WATANABE Becomes Only Second Japanese Player In NBA
MEMPHIS Grizzlies forward Yuta Watanabe, only the second Japanese player in NBA history, hopes to inspire more young basketball players in his homeland after making a historic weekend debut.
The 24-year-old from Kagawa scored two points and grabbed two rebounds for the Grizzlies in a 117-96 home victory Saturday over the Phoenix Suns.
“I was able to play my role in the four minutes of game time, play hard defense and once we had possession, run as hard as I can,” he said. “I just wanted to cover the fundamentals and I think I was able to accomplish that.”
The only other NBA player from Japan was guard Yuta Tabuse, who played four games for the Phoenix Suns in November and December 2004.
“I don’t really pay too much attention if I’m the second, third or fourth Japanese player to play in the NBA,” Watanabe said. “As a basketball player, I want to play in an environment where the team needs me.
“My family, previous coaches, friends, and fans are all very happy for me and I’m just glad I was able to play and advance this chapter of my career.”
Watanabe played four years at George Washington University in Washington DC, earning Atlantic 10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors this past season.
“When I decided to come play for George Washington University, I was hoping I could be a positive influence on the younger generation of players,” Watanabe said. “I’m not sure how much I’m contributing but I hope to be on the court more and inspire kids in Japan.”
Watanabe played for the Brooklyn Nets in the NBA Summer League then signed with Memphis in July. He has spent time with the Grizzlies’ development team working on his skills to make the most of his NBA opportunity.
“I think it’s important to focus on your strengths,” Watanabe said. “The Grizzlies are a really good defensive team and I would like to improve my defense skills to fit within the team culture.
“Another element is the shooting accuracy. If I can shoot a higher field goal percentage, there’s potential for more playing time. Physical strength is also another area I need to focus on, not just now but throughout my career.”
The Grizzlies are off to a 3-2 start to the new NBA season. They next face Washington at home today.