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Hiejima pumped up for Japan's new challenges

TOKYO (FIBA Asia Cup 2017) - Japan have relied heavily on talented point guard Makoto Hiejima the past couple of years in Asia and that looks set to continue under new coach Julio Lamas.

The team's leading scorer at the FIBA Asia Cup 2015 in Changsha and also a member of the Japanese side that played at the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Serbia, Hiejima will need to be at his best if the team is going to continue to take positive steps at the FIBA Asia Cup 2017.

6 Makoto Hiejima (JPN) - Japan v Chinese Taipei, 2017 EABA Championship for Men (JPN), Nagano(Japan), Semi Finals, 6 June 2017
The event will be played in Beirut, Lebanon, in August, and will have Oceania juggernauts Australia and New Zealand in the field. The Australians, who were fourth at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, have a NIKE FIBA World Ranking of No. 10 while Japan are joint-No. 48 with Chinese Taipei.

"I'm sure it will be much harder to win with Australia and New Zealand, who are world basketball powerhouses," Hiejima said to FIBA.com. "However, I have more expectations that the level of basketball around Asia will surely improve."

Japan will take on Australia, as well as Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong, in the Group Phase.

"I'm excited that the top-level basketball team, Australia, is in our group," Hiejima said. "I'm looking forward to having precious experiences and also, I'll do my best to achieve a good result in the FIBA Asia Cup."

Japan, who are looking to be in top form when they run onto the court as the host nation of the 2020 Olympics, desperately want to clinch a spot in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019.

To do so, they will have to have a successful World Cup Qualifying Campaign which gets underway in November.

Japan will again square off against Australia and also face the Philippines and Chinese Taipei. It promises to be a very big challenge.

"The change in the system of qualification means we will need to play the qualification in the middle of our league season," Hiejima said. "It will be tough but the situation will be same for all countries.

"I would like to make it to the FIBA Basketball World Cup and I am sure these qualification games will be great opportunities for all of us before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. I am looking forward to playing against the world powerhouses."

Hiejima says he is excited to work under the new national team boss from Argentina. Lamas has succeeded Kenji Hasegawa at the helm.

"No matter what kind of role I'm given, I'd like to play as the head coach expects me to and do my best," Hiejima said.

Lamas has a big reputation in international basketball. He led Argentina at the 2012 Olympics in London and at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2014 in Spain. Is he the right man to help Japan, a team that, other than last year's disappointing showing at the OQT, has been making progress?

"I haven't yet played under Mr. Lamas and I don’t know what kind of basketball Mr. Lamas will show us," Hiejima said. "However, I am sure basketball in Japan has been improving since I first got selected in the national team. And I look forward to that getting much better from now on."

Source: http://www.fiba.com/asiacup/2017/news/hiejima-pumped-up-for-japans-new-challenges

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