Japan’s remaining basketball players claim emotional win

Japanese athletes march during the 2018 Asian Games Opening Ceremony at the GBK Main Stadium in Jakarta, Indonesia, August 2018. (Reuters pic)

JAKARTA: The eight remaining members of Japan’s basketball team beat Hong Kong 88-82 on Wednesday to reach the Asian Games quarter-finals after a turbulent few days that saw four team mates sent home.

Inspired by guard Leo Vendrame, the Japanese held off their opponents in a topsy-turvy match that went down to the wire.

The victory was all the more impressive after four Japan team members were ordered to leave the Games on Monday for having spent the night with women in a Jakarta hotel.

The Japanese Olympic Committee revoked the quartet’s accreditation, leaving two thirds of the squad to battle on.

The impressive response of his players left Argentine coach Herman Mandole in tears as he spoke of the challenges overcome in preparation for the match.

“They didn’t do anything,” he said to reporters as he pointed to his remaining players before breaking into tears again.

“Many people have been talking about me and about my players and focus on the other players who are in Japan right now.

“We have been thinking about basketball, but it is difficult you know? It is very difficult.”

Mandole spoke of the great morale in the Japanese camp following a shock victory over Australia in June and an impressive win over Qatar at this tournament.

Tough build-up

It was after Thursday’s match with Qatar that the incident which led to the expulsion of the four players occurred.

Since then, preparations have hardly been ideal.

“We are trying to practice and many media try to take photos and many people are here not talking about basketball, instead talking about another situation,” said Mandole.

“We are basketball players and coaches, not rock stars, so we are not comfortable in this situation.”

Centre Avi Schaefer said, “Obviously, we haven’t had enough players to play five-on-five so going over the plays has been a little difficult.

“We can still do four-on-four or bring the coaches in but it has been tough.”

After securing passage to the last eight, Japan, who have never won gold in the men’s competition at the Asian Games, believe anything can happen.

“Having eight players is not an excuse. We will compete the same as if we had 12 players,” said Mandole, who added that he came into the tournament looking to win it.

Schaefer added, “The eight of us who are here just need to focus on what we can do and what we can do to make the basketball community in Japan better.

“What we can do is just play well and go as far as we can so people just focus on the good stuff. That is our goal.

“That would be a story I guess. I don’t know if it is a good one. It would be a miracle if we could do it.”