Japan starting to make waves in FIBA 3x3

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 27 2022 12:05 PM

The Saitama Alphas of Japan. Handout photo
The Saitama Alphas of Japan. Handout photo

While Mongolia remains the gold standard among Asian nations when it comes to 3x3 basketball, Japan is starting to emerge as a contender.

Mongolia is ranked fourth globally in FIBA 3x3, with its top team, Ulaanbaatar, at No. 8 in the FIBA 3x3 World Tour.

The Philippines has been nipping at Mongolia's heels, with the Cebu Chooks squad recently rising to No. 25 in the World Tour. Japan, meanwhile, has seen two of its teams perform credibly on the World Tour as well.

These two teams -- the Utsunomiya Brex and the Saitama Alphas -- will be in action in the Chooks-to-Go FIBA 3x3 World Tour Cebu Masters, set for October 1-2 at the SM Seaside City Cebu.

Utsunomiya Brex is the highest-ranked Japanese team in the world at No. 28. In the opener of the World Tour, the Utsunomiya Masters, which the team hosted last May, the Utsunomiya Brex dropped close decisions to Liman of Serbia, the second-ranked team in the world, and to Sakiai of Lithuania, sixth in the world. Utsunomiya finished ninth in the tournament.

The team also finished ninth in the Ulaanbaatar Challenger. They had their best performances in the 3x3 tour during the Energy Sukhbaatar Challenger where they copped fifth place and in the Penang Challenger where they finished sixth.

The Utsunomiya Brex is bannered by a pair of Japanese veterans, 6-foot-1 Yosuke Saito, the second highest ranked Japanese in the world at 166th, and 6-foot-2 Yasui Iijima. 

They are complemented by a duo of outstanding Serbian reinforcements: 6-foot-4 Dusan Popovic, who is ranked 117th in the world, and 6-foot-4 Dusan Samardzic, who is 107th in the world. Samardzic was the star of the Serbian national team that placed third in the FIBA 3x3 U23 World Cup.

The Saitama Alphas, on the other hand, are coming back to the Philippines just two weeks after reigning supreme in the Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3x3 International Quest held last September 16 in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.

The Alphas have been active in the FIBA 3x3 tour and is challenging Utsunomiya Brex’s claim as Japan’s top team.

In the Penang Challenger, Saitama made it all the way to the quarterfinals despite having just three players on the roster and going through the qualifying draw. The Alphas earned a slot in the main draw after defeating Penang of Malaysia and Lusail of Qatar.

In the main draw, the Alphas pulled the upset rug from world No. 10 Lausanne of Switzerland, 22-20. Saitama eventually placed seventh in the competition, even higher than Cebu Chooks which finished at eighth place.

Saitama will be fielding in the same roster that won the in Sta. Rosa. Expected to lead is Tomoya Ochia, who at 176th in the world is the third highest ranked Japanese 3x3 player. Ochia is a long-time member of the Japan national 3x3 team and played in the Tokyo Olympics, the 2022 FIBA 3x3 World Cup, and the 2022 FIBA 3x3 Asia Cup.

Six-foot-six Serbian Marko Milakovic, who starred in their title conquest, and compatriot, 6-foot-9 Teodor Atanasov, plus Japanese-Australian Ryo Ozawa complete the Saitama squad.

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