Basketball: Watanabe makes NBA debut, 1st Japanese player in 14 years

Memphis Grizzlies forward Yuta Watanabe made his NBA regular season debut in a 117-96 win over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday, becoming the first Japanese player to appear in the world’s premier basketball league since Yuta Tabuse 14 years ago.

The 24-year-old rookie finished with two points and two rebounds after entering the game with 4:31 left and the Grizzlies leading 111-86.

Watanabe scored both of his points at the free-throw line after drawing a shooting foul on Suns guard Troy Daniels with a spin move to the basket.

Following the game, Watanabe told reporters he hoped to inspire young Japanese basketball players to aim for the NBA.

«It’s been 14 years since Yuta Tabuse played in the NBA, so it took a lot of time, but (Japanese basketball) moved forward today,» Watanabe said in an interview posted by the Grizzlies on Twitter.

«I hope I make (Japanese fans) proud. I hope a lot of young guys watch this game and the NBA becomes their dream.»

Fox Sports Tennessee TV commentator Brevin Knight praised Watanabe for making an all-out effort during his cameo.

«I love the way Yuta runs the floor every possession,» former NBA player Knight said of Watanabe, who received an ovation from his teammates after scoring his first point.

«His teammates (were) very excited for him because they know the effort that he brings — day in, day out…even on the practice court.»

After going undrafted following his graduation from George Washington University in May, Watanabe earned a two-way contract with the Grizzlies and their minor league team, the Memphis Hustle. Under the contract, Watanabe is eligible to spend up to 45 days with the Grizzlies.

Tabuse became the first Japanese national to play in the NBA when he debuted for the Suns in 2004. He played four games for the team before being waived.

«I now have a sense of how much effort it took Tabuse to go from zero to an NBA court,» Watanabe said. «So I have even more respect for him.»

All — Kyodo News+

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