Nick Fazekas will play on the international stage next week as a member of the Japanese national basketball team.
Fazekas, a star for the Nevada Wolf Pack from 2003-07, became a naturalized Japanese citizen last year and was a key reason behind Japan qualifying for the 32-team FIBA World Cup, which kicks off Saturday in China.
Japan is in Group E along with Czech Republic, Turkey and the United States. The top two teams will advance to the quarterfinals for knockout play. Japan plays Turkey on Sunday, Czech Republic on Tuesday and the U.S. on Thursday.
“The whole country is paying attention," Fazekas told the Japan Times. "It’s different in a sense. It carries a lot more weight. It carries a lot more eyes on you."
After playing in the NBA, the G League and in Belgium, France and the Philippines, Fazekas arrived in Japan in 2012 and has called the country home since then as one of the top stars in Japan. He was the B.League's MVP in 2017 and has made the B.League Best Five in each of the last two seasons, playing for the Toshiba Kawasaki Brave Thunders.
The 6-foot-11, 235-pound forward, who had his number retired by Nevada last winter, is one of two big stars on the team. Former Gonzaga standout Rui Hachimura, a first-round pick in this year's NBA draft, also is on the team.
“Rui’s the most talented player we have,” Fazekas told the Japan Times. “I mean, if Rui’s not going to play well, we are not going to win. We’re obviously here to play well to win, but at the same time, if some of us have mediocre games and Rui picks up the slack, we can still win. But if Rui’s not going to play well, it’s going be to hard for us to win.”
Japan is an underdog in its Group, which is heavily favored by Team USA. Fazekas said getting to the knockout stage would be huge growth for Japan.
“I would say we are going to probably play close to pretty much perfect," Fazekas told the Japan Times. " We are going to have the ball bounce our way."
Fazekas played a huge role in Japan making it out of Asian Qualifiers to advance to the World Cup. Japan lost its first four games of the qualifier before winning its final eight games to qualify by one game along with Australia and Iran. Fazekas led all players in the qualifiers in scoring with 27.2 points per game and was second in rebounding at 12.5 boards per game. He shot 56.9 percent from the field.
The World Cup also will act as qualification for the 2020 Summer Olympics, taking the top two teams from the Americas and Europe and the top team from Africa, Asia and Oceania. Since the 2020 Olympics will be held in Tokyo, Japan is expected to get an automatic bid into the event.