As anticipation builds for the upcoming “FIBA World Cup 2023,” the men’s Japanese national basketball team faced off against Angola in their final pre-tournament exhibition match at the Ariake Arena. With encounters against France and Slovenia also on the horizon, the team showcased a potent blend of talent and dedication, with a particular resurgence seen in the form of Yudai Baba.
In this pivotal encounter against Angola, the Japanese team sought to fine-tune their strategies and synchronize their gameplay, offering a glimpse of what’s to come in the FIBA World Cup, a mere 10 days away. A noteworthy aspect of this match was the presence of both Yuta Watanabe and Josh Hawkinson on the roster, marking a significant moment as the full 12-member squad took to the court for the first time.
Early in the game, Japan exhibited their prowess, with Keisei Tomita’s precision 3-point shot driving them ahead. The combined efforts of Watanabe and Hawkinson further solidified their commanding start, instilling optimism among fans.
However, Angola’s resolute defense gradually curbed Japan’s momentum, leading to a 14-16 score in Angola’s favor by the end of the first quarter. Amidst the intensity, Yuta Watanabe encountered a setback as he suffered a sprained ankle, necessitating his substitution during the second quarter. This, in turn, challenged Japan, leading to a temporary lag in their performance.
The second half of the match witnessed the emergence of Yudai Baba as a driving force. Baba, who had showcased varying levels of performance in the lead-up to the FIBA World Cup, displayed renewed vigor on the court. Notably, his stats in the exhibition matches leading to the event depicted a player evolving with each game, with an average of 8.0 points, 37.5% field goal accuracy, and 23.5% success rate in 3-point attempts.
Baba’s journey had been marked by a mixture of standout moments and periods of inconsistency. From a standout 18-point performance against Chinese Taipei to more subdued showings, his path had been characterized by its ups and downs. However, in the game against Angola, Baba’s resilience and commitment were palpable.
While the first half had seen turnovers and lackluster shots, Baba rallied in the second half with a more aggressive offensive strategy. Reflecting on his renewed approach, Baba noted, “The first half wasn’t up to my expectations, and that realization drove me to adopt a more carefree approach in the second half. I focused on enjoying the game, leaving behind the tension that had weighed me down. It was a conscious decision to live in the moment and embrace the joy of basketball.”
Baba’s transformation was visible in his performance, as he strategically attacked the paint, earning 10 free throw attempts. His performance played a pivotal role in Japan’s 75-65 victory against Angola. Although his contribution was significant, there’s a shared sentiment that even greater potential lies within him.
Coach Tom Hovasse acknowledged Baba’s fluctuating form, stating, “Baba has experienced highs and lows recently. He questioned himself during plays he missed. While the first half wasn’t ideal, his mindset shifted significantly in the second half. Baba’s multifaceted skills are crucial – from defense to physical play, and his ability to drive. Despite recent struggles with his 3-pointers, his capabilities remain vital. He’s poised to step up.”
For Baba, the road leading to his selection for the tournament was fraught with challenges. He revealed, “The surge from the younger generation and the need to deliver results instilled a sense of urgency I’ve never felt before. I’ve been pondering my performance, wondering if it’s truly up to the mark. Now that I’ve been chosen, the real battle commences.”
Looking ahead, Coach Hovasse shared his desire for Baba to embrace his unique playing style and focus on the essence of basketball. He stressed the importance of collective effort and a sense of unity, where every player contributes as a primary option. Baba, a player with a wealth of experience gained from playing in diverse settings, remains a beacon of hope for the team’s success.
As the FIBA World Cup draws nearer, the stakes are higher than ever. With Yudai Baba’s transformation exemplifying the spirit of resilience and determination, Japan’s basketball enthusiasts eagerly anticipate witnessing his impact on the grand stage.