International basketball is certainly having a moment in Japan. Last summer the country hosted many of the world’s top stars for the international games in Tokyo and this month the defending NBA Champion Warriors will face off against the Washington Wizards in a pair of preseason games for the NBA Japan Games 2022 Presented by Rakuten & Nissan.
But it isn’t only athletes from the pro ranks bringing international b-ball to Japan. Earlier this summer, Rakuten and the All Japan University Basketball Federation (JUBF) held World University Basketball Series by Sun Chlorella, an annual champions league-style tournament for university basketball teams.
In the Series, Ateneo de Manila University from the Philippines made history by winning the inaugural tournament, further establishing the Philippines as a country to watch in international play.
The World University Basketball Series’ unique format shares similarities with some of the world’s top annual sports tournaments, such as UEFA’s annual Champions League soccer tournament for its international participants; or perhaps the NCAA’s Final Four basketball tournament, which aims to crown the year’s best US college basketball team. Like these tournaments, the World University Basketball Series looks to become a standard-bearing competition as it allows college players to demonstrate their skills on a global stage.
Future stars emerge
In a tough-fought final match, the Ateneo Blue Eagles overcame Japan’s Tokai University Seagulls 68-59 to finish the tournament undefeated en route to the championship. Held over three days between August 9-11 at Yoyogi National Stadium Second Gymnasium in Tokyo, the league-style tournament also featured Universitas Pelita Harapan from Indonesia and National Chengchi University from Chinese Taipei. Organizers hope to expand in future years from the four teams invited to this year’s events to include more teams and countries in the future.
Tournament standouts included Tokai’s Hiroki Matsuzaki, who scored the most points in the final, and Ateneo’s 200cm tall forward Kainoa “Kai” Ballungay, who was named tournament MVP. In comments made to the Filipino-Japanese Journal following his team’s victory, Ballungay was humble and gave all the credit to his teammates. “I’d like to thank my teammates; I’m nothing without them. They put me in a lot of good positions to shoot the ball.”
Teamwork drove success off the court
While the spotlight was rightfully focused on the court, the event’s international collection of sponsors, which included Singapore-based Web3 entertainment company Fellaz and Rakuten Sports, which focuses on creating partnerships built on shared values with professional sports teams, athletes, brands and rights-holders, helped make the inaugural Series a success.
Rahul Kadavakolu, Vice President of Rakuten’s Global Sport Business, said “The purpose of this first-of-its-kind tournament demonstrates with utmost importance the power sports has in empowering young talent and diverse communities from all over the world. This year’s tournament was the ideal stage for athletes to unleash their potential and showcase their skills, while highlighting the power of international competition.”
In regard to the partnership with Fellaz, Kadavakolu commented, “elements of Sports and Entertainment are converging together to offer fans a wholesome experience. The partnership with Fellaz highlighted how the launch of Uptown Boy NFT and the halftime show were able to value add to the overall WUBS fan experiences. We are grateful for this partnership and we look forward to future partnerships.”
Basketball poised for success in Asia
Given the success of the inaugural World University Basketball Series, the explosive growth in popularity of basketball in Asia, and the motivation of its organizers, basketball fans in Japan and throughout the region should have plenty of reasons to be optimistic.