FIBA Basketball World Cup medal contender Australia does not expect an easy time against co-host and Group E opponent Japan despite the gulf between the teams in the world rankings, forward Nick Kay said Sunday.
The 31-year-old frontcourt workhorse, who won Olympic bronze with the Boomers two years ago in Tokyo, knows the Akatsuki Japan roster better than most after spending the past two seasons with Japanese B-League franchise Shimane Susanoo Magic.
Speaking to the media after helping his country grind out a 78-74 win over fellow heavyweight France in a World Cup warm-up in Tokyo, Kay said the world No. 3 Boomers were wary of 36th-ranked Japan ahead of their Aug. 29 clash at Okinawa Arena.
"I've played against these guys every week, and they're going to be very tough to beat," Kay said.
"We've obviously got a tough game ahead when we get to Okinawa."
A number of Akatsuki Japan players were among the audience Sunday at Ariake Arena, taking in a close view of their group-stage opponent from near the court.
After getting the start for Brian Goorjian's team, Kay scored 12 points, grabbed five rebounds and put his body on the line with a pivotal defensive play late against Les Bleus, who had built a big early lead and did not trail until the final minute of the game.
As French center Rudy Gobert drove to the basket, Kay took an elbow to the face from the Minnesota Timberwolves big man, resulting in an unsportsmanlike conduct foul that enabled Australia to tie the game 72-72 from the stripe with 1:16 left in the game.
The Boomers then took their first lead on a Patty Mills two-pointer with 0:36 remaining to eventually claim victory in an at-times heated contest between potential World Cup knockout-stage opponents.
"It was physical, but that's what you want," said Kay, whose head was heavily bandaged after the game.
"If you go out there and play soft, you're not going to be ready for the World Cup. I'm glad we could have a good, tough game like that, and we'll get better because of it."
While he was focused on battling with France's imposing frontcourt, which also featured former Boston Celtics big Guerschon Yabusele and 2.18-meter Olympiacos center Moustapha Fall, the presence of Shimane fans in the crowd, cheering his every touch of the ball, did not escape Kay's attention.
"I love it. The Shimane fans are so great, the best fans in the league," he said. "It was good that we could go out there and put on a good performance and get a win for them."
No. 11 Germany and No. 24 Finland will also feature in Okinawa-based Group E at the World Cup co-hosted by Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia, which tips off Friday and runs through Sept. 10.