Basketball / NBA

Yuta Watanabe set to start camp with Grizzlies

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Before training camps get underway, NBA teams held media day on Monday, providing ample interview and photo opportunities.

New coaches and players were in the spotlight throughout the league, including former George Washington University standout Yuta Watanabe.

In Tokyo, meanwhile, Watanabe’s media day photo, showing him wearing his No. 12 Memphis Grizzlies jersey, was displayed on Train Channel News.

Speaking to the local press in Memphis, Watanabe expressed gratitude to his father, Hideyuki, and mother, Kumi, for encouraging him to pursue his goal of playing basketball overseas.

“They are always supportive, and when I say I want to, like, go to the U.S., a lot of people said it’s going to be tough,” said the left-handed shooting Watanabe, who went undrafted after being chosen as the 2017-18 Atlantic 10 Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. “And my family was always supportive. They said you can do whatever you want and chase your dreams.

“I’m really grateful for that.”

Watanabe is nursing a sore left shoulder, according to multiple published reports. Camp begins on Tuesday.

Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley offered some insights on Watanabe on Monday.

“He’s been great. He’s very talented,” Conley told reporters, speaking of Watanabe. “He can shoot the ball, very skilled.”He’s quiet right now. He’s still trying to figure out everything.”

On Monday, Watanabe joined Grizzlies play-by-play announcer Eric Hasseltine’s show on ESPN Radio.

“They are treating me, like, really good. I am enjoying it here,” he said of his time in Memphis.

The Kagawa Prefecture native signed a two-way contract with the Memphis Grizzlies after a solid performance for the Brooklyn Nets during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas in July. He also spent a year at St. Thomas More Preparatory School in Connecticut before enrolling at GW.

Under this type of deal, the 206-cm Watanabe can be with the Grizzlies for up to 45 days during the regular season. Under this arrangement — a contract option implemented before the 2017-18 season — he can also suit up for the franchise’s G. League squad, the Memphis Hustle.

Asked about the opportunity he has with organization, Watanabe told Hasseltine that “I think this is a great opportunity for me.”

He elaborated: “The Memphis Grizzlies are always a great defensive team and defense is one of my strengths, so I think that’s one thing that I can bring to this team.”

On the two-way deal and the chance to receive solid minutes in the G. League and also some time with the Grizzlies, Watanabe said: “I really appreciate this opportunity. . . . I can go back and forth, and I’ve got to still work hard to improve and prove that I can play, but I think that I’m going to get a good amount of playing time.

He added: “I think I’m getting better each game and am really excited about it.”

Watanabe acknowledged on the radio show that NBA fans in his homeland are “giving him motivation, so hopefully I can step on the NBA court and I can make them proud.”

With bench boss J.B. Bickerstaff at the helm for his first full season, the Grizzlies open their preseason on Oct. 2 at the Houston Rockets. Memphis went 22-60 last season.