Tabuse still has eyes on NBA dream

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Yuta Tabuse always watches NBA games, even when he’s at a dinner table. And the sought-after dream has not changed at all since then.

News photoYuta Tabuse is in Japan this week working with young players at a basketball
clinic. Tabuse, who has played in the NBA, still keeps his pro hoops dreams
alive in the NBDL.

The 25-year-old guard said he wants to return to the stage that he has once stepped upon. Tabuse, playing for the Phoenix Suns, became the first Japanese-born player to ever appear in an NBA game.

He was called up by the Los Angeles Clippers for their training camp, and he played in the preseason games this year but couldn’t make the opening-day roster.

“The barrier to the NBA has been getting higher year after year,” said Tabuse, who was a special coach at a kids basketball clinic in Tokyo on Tuesday. “But I feel it is worth challenging. And I’m feeling indifferent to the NBA any more. So I’m very fulfilled right now.”

Last fall, soon after being cut by the Clippers, Tabuse was drafted by the Albuquerque Thunderbirds of the NBA Development League (NBDL). He played in 34 games for the Thunderbirds in the season, averaging 6.1 points and 4.2 assists per game. His best performance came in a win over the Arkansas RimRockers on Jan. 31, when he had 15 points and 10 assists in 25 minutes.

Tabuse ended the season in a bit of a vexing fashion as he was sidelined with a sprained ankle in March. He said it healed perfectly, so he is ready to go.

Tabuse was called up as one of the 22 candidates for the Japan national team for this summer’s FIBA World Basketball Championships last month, but he and seven others declined to join the national team because they were not satisfied with the schedule of the training camp.

The national squad, led by Croatian coach Zeliko Pavlicevic, will have a total of 10 training sessions until the Aug. 19-Sept. 3 world championships.

Tabuse said he wanted to play at the worlds representing his country, but his goal is to play in the NBA so he decided to focus on trying to earn a spot with an NBA team, giving up his chance for national glory this time.

Tabuse is willing to play in the summer league, so he may be called up by an NBA team for its training camp and preseason games.

“I couldn’t play in the summer league last year so I’d definitely like to play this year,” Tabuse said. “I talked with the association (Japan Basketball Association) and turned down playing for the national team.”

Now he has put all the world championships speculation behind and is focused on challenging in the NBA next season.

On Tuesday evening, Tabuse showed up before clinic participants with a bright face, along with Mikiko Hagiwara, a former WNBA player who has played for the Sacramento Monarchs and Phoenix Mercury, another coach in the clinic.

Tabuse said he wants Japanese hoops lovers to have more convenient access to the game and get to know the pleasure of basketball.

“In the States, you have more chances to feel the NBA, and it’s totally different circumstances from Japan,” Tabuse said. “Kids over there can dream of becoming NBA players first-hand, like watching the games on TV everyday. It’s a pity that basketball here is not as major as in the States.”

Meanwhile, Tabuse thinks there are things that even Japanese players can capitalize on, such as fundamentals.

“Many Americans don’t have fundamental skills that Japanese have,” he said. “Many right-handed players can’t dribble with their left hand, something like that.”

Tabuse said he has not closely been following the ongoing NBA playoffs. But when told that the Clippers won the first-round series against the Denver Nuggets in five games, he said, “I’m pleased that a team I have played for is winning.”