Hawai’i sophomore Akira Jacobs made the senior Japanese national team ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics. The 20-year-old will be the youngest player on Japan’s roster. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Hawai’i’s Jacobs named to Japan national team for 2024 Paris Olympics

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED JULY 8, 2024

HONOLULU – Hawai’i sophomore forward Akira Jacobs made the official 12-player Japanese senior national basketball team for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, Akatsuki Japan announced Sunday. The 20-year-old will be the youngest player on the Japanese roster for the country’s 8th appearance in the Olympics for basketball. 

“Representing Japan has always just been like something that’s really important to me,” Jacobs said in a Zoom with local media following the selection. “The senior national team has always just been a dream of mine … My goal was always [to make the Japan senior national team for] the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics, but given the opportunity, the chance came a lot earlier.”

Jacobs was among the final 16-player pool being considered for Japan across four tune-up games against Australia and South Korea. The final Japanese roster will play two final warm-up games ahead of the Olympics against defending world champion Germany in Berlin on July 19 and world-ranked fourth Serbia two days later in Belgrade. 

The 6-foot-9 forward appeared in 28 games as a true freshman for Hawai’i in 2023-24, averaging 2.4 points and 1.0 rebounds in 6.7 minutes per game. Jacobs found more consistency towards the end of his first year, contributing a pair of 8-point outings against UC Davis over the final month of the season. 

Hawai’i’s Akira Jacobs cheers on his teammates from the bench. The forward appeared in 28 games as a true freshman for Hawai’i last year. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Japan qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics by finishing as the top team from Asia during the 2023 FIBA World Cup, going 3-2 and winning the final two games in the tournament to secure their spot for this upcoming summer. Jacobs was among the final few players cut for Japan ahead of the World Cup and now makes the team just one year later. 

“I’ve gotten physically stronger, like that one year in Hawai’i with Tanner [Hull] really helped me with my strength,” said Jacobs of the one-year difference. “Being able to take more contact while playing a forward position … practicing against guys like Justin [McKoy] and playing against the bigs in the Big West, that was one of the biggest [differences] I’ve seen.”

With the newfound strength has also come more confidence for the soft-spoken sharpshooter, who knocked down multiple 3-pointers in each of his Olympic warm-up games with Japan.

“I know my role, it’s as a shooter,” Jacobs said. “In the first practice game against Korea, I started the game off really bad, missed a couple shots in a row. I feel like a couple years ago, I would’ve stopped there and just not shot the ball. [Now], I have a more of a belief in myself that even if the first couple of plays don’t go well, to be able to work on that next play mentality … I think that’s one of the biggest improvements that I’ve had, which has helped me get to this point.

The experience for the 20-year-old is one made of dreams: fellow Japan national team member and Los Angeles Lakers forward Rui Hachimura is one of Jacobs’ basketball idols. Hachimura returned to play for Japan for this Olympic Games after not playing in the 2023 FIBA World Cup. 

Hachimura and former NBA swingman Yuta Watanabe headline the Japan national team for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Former ‘Iolani standout Hugh (Hogland) Watanabe also made the final 12-man roster for Japan. With more high-level hoops on the way, Jacobs has already gotten introduced to the senior national team level in a baptism-by-fire matchup in practice.

“The biggest [challenge] for me was my first time matching up with Rui Hachimura,” the 20-year-old forward said with a smile. “He’s been someone who has been so important in my basketball journey … I started watching him when he was at Gonzaga. So, the first time matching up against him and how much faster and how strong he is, his decision making … It was like something that I want to be at. So playing against him – like the first practice – year, it felt like I was getting cooked.”

Akatsuki Japan will be in Group B when the Paris Olympics begin, looking to advance to the quarterfinals out of a loaded pool that includes Germany, Victor Wembanyama-led France and the 12th-ranked squad in the world in Brazil. Japan faces off against Germany first on July 27 at 1:30 a.m. HT to begin the group stage.