Japanese Basketball Star Rui Machida Fights for Olympic Spot

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Rui Machida of the Fujitsu Red Wave drives against the Denso Iris during a W League game on April 13 in Chofu City, Tokyo.

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — Basketball star Rui Machida, who helped lead the country to its first Olympic medal in the sport at the Tokyo Games in 2021, is fighting for a roster spot for this summer’s Paris Games.

The 31-year-old point guard for the Fujitsu Red Wave in the Women’s Japan Basketball League, or W League, was selected as one of 23 candidates for the national team heading to the Paris Games.

With many rivals jockeying for a spot on the 12-member roster, her selection is far from certain.

Machida stood out during practice at a camp for national team candidates open to the press on May 7.

When asked about her ambitions for the Olympic Games, she replied clearly that she has “extremely strong feelings of wanting to go to Paris.”

She was picked as a member of the All-Star Five of the women’s basketball event at the Tokyo Games, after logging an Olympic-record 18 assists in the semifinal against France. But she has been away from the national team since then, because of a stint in the WNBA and multiple injuries.

During her absence, Saori Miyazaki of the W League’s Eneos Sunflowers developed into become a reliable point guard for the national team, after being third choice for the position at the Tokyo tournament.

Asami Yoshida, 36, of the W League’s Aisin Wings, who captained the national team in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, returned for an Olympic qualifying tournament in February.

“To be honest, I’m fretful,” Machida said of the intense competition for the point guard position.

Machida became the fourth Japanese player to make it to the WNBA when she signed with the Washington Mystics in 2022.

While playing only one season, she was able to gain a new playing style and mentality during her experience in the world’s top league.

She started consciously looking to score more often herself, rather than concentrating on helping teammates score with high-precision passes.

“In order to make the most of the players around me [as a playmaker], I need to show intent to be on the offense and score myself,” Machida said. “I learned the importance of scoring in the United States.”

Machida returned to the W League with her newfound playing style last season, leading her team through the playoffs this season to win the league for the first time in 16 seasons.

Fujitsu head coach BT Toews, a longtime coach of Machida, said that a pass -first attitude had been an issue for her despite her excellent passing skills.

But now, she tries to get points herself and is completely different from before, Toews said.

The national team is set to play a friendly against Australia in Hokkaido in June. Machida is from Asahikawa in Hokkaido and lived in the prefecture through her playing days at Sapporo Yamanote High School.

Machida said the friendly will be her first game to play in the prefecture as a national team member and her first Japan appearance in nearly three years.

“I want to prepare thoroughly for it,” she said.