Since 2012 Shimpei Oikawa has been the Head Coach for Japan’s national men’s wheelchair basketball team. The Japan wheelchair basketball federation announced the extension of his contract until at least 2020 when the Paralympics will take place in their home city of Tokyo. IWBF spoke to him about his ambitions and hopes for the team.

Never satisfied with the current condition of the team, Shimpei Oikawa is always trying to improve things – everything for the big dream of winning a medal at the home Paralympic Games in Tokyo 2020. However, he also knows there’s still a long way for him and his team to go to reach this aim.

“I am looking forward to continuing to improve our basketball in order to reach the top level in the world. To build a team that is at a competitive level in the world is not easy at all especially for the Japanese team, who do not have the physical advantages such as the height and size of players in other countries. It will certainly take a long period of time to develop our basketball.”

After finishing 9th in Rio 2016, the same outcome as in London 2012, Shimpei explained there are a lot of things that they need to develop to get to the next stage.

“I continue to be head coach because I believe that we have taken the right steps and we must keep following them in order to reach the top level in the world for Tokyo 2020. One of our strengths is our speed and quickness. I see the potential for this to make us better and be able to compete at the top level if we use it right.’

All the experiences he has gained in wheelchair basketball – as player as well as coach are important to be able to succeed. As player of the Japanese national men’s team in 2000 he took part in the Paralympics in Sydney, Australia, the World Championship 2002 in Kitakyushu, Japan as well as the 1998 World Championships (Gold Cup) in Sydney, Australia. From 2010 to 2012 he became the assistant coach for the men’s national team – supporting the team at the London 2012 Paralympics Games before he became head coach later that year.

Shimpei attentively follows the developments of wheelchair basketball in Japan.  At the moment there are about 650 players and 73 teams registered to the federation including 8 female teams. He described how wheelchair basketball in Japan is changing dramatically in many ways since Tokyo won the bid to host the Paralympic Games in 2020.

“Last year at the Paralympics in Rio there was so much TV coverage, interviews and advertising related to wheelchair basketball in Japan. This has made our environment much better than ever before, for example there have been big sponsors for the teams, we can use better facilities for our training and we have many more supporters from different areas. I believe that we now have a huge chance to make us move in the right direction.’

More and more Japanese players are also playing in the European Leagues. In Shimpei’s opinion there are both advantages and disadvantages to this.  One benefit from playing in Europe, is that it gives the Japanese players more experience to play at a competitive level against some of the best players in the world, which would not be possible in Japan.

Shimpei added, “This makes players improve their individual performance a lot as well as strengthening the national team. The experience also gives the players something very special which they don’t usually get like making friends from different countries and getting to know different cultures.

“On the other side top Japanese players who are going to Europe could cause for their club teams they used to belong to in Japan to weaken.”

But all in all he thinks that every challenge provides another opportunity to improve the wheelchair basketball in Japan and to make the teams more competitive and stronger for the big event in Tokyo 2020.