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Yuta Watanabe

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Yuta Watanabe
Yuta Watanabe GW.jpg
Watanabe playing for George Washington in NCAA
No. 12 – Memphis Hustle
PositionSmall forward
LeagueNBA G League
Personal information
Born (1994-10-13) October 13, 1994 (age 24)
Miki, Kagawa
Listed height6 ft 9 in (2.06 m)
Listed weight205 lb (93 kg)
Career information
High school
CollegeGeorge Washington (2014–2018)
NBA draft2018 / Undrafted
Playing career2018–present
Career history
2018–presentMemphis Grizzlies
2018–presentMemphis Hustle
Career highlights and awards
Stats at

Yuta Watanabe (渡邊 雄太, Watanabe Yūta, born October 13, 1994) is a Japanese professional basketball player for the Memphis Grizzlies of the National Basketball Association (NBA), on a two-way contract with the Memphis Hustle of the NBA G League. He played college basketball in the United States for the George Washington Colonials after becoming the first Japan-born student athlete to secure a NCAA Division I basketball scholarship. He was named the Atlantic 10 Conference's defensive player of the year in 2018. He has also represented Japan internationally and helped the team win the bronze medal at the 2013 East Asia Basketball Championship.[1]

Before moving to the collegiate level, Watanabe attended Jinsei Gakuen High School in Zentsūji, Kagawa. He later transferred to St. Thomas More Preparatory School in Oakdale, Connecticut in 2013. Watanabe rose to fame with this high school program, and was one of their most valuable players in the National Prep School Invitational as a senior in 2014. In college, he became the fourth Japanese-born Division I basketball player of all-time.

High school career[edit]

Watanabe attended Jinsei Gakuen High School in Kagawa. He led the basketball team to the runner-up spot of the All-Japan High School Basketball Tournament in his final two years with the program. While in Jinsei Gakuen, Watanabe said his career goal was to make it to the NCAA and ultimately join the NBA.[2][3]

In late 2013, Watanabe traveled to the United States and attended St. Thomas More Preparatory School in Oakdale, Connecticut. At the conclusion of his sole high school season outside his native country, Watanabe averaged 13 points and 6 rebounds. He helped the team reach a 26-8 overall record and a ticket to the National Prep Championship game. On January 31, 2014, in his first appearance in the annual National Prep School Invitational, Watanabe added 12 points vs Suffield Academy. Against Canarias Basketball Academy from Spain, a 70-61 victory, he contributed 20 points and 6 rebounds.[4] As a result, he was named to the National Prep School Invitational All-Tournament Team and garnered prestigious New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) Class AAA First Team All-League honors.[1] Watanabe was also labeled "the Chosen One" by The Japan Times.[2]

College career[edit]

After completing his high school years, Watanabe was rated a 77(three star recruit) by ESPN Recruiting Nation. He was also given a three-star rating by and the same composite grade. In fall of 2014, George Washington Colonials men's basketball head coach Mike Lonergan received a phone call from Jamie Cosgrove, a coach at Trinity College who saw Watanabe play with St. Thomas More.[5] Watanabe eventually committed to play for George Washington. This move allowed him to attend George Washington University for the 2014 year as a freshman.[6] It was made official when Watanabe posted the message through Twitter, "I've decided to go to George Washington University. The school has a good basketball team, too. I'm sure I'll have hard times both in basketball and academics, but I'll give it my best shot."[7] According to ESPN, his second option was Fordham, who gave Watanabe an offer to join their team as well.[7] He became the first-ever Japanese-born man to be given an NCAA Division I basketball scholarship,[8] and was only the fourth to ever play college basketball at that level.[a] Regarding Watanabe's collegiate career, former Japanese college basketball player, KJ Matsui, said, "It's good for Nabe-chan (Watanabe) to play at a competitive team, but he's going to have to battle for playing time."[10] The Colonials had four other recruits coming into the program for 2014–15: Anthony Swan, Darian Bryant, Matt Cimino, and Paul Jorgensen.[11]

Watanabe was the fourth Japan-born basketball player to compete in NCAA Division I, the first three being KJ Matsui (left), Michael Takahashi (center), and Taishi Ito (right)[9]

