Tabuse returns to roots

Guard eager to use time with Brex as steppingstone back to NBA

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Yuta Tabuse’s return to his own country was a stunning surprise for Japanese hoop fans.

It was a veritable bolt out of the blue for himself, too.

A few days after the Link Tochigi Brex, a newly-promoted Japan Basketball League top-division club, signed the ex-Phoenix Suns guard, Tabuse, 27, revealed his honest thoughts on the move publicly for the first time.

“I don’t yet know where I’m going to live. As a matter of fact, I visited Utsunomiya for the first time yesterday,” Tabuse said at a Tokyo news conference on Tuesday, a few days after signing with the Tochigi Prefecture-based club.

He wasn’t shaken up by the sudden transfer at all, however. Through all these years he’s traveled in his days in the United States, including the NBA preseasons, NBA Development League (NBDL) and summer camps, Tabuse has learned how unstable it can be to play pro ball abroad.

“As I’ve played over there (in the States), what I felt was how much stronger you have to be mentally,” said Tabuse, a Yokohama native who became the first native of Japan to play in the NBA when he suited up for the Suns for four games in 2004-05. “It’s a tough place and you don’t even know where you’re placed and what you’re doing tomorrow.

“You’ve got to create a chance and get it by yourself. I’d like to be aware of it in Japan, too, and convey it to my Japanese teammates.”

Tabuse, who played for the JBL’s Toyota Motors Alvark in 2002-03, cited the reasons why he made the decision to return to Japan and play for the Brex. First, he hadn’t received much playing time lately in the NBDL and wanted to change this fact. Second, he was enthusiastically persuaded by team president/general manager Takashi Yamaya and head coach Mitsuhiko Kato, his former coach at perennial powerhouse Noshiro Technical High School of Akita Prefecture, where he gained the national recognition.

Despite speculation, Tabuse rejected the idea that Kato’s presence is the biggest motivation for his joining the Brex. But he certainly welcomes the chance to play for Kato, who resigned from Noshiro and joined the Brex in April, again after a decade of playing for other coaches.

“I’ll play with Kato-sensei for the first time in 10 years and the game at Noshiro is my origin,” said Tabuse, who played for the Albuquerque Thunderbirds, Bakersfield Jam and Anaheim Arsenal of the NBDL with a comeback to the NBA in sight during the last three three seasons.

“. . .A lot of fans have told me, ‘I’ve been watching you since you were at high school.’ I’m looking forward to showing my game to them now.”

Although both Tabuse and Kato are professional, unlike their past mentor-pupil relationship, the 46-year-old Kato is excited to form a “winning combination” by having his former player on the club.

“One thing I can say for sure is, there wouldn’t be any (JBL) team that doesn’t need him,” Kato said with a smile. “I like a player that leads with his attitude.”

Tabuse said Noshiro’s style of basketball, which is centered around up-tempo play, can be used effectively in other nations as well.

Having said that, Tabuse hasn’t abandoned his plan to return to the NBA. The 173-cm said he will take the opportunity to play for the Brex as a steppingstone.

And to make it happen, Tabuse, who admires Suns point guard Steve Nash for his game and work ethic, wants to impress everybody with statistics, not just with his presence and leadership.

“When you show off your game to scouts, you have to have overwhelming stats, otherwise you won’t get paid attention to,” said Tabuse, whose contract will be terminated if he gets an offer from an NBA team or a European club.

The Brex open their season with a two-game series against the Toshiba Brave Thunders at Utsunomiya Municipal Gymnasium on Sept. 26 and 27.