Basketball

Yuta Watanabe shines in NBA G League Winter Showcase opener

Kyodo

Rookie forward Yuta Watanabe returned from a concussion to start and score 20 points on Wednesday in the Memphis Hustle’s 135-123 win over the Raptors 905 in the first game of the NBA G League Winter Showcase.

The 24-year-old George Washington University product, who was in concussion protocol after suffering a head injury on Dec. 7, played 35 minutes and was one of seven Memphis players who scored in double digits in front of scouts and NBA staff at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.

Watanabe, last season’s Atlantic 10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year, logged four minutes Monday in the Memphis Grizzlies’ 110-93 loss to the Golden State Warriors, confirming that he cleared the NBA’s concussion protocol.

On Wednesday, the Kagawa Prefecture native posted his second double-double of the season with 20 points and 11 boards, making 11 of 12 free throw attempts for the Grizzlies’ G League affiliate. Tyler Harvey led the Hustle with 28 points, seven rebounds and eight assists.

“I wasn’t able to play my game for the first 25 minutes or so,” said Watanabe, who had four points in the first half and 14 points in the fourth quarter.

“I’m playing under pressure every day because anyone can get cut (from his team) anytime here. I’m not relaxed at all. I have to raise my field goal percentage more,”

The Winter Showcase is the G League’s annual in-season scouting event, when all teams arrive in one city to play in front of NBA general managers and player personnel executives from all 30 NBA teams. The 2018 event features 27 games over four days.