Upon joining George Washington, feature profiles on Watanabe were published by several popular newspapers, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post.[12] The fact that he was an Asian player assuming an important role greatly increased his popularity. Half-Chinese player, Zach Chu, who competed with the Richmond Spiders men's basketball team, said, "To see someone of Asian descent, and play as well as he does, it's cool for college basketball, really cool for the Asian community."[8] The George Washington athletics website received the second-most views from Japan in terms of pageviews by country, behind only the United States. On many occasions, he was congratulated on the school's campus itself.[8] Watanabe spoke about his fame and legacy, "Japanese are thinking Americans are bigger and taller and more athletic. They are thinking it's more difficult for Japanese to play in NCAA, but I'm playing right now, so I want to make other people come to the United States."[8] Although Asian players such as Matsui, Jeremy Lin, and Yuki Togashi had been the subject of racist comments in the past, Watanabe was yet to receive racial remarks in his first few years in the United States.[8] Nevertheless, he stated, "If they said something racist, I don't care."[8]

Watanabe made his collegiate debut with the team on November 14, 2014. He finished the game with 8 points, 7 rebounds, 1 block, and a three-pointer, helping the team record their largest win since 1999.[13][14] Watanabe hit a key three-pointer with 3 minutes and 32 seconds remaining to upset No. 11 Wichita State on December 25, 2014.[15] On January 3, 2015, he scored a career-high 12 points against Saint Joseph's. In a loss vs La Salle, Watanabe scored double-digits for the sixth consecutive game.[16] On March 7, Yuta set a new career high of 21 points against Massachusetts.[17] For the season, he was named the Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year,[18] becoming the first Colonial to win the award.[19]

Professional career[edit]

Memphis Grizzlies (2018–present)[edit]

After going undrafted in the 2018 NBA draft, Watanabe played for the Brooklyn Nets in the 2018 NBA Summer League.[18] Afterwards, he signed a two-way contract with the Memphis Grizzlies and their NBA G League affiliate, the Memphis Hustle.[20] On October 27, 2018, Watanabe made his NBA debut, coming off from bench with two points and two rebounds in a 117–96 win over the Phoenix Suns. He became the second Japanese player to play in the NBA after Yuta Tabuse, who debuted with the Suns in 2004.[21]

National team career[edit]

Watanabe with the Japanese national team

Japan national basketball team head coach Kimikazu Suzuki previously oversaw Watanabe's play in camps, saying at the time, "He's not good enough to be on this team yet, but eventually he's going to be [Japan's] ace player. We all know his capabilities and we intend to help him develop."[22] Later while attending Jinsei Gakuen High School, Watanabe was called up by Suzuki to compete with the national team in 2013.[2] He made his debut on the international stage at the 2013 East Asia Basketball Championship and stayed with Japan for the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship.[2] At the event, Watanabe averaged 5.3 points, 1.3 rebounds, and 0.5 assists in four games played.[23] He helped the team finish in ninth place.[24]

Player profile[edit]

Watanabe has often been praised for his size, his listed height being 6 feet and 9 inches (2.06 meters). He stands taller than any basketball player born in Japan that has competed in the Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Watanabe was noted as the tallest young Japanese player to be seen in over a decade after beginning to attend George Washington University.[25] However, the Japan national team's coach Kimikazu Suzuki remarked that he is "201 cm but can play like a guard."[2][b] In the past, Watanabe has been compared with former Croatian NBA forward Toni Kukoč, who was known for his versatility.[5] Kukoč stood 6'11" but was said to have the skill set of a guard.[27] Watanabe has been criticized because of his lack of weight and muscle. George Washington head coach Mike Lonergan said that he hoped that he weighed over 200 pounds by the start of his sophomore season.[8] KJ Matsui commented on his frame as well, saying, "If he puts more muscles and get big, he will be unstoppable."[8]

Watanabe against Hong Kong in 2013

Just after becoming a part of the George Washington basketball program, Watanabe supposedly lacked panache, with teammate Kevin Larsen commenting, "We told him to find a new celebration because the one he had wasn't cutting it. He was, like, jumping in the air making a weird face. So we tried to help him find a new one."[8] Watanabe sometimes mimicks Carmelo Anthony, using the "three to the dome" celebration after making three-pointers. He fit in with the Colonials as a key bench player and an instrumental element of their rotation as a freshman. Watanabe is often awarded playing time in late-game situations.[8] Head coach Mike Lonergan said, "With Yuta, we have scoring off the bench. If I start Yuta, we have no scoring off the bench at all."[8]

Personal life[edit]

Watanabe was born on October 13, 1994, in Miki, Kagawa, in Japan into a family with a rich history in basketball. His mother, Kumi, played basketball for the Chanson V-Magic in the top leagues of Japan and competed with the Japan women's national team. His father also played for the Kumagai Gumi Bruins at the professional level.[1] Watanabe's sister, Yuki, played with the Aisin AW Wings of the Women's Japan Basketball League.[1] During his childhood, Watanabe's favorite NBA player was Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, which are also his favorite basketball team.[2]

Career statistics[edit]

  GP Games played   GS  Games started  MPG  Minutes per game
 FG%  Field goal percentage  3P%  3-point field goal percentage  FT%  Free throw percentage
 RPG  Rebounds per game  APG  Assists per game  SPG  Steals per game
 BPG  Blocks per game  PPG  Points per game  Bold  Career high


Regular season[edit]

2018–19 Memphis 15 0 11.6 .294 .125 .700 2.1 .5 .3 .1 2.6
Career 15 0 11.6 .294 .125 .700 2.1 .5 .3 .1 2.6


2014–15 George Washington 35 10 22.5 .384 .348 .831 3.5 .6 .4 .6 7.4
2015–16 George Washington 38 37 27.7 .422 .306 .707 4.0 1.4 .6 1.1 8.4
2016–17 George Washington 28 27 35.1 .444 .314 .817 4.8 2.5 1.1 1.1 12.2
2017–18 George Washington 33 33 36.6 .437 .364 .807 6.1 1.6 .8 1.6 16.3
Career 134 107 30.1 .425 .337 .788 4.5 1.4 .7 1.1 10.9


  1. ^ The other three were KJ Matsui (Columbia), Taishi Ito (Portland), and Michael Takahashi (Cal State Northridge).[9]
  2. ^ Guards are relatively smaller than basketball players of any other positions.[26]


  1. ^ a b c d "Yuta Watanabe Bio". Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Nagatsuka, Kaz. "Japan's 'chosen one' has big dreams". Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  3. ^ Nagatsuka, Kaz. "Teen standout Watanabe faces major challenges in pursuit of NBA dream". The Japan Times. Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  4. ^ "17th Annual National Prep School Invitational". Retrieved 22 January 2015.
  5. ^ a b Feinstein, John. "Yuta Watanabe, Japan's 'Chosen One,' hopes his path to GW leads to NBA". The Washington Post. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  6. ^ "Yuta Watanabe". Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  7. ^ a b Nagatsuka, Kaz. "Watanabe opts to go to George Washington U." The Japan Times. Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Berkman, Seth (January 20, 2015). "Coming Off the Bench, a Basketball Ambassador". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 22, 2015.
  9. ^ a b "12 Yuta Watanabe". Archived from the original on January 22, 2015.
  10. ^ Nagatsuka, Kaz. "Encouragement, advice helped steer Watanabe to GWU". The Japan Times. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
  11. ^ "2014 Geo. Washington Basketball Commitment List". Yahoo!. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  12. ^ "Washington Post, New York Times Profile GW's Yuta Watanabe". Retrieved 22 January 2015.
  13. ^ "Garino, George Washington beat Grambling St. 92-40". ESPN. Retrieved 24 December 2014.
  14. ^ "Grambling St Tigers vs. George Washington Colonials Box Score". ESPN. Retrieved 24 December 2014.
  15. ^ "George Washington upsets No. 11 Wichita State in final of Diamond Head Classic". The Washington Times. Retrieved 22 January 2015.
  16. ^ "Yuta Watanabe Game Log". ESPN. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  17. ^ "Yuta Watanabe Game Log". ESPN. Retrieved 10 March 2015.
  18. ^ a b Buckner, Candace (July 12, 2018). "In Japan, he is 'The Chosen One.' Can Yuta Watanabe become the country's second-ever NBA player?". The Washington Post.
  19. ^ Odeven, Ed (April 13, 2018). "Yuta Watanabe reflects on successful hoop career at George Washington". The Japan Times.
  20. ^
  21. ^ "Gasol, Conley lead Grizzlies to easy win over Suns 117-96". October 27, 2018. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  22. ^ "JPN - The 'Chosen One' is here for Japan". FIBA. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  23. ^ "Yuta Watanabe Player Profile". Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  24. ^ "27TH FIBA ASIA CHAMPIONSHIP". Retrieved 14 September 2014.
  25. ^ Mageshwaran, S. "The 'next best thing' in Japan is indeed making progress". Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  26. ^ Johnson, Clint. "Historical look at point guard height as a predictor for NBA success". Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  27. ^ Sibor, Doug. "The 20 Best Foreign-Born Players in NBA History". Retrieved 23 January 2015.

External links[edit]