Basketball World Cup 2023: Hovasse-led Japan Grabs Spot at Paris Olympics with ‘Confident’ Victory

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Japan coach Tom Hovasse shouts out directions to his players during Saturday night’s game against Cape Verde at the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

NAHA — Japan is set to appear at the Paris Olympics next year after securing a berth with an 80-71 victory over Cape Verde at the FIBA Basketball World Cup on Saturday night.

Coach Tom Hovasse, who was in charge of the women’s team that earned the silver medal at the Tokyo Games for Japan, has continued to emphasize what has again become a driving force for basketball here: “The power of belief.”

That’s how Japan closed out its classification round finale for world rankings 17-32. The buzzer that ended in a victory at Okinawa Arena over Cape Verde left Japan as the top-ranked Asian side.

Hovasse said he was thrilled to earn a spot at the Paris Games next year and that everyone set the goal, and they all believed.

The American-born Hovasse took over as the coach of men’s team in autumn of 2021 after the Tokyo Games. The men’s squad at the previous World Cup in 2019 dropped all five of its games. It also lost all three matchups at the Tokyo Olympics, showing a gap on the international level that was wider than the Japanese women had experienced.

But Hovasse didn’t hesitate to accept the offer to coach the men’s team, saying the challenge was compelling.

Japan, which lacks size, relies on its ability to sink a bevy of 3-pointers on the offensive side, while playing aggressively on the defensive. Hovasse’s team plays the same style as the women did during his tenure.

But just as the women, the men seemed to be lacking in confidence. And Hovasse was adamant, urging his players to “Please believe. Believe. Believe.”

Hovasse has continued to hit his players with that phrase during practices, games and even in press conferences.

Early on during his tenure as men’s team coach, the players had some moments when they looked lost. But as the players built up a resume of games, they had more instances in which they appeared to play more as a team.

“If not everyone on the team believes we can win, then we can’t win,” said Yuta Watanabe of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns.

“Coach Hovasse tells us that, and we players continue to reaffirm that.”

In fact, Watanabe showed just how big a presence Hovasse is by saying numerous times, “This team has confidence.”

In a World Cup group packed with excellent teams, Japan’s never-give-up attitude was apparent from the first round. And under Hovasse, the 12 players didn’t doubt their potential, eventually opening up a new path for basketball in Japan.