AFTER watching Japan score a 3-0 sweep of Meralco-Cadet over the weekend, former national coach Jong Uichico is convinced the Japanese will be serious title contenders in next month’s Fiba-Asia men’s championships in Manila.
Given Japan’s quickness and size, Uichico said it’s important for Gilas Pilipinas to improve its team defense as the Filipinos try to earn a top three finish in the Asian showpiece and qualify for the world championships.
Uichico, an assistant to Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes, said most of the mainstays on the Japanese national team led by Kosuke Takeuchi have improved as evidenced in the Pocari Sweat-sponsored friendlies in Sendai and Tokyo.
“Malakas sila (Japanese players). They are fast and tall at siyempre, they still use the same system they have because of their old coach,” Uichico told Spin.ph on Tuesday.
Japan is bracketed in Group B in the Fiba-Asia with Qatar, Lebanon, and Hong Kong, and Gilas will most likely meet the Japanese in the second phase of the eliminations.
Uichico made special mention of 6-foot-9 power forward Takeuchi, who he said can cause big problems in the paint for Gilas because of his size and quickness.
Takeuchi dominated the third and final friendly match against Meralco-Cadet on Sunday, finishing with a game-high 23 points and 11 rebounds in just 30 minutes of play.
JR Sakuragi, Japan’s naturalized player, didn’t even play in the friendlies but is expected to bring added size and experience for the Japanese squad that finished a strong second in last year’s Fiba Asia Cup in Tokyo.
“We just need to get used to playing teams with the same size as ours or even with teams bigger than us. Takeuchi was big and long,” added Uichico, who called the shots for the PBA-bannered national squad that placed fourth in the 2002 Busan Asian Games in South Korea.
Gilas is set to leave on July 9 for New Zealand for a series of tune-up matches with club teams as well as New Zealand’s famed national squad, also known as the 'Tall Blacks.'