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【Wheelchair Basketball】Japan Wheelchair Basketball Championship:Rank Top in Japan Starts May 3

The biggest wheelchair basketball event in Japan, the "Prime Minister Cup Competition Japan Wheelchair Basketball Championship," will take place from May 3 to 5 at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. This year the competition is particularly tough and we expect to see many exciting games. It is also noteworthy that this will be the first time to include female athletes. Which team will be crowned Japan's champion?

Miyagi MAX for a possible ninth-consecutive championship

Miyagi MAX, the bold team from the Tohoku region, will be aiming for the first-ever ninth-consecutive victory. They have been the supreme champions in Japan's wheelchair basketball world. However, Satoshi Sato, long-time Japanese representative until 2015 and one of the top five MVPs at last year's championship, retired last year. He is now an assistant coach for the current team and has started his career in coaching. The impact of losing this leading player will not be small.

That said, they are still one of the favorites for this year. Two Japan representatives have returned to the team after competing among top players internationally. They are Reo Fujimoto and Akira Toyoshima, athletes that contributed greatly to their teams in the Bundesliga in Germany.

It has been about one year since they have played with Miyagi MAX, but they have a history with this team. The mutual trust between members is solid, and it should not take much time to get back their rapport. Fujimoto is able to hit the mark within the restricted area, however difficult the shot, and Toyoshima is known for his speed and sharp moves. They have both improved during their time in Germany, so Miyagi MAX will definitely benefit from their return. They have a good possibility of getting that ninth-consecutive championship.

Fujimoto's height and strength helps him make any shot.

Watch Toyoshima's speed, further improved while in Germany.

NO EXCUSE shows improvement with inter-generational teamwork

Miyagi MAX's greatest rival is expected to be NO EXCUSE (Tokyo). The team now has a new coach, Nakai Kengo, a change that happened last year from Shinpei Oikawa, current head coach of the Men's Japanese representative team, but there has been no significant change in the team's direction and growth.

Many of the regular players in NO EXCUSE are long-time players, and one of their primary issues was training a younger generation to hand over the team. Three new players emerged in response: Tsuyoshi Yuasa, Yukitaka Moriya and Takahiro Ikeda. Yuasa has been a starting member since 2013 and is now the captain. Last year Ikeda returned to the team, and Moriya joined anew. All have improved dramatically over the past year and are now indispensable to the team.

Yuasa is considered the team's playmaker and this year has improved his scoring ability with more frequent shots. Moriya and Ikeda are both high scorers, and are showing assertive offensive playing. They have gained trust from fellow members and contribute much more to the team compared to last year.

The growth of these three athletes has led directly to the improvement of the team, which successfully mixes both younger and older players for a well-rounded team. At the championship they will also have Hiroaki Kozai, a highly skilled player that has played overseas since university. He will certainly bring the team's level up.

Last year NO EXCUSE played Miyagi MAX in the semi-finals, finishing the first half with a tie of 33-33. Although they lost in the end, it was by a mere six points. NO EXCUSE will undoubtedly be an even tougher rival for Miyagi MAX this year. They expect to face off in the finals.

Kozai made 19 three-pointers during the four games at the last championship.

Yuasa, captain of NO EXCUSE aiming for their first championship victory

Multiple champion favorites and promising young athletes

Miyagi MAX and NO EXCUSE are by no means the only possibilities for the championship. The Chiba Hawks have put on a stable performance this year and are known for their tall athletes, including Rio Paralympic Japan Team members Daisuke Tsuchiko and Mitsugu Chiwaki. The Saitama Lions won the Hasegawa Cup in March for the third consecutive year, using their transition speed effectively, and all starting members are part of the Japan representative high performance program. World BBC (Aichi) uses a different tactic from the Lions, slowly but surely creating scoring opportunities, and has the formidable weapon of Tomohiko Oshima on the bench.

Tsuchiko, known for his accurate shots, leads the Chiba Hawks.

The Saitama Lions have many Japan representative high performance program members.

Another thing to watch at the championship will be the performance of younger athletes, especially those who will compete at the U23 World Championships this June. Takuya Furusawa (Para Kanagawa Sports Club) is a candidate for the Japan Team and a captain at the U23. His strengths are his ball handling skills and three-pointers. His decisive playing will impact his team's performance. Renshi Chokai, the youngest player on the Japan Team at the Rio Paralympic Games last year, will play with his local team Sasebo WBC for the last time, as he started attending the Nippon Sport Science University this April. Watch for his world-level speed and his much-improved scoring skills. High school student Yoshinobu Takamatsu (Tochigi Lakers) is another player that is showing breathtaking growth with his extraordinary physical abilities, despite starting wheelchair basketball just one year ago. This will be his first competition for the top spot in Japan. We hope he plays without the fear of failure and shows a strong-minded performance.

Furthermore, we should look forward to the performance of the women who will be attending the championship this year for the first time. These include Japan Team captain Ikumi Fujii (Miyagi MAX), Mayo Hagino (Miyagi MAX), who is showing impressive growth, and seasoned player Mika Oshima (World BBC). We look forward to the performances of these top Japanese female athletes.

What will this year's competition for "number one in Japan" be like? Will the golden years of Miyagi MAX continue, or will there be a new champion? We will find out soon enough—the battle opens on May 3.

Young player Furusawa leads Para Kanagawa SC, a team full of seasoned players.

Will Fujii (right) and Hagino (left) of Miyagi MAX be the first women at the championship to relinquish the team's title?

text by Hisako Saito
photo by X-1



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