Yuta Watanabe Becomes First-Ever Japanese Player Signed to Toronto Raptors

Japanese forward, Yuta Watanabe and the Toronto Raptors have started the 2020-2021 NBA season by making history.

26-year-old Watanabe is the first Japanese-born player to have ever been signed by the 2019 NBA Champions, Toronto Raptors. Debuted in 2018 with the Memphis Grizzlies as the second Japanese-born to play in NBA history, he comes after Yuta Tabuse (c. 2004) and has pioneered the way for Rui Hachimura, who joined in 2019 and since became the third Japanese player in the NBA.

Watanabe left a lasting impression on Nick Nurse and the Raptors’ coaching staff during training camp, securing him minutes in the first preseason game against the Charlotte Hornets. In the postgame interview, Nick Nurse calls Watanabe, “A pleasant surprise and knows how to play basketball. He can handle, he can pass, a great cutter, does everything we ask him to do with the defensive end…versatile,” hinting at the potential the player will bring to the Toronto Raptors team.

The Raptors made their training camp cuts, trimming down the final roster to 15 key players and a pair of two-way players. Having converted Paul Watson Jr.’s two-way deal to a main roster player, Yuta Watanabe fills the two-way slot vacated by Watson. Over the three preseason games, Watanabe averaged 4.7 points and 3.7 rebounds. Raptors assistant coach Jama Mahlalela comments, “He shoots the ball really well, better than I think his stats maybe show. But most importantly, he plays the game the right way. He plays defense the way we want him to play. He does all the little things. And he’s a great teammate. Guys love him.”

The Raptors will be tipping off their 2020-2021 season on Wednesday, December 23, 2020, at 7:30 p.m. EST hosting the New Orleans Pelicans at the team’s temporary base at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida.

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