Japan’s performance in the Basketball World Cup earned the team a spot in the Paris Olympics, sparking a national joy that sports officials hope will spread to a player in Los Angeles.
Only 12 teams can qualify for the men’s basketball event at the 2024 Paris Games, unlike the FIBA World Cup, where 32 teams compete.
Japan’s national team will probably need all its talent performing at a high level to hope to win a game in Paris.
And perhaps the most talented Japanese player in history has yet to show whether he will be available for next year’s Olympics.
Rui Hachimura, a forward for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association, has refused to play for Japan in the World Cup, saying he prioritizes his future in the NBA.
Hachimura, 25, who signed a three-year contract with the Lakers in July, clearly wants to enter the 2023-24 season in perfect condition.
Tom Hovasse, head coach of Japan’s national team, said he would welcome Hachimura to the team but stressed that his presence would not change the squad’s tactics.
“If he wants to be with us, I think he might as well come and be with us,” Hovasse said at a press conference on Sept. 3. “Our style will remain unchanged. I want him to play basketball our way if he joins us.”
Although Japan’s World Cup team includes NBA player Yuta Watanabe, Hovasse emphasized the unity of all players.
That approach led to Japan’s unprecedented three World Cup wins and its first non-automatic berth to compete in Olympic basketball.
Hovasse reiterated that he will not make an exception to that style even if Hachimura joins.
That being said, there is no doubt that Japan could use Hachimura’s scoring prowess in the country’s lopsided losses to powerhouse Australia and ultimately win the gold medal over Germany at the World Cup.
“I really hope he’s on our team, but if he doesn’t join us, I’m going to make a good team with its current members,” Hovasse said. “I feel confident that I can do it.”
Tomoya Higashino, technical director of the Japan Basketball Association, shared his hopes for the Olympic team with Hachimura in the lineup.
“I think Hachimura is looking at how we’re doing,” Higashino said of the World Cup. “And I think he feels excited too.”