MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE – Memphis Grizzlies forward Yuta Watanabe made his NBA regular season debut in a win over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday, becoming the first Japanese player to appear in the 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 foul on Suns guard Troy Daniels with a spin move to the basket.
“It was only four minutes, but I really enjoyed the four minutes,” Watanabe was quoted as saying by The Commercial Appeal, a Memphis newspaper. “I enjoyed the environment, the crowd, everything. It was great.”
He added: “Everything was fun. Even the inbounds, the missed alley-oop, it was all fun.”
Commenting on scoring his first points in an NBA regular-season game, Watanabe had this to say: “I’m not going to forget this moment for the rest of my life.”
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, allowing him to spend up to 45 days on the roster.
Tabuse, the NBA’s first Japanese player, played four games for the Phoenix Suns in 2004 before being waived.