Watch Japan Men's Basketball
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As FIBA’s premium streaming partner for the World Cup, Courtside 1891 provided access to every 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup game! Watch the competition's biggest games and best moments on-demand on our FIBA Basketball World Cup page.
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