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QATAR, JAPAN FLY INTO MANILA WITH QUESTIONS

10:33 PM July 21, 2013

With West Asian powerhouse Lebanon out of the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship as a result of a four-year suspension, Group B of the tournament will only have three teams with FIBA opting not to invite either Iraq or the United Arab Emirates as was initially speculated.

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Group B will now only have Qatar, Japan, and Hong Kong.

Japan is ranked 35th in the world by FIBA followed by Qatar at number 36. Hong Kong is at number 71.

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Qatar and Japan are perennial qualifiers for FIBA Asia while Hong Kong is back after its last appearance in the 2007 edition that was held in Tokushima.

Qatar is considered to be a dark horse contender at the 27th FIBA Asia Championship. New head coach Tom Wisman will have his work cut out for him as Qatar lost a pair of exhibition matches to Tunisia 76-64 and 68-35 before their trip to Manila.

“We didn’t play the first match well and the team suffered from many shortcomings. To me, the results of these games aren’t that important as I’m just trying out new permutations and combinations,” Wisman explained.

“We changed our tactics in the second match and it proved to be effective. The team performed much better. But we’ll sit down and analyze where we went wrong. I should say I’m not too disappointed with the players’ overall display,” said Wisman.

Ironically, Wisman, an Australian national, was the former head coach of Japan and was tasked with helping the land of the Rising Sun achieve Olympic qualification for the 2012 London Summer Games. Despite masterminding Japanese team Link Tochigi Brex to the Japan Basketball League title in 2009-10, Wisman found Olympic qualification a much more difficult task.

Japan is flying into Manila in a somewhat dispirited state after finishing the recently concluded Jones Cup with a 0-7 record.

Wisman’s replacement as Japan coach, former national player Suzuki Kimikazu, is optimistic about Japan’s pursuit of a berth in the 2014 FIBA World Championship in Spain with JR Sakuragi rested and healthy.

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“Sakuragi plays an important role for this team.” Suzuki said. “Several national teams have naturalized players as centers, so we need Sakuragi.”

Japan will field a young team led by Sakuragi, Kosuke Takeuchi, Takahiro Kurihara, Daiki Tanaka, and Ryota Sakurai. Also in their roster is young 6-7 small forward Yuta Watanabe who will be attending St. Thomas More Preparatory School in Connecticut in the United States after the FIBA Asia tournament in hopes of playing for a Division One school.

Suzuki is hoping that Watanabe will show his worth for the national team despite admitting several months ago that the young prodigy is not ready for seniors competition.

“It’s now or never for Watanabe,” pronounced the head coach.

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