Head coach Tom Hovasse said Japan were now “on everybody’s radar” after qualifying for the Paris Olympics on Saturday as the highest-placed Asian team at the Basketball World Cup.
Tournament co-hosts Japan beat Cape Verde 80-71 in Okinawa to punch their ticket to Paris with their third win of the tournament, putting them out of reach of their nearest challengers.
Japan are ranked number 36 in the world and had not qualified for the Olympic basketball tournament except as hosts for 48 years.
They came from behind late to beat both Finland and Venezuela and Hovasse said they had “gained the respect of our opponents”.
“I think we showed the world what we can do, and now we’re on everybody’s radar, we’re on everybody’s map,” said the American, who led Japan’s women’s team to the Olympic silver medal in Tokyo two years ago.
“Gaining respect is a big step, winning games at this level is a huge step, so I’m really proud of what we did.”
Japan took control against Cape Verde but suffered a late meltdown that almost cost them the game.
They conceded the first 13 points of the fourth quarter before they regained their composure to close out the win.
Hovasse said the fourth quarter was “hectic and could have been disastrous” but trusted his players to come through in the end.
“These are the moments where you really get a chance to prove yourself but also improve yourself,” he said.
“That’s the mindset all of our guys have. We’ve got some young guys that really stepped up.”
Joshua Hawkinson was Japan’s top scorer with 29 points, including a late three-pointer that helped steady the ship with Cape Verde threatening to take the lead.
Japan went into the World Cup without star player Rui Hachimura, who cited exhaustion after reaching the NBA playoffs with the Los Angeles Lakers last season.
Hovasse said his players “believed in what we were doing”.
“They believed in themselves and their teammates,” he said.
“That’s a big thing of getting the boat moving in the right direction.”