With high expectations for Rui Hachimura entering the NBA draft in June, we take a look back at other Japanese basketball players.
Watanabe is just the fourth player in history to compete in NCAA Division I. Before moving to the collegiate level, Watanabe was born in Kagawa and attended Jinsei Gakuen High School in Zentsūji, Kagawa. When he transferred to St. Thomas More Preparatory School in Coneecticut, Watanabe rose to fame, becoming one of their most valuable players. Coming out of high school as a three-star recruit, Watanabe joined George Washington University with a scholarship, becoming the first Japan-born male player to receive a Devision I basketball scholarship. 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. Next year, he scored a career-high 12 points against Saint Joseph’s. And, in a loss vs La Salle, Watanabe scored double-digits for the sixth consecutive game. On March 7, Yuta set a new career high of 21 points against Massachusetts. For the season, he was named the Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year, becoming the first Colonial to win the award.
Watanabe undrafted in the 2018 NBA draft, but played for the Brooklyn Nets in the 2018 NBA Summer League and ended up signing a two-way contract with the Memphis Grizzlies and their NBA G League affiliate, the Memphis Hustle. Watanabe made his NBA debut in October, 2018, 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. Watanabe currently plays for the Grizzlie’s G League affiliate, Memphis Hustle